Poly and the Unitarian Universalist Church
Four years ago, I took my Unitarian Universalist minister out to lunch and bent his ear about polyamory for more than an hour. He took me seriously; Sparkler and I have been active members of our church for many years, and he knew both of us well. His first concern was whether this meant something was wrong between Sparkler and me. Once reassured on that score, he accepted my enthusiasm well.
As a UU minister he already knew of the poly movement. He's involved with the UU national headquarters in Boston and knew of its touchy relations with the independent Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA got started in 1999, when several UUs realized that roughly a quarter of the people they met at poly conferences identified as Unitarians even though this small, liberal denomination amounts to only 0.1% of Americans overall.
For several years the UUPA gave public talks at the UU General Assembly, the annual convention and business meeting attended by thousands from around the world. In 2004 the San Francisco Chronicle published an article on polys and on UUPA in particular, declaring "Unitarians from Boston to Berkeley have opened another front in the liberal crusade to expand the definition of marriage and family in America."
That was back when media attention to polyamory was rare. The right wing seized on the story as exposing a UU plot to subvert marriage. Many UU churches, especially those already dealing with local hostility in places like the Deep South, objected to being associated with something they'd never heard of and didn't like the sound of. The national church headquarters felt obliged to issue a statement that polyamory was not on the denomination's agenda, though people are free to sound off as they will, and it probably hoped that UUPA would just quietly go away.
Didn't happen. As an "independent organization" UUPA can no longer give presentations at General Assembly, but we run a booth there every year that serves the same purpose, advertise in the denominational magazine UU World, run an internet discussion list with a few hundred members, distribute literature, and arrange talks and sermons. Every year more UUs seem to get it.
From the UUPA site:
Our vision is for Unitarian Universalism to become the first poly-welcoming mainstream religious denomination. We look forward to the day when a polyamorous family or individual can walk into any Unitarian Universalist congregation with confidence that their full participation is welcome.
So, how will your triad or quad be received when you walk into your town's UU church of a Sunday, and start explaining yourselves? Maybe with welcoming and understanding, maybe not. Attitudes vary from one congregation to the next as a journalism student from Emerson College found out, when she interviewed people for a feature article recently posted on "Survive and Thrive Boston":
Polyamorous community seeks more support from Unitarian Universalist Association
By Lynette Suazo
..."There are many UU's who are polyamorous or who are kinky and have difficulty expressing that," said [Boston activist Desmond] Ravenstone. "I know people who are very much in the closet about being poly or kinky and don't feel comfortable telling their ministers. When people separate their church and sex life, it is soul damaging."
Rachel Walden, Information Assistant at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), said in an email reply, that the UUA has not taken an official standing on polyamory. She explained that "while UU congregations strive to be safe and welcoming spaces for families of all kinds to come together to worship, they are independently organized and often vary quite a bit in their overall theological perspective, style of worship, and demographic makeup."
Dina Johnston recently experienced hostility from a UU church that she does not want to name. Johnston was a part of this congregation for five years. For the first three and a half years, Johnston attended alone, leaving her three partners at home.
"I am a very reserved person," said Johnston. "I wanted to get spiritually fed and leave my sexual preferences separate from my church life, at first. As long as I was getting spiritually fed, I saw no need to reveal my sexual orientation. Once I got comfortable with that congregation, I opened up and I regret it to this day."
Johnston said she is Christian and first practiced her Christian faith at a traditional church. She was forced out of that congregation when others learned of her multiple partners. After hearing from a friend that the Unitarian Universalist church would accept her lifestyle, Johnston made the move to the UU church....
After the shock of being kicked out of her former Christian church, Johnston was even more upset when her UU congregation also proved unwelcoming....
[Valerie] White, on the other hand, has had a different experience at the Unitarian Church of Sharon [Mass.]. She even wrote a song entitled "One Place," where she talks about her church being the "one place where it is safe" for her to be herself....
Read the whole article (archived copy).
It also has a cute video of White, a close friend of mine who's living in a long-term triad raising kids.
White adds that out of about 1,000 UU churches in North America, "there are 70-some congregations represented on the UUPoly email list, and we know of at least two congregations that adopted 'Welcoming Congregation' bylaw amendments with language specifically referencing alternative families, including poly ones."