Old poly-and-Unitarians story rockets to top of Washington Post site
In Friday's Washington Post, religion columnist Lisa Miller published an article that seems to have been mostly written eight or nine years ago. The article chides the Unitarian Universalist Church for putting up with, while being embarrassed by, the independent group Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA), of which I'm a member.
The article stems from the flap that occurred in 2004 when the San Francisco Chronicle noticed that the UUPA was presenting panels at the church's national General Assembly in San Francisco. For this the religious right denounced Unitarianism, as it often does. The church's national office, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Boston, felt thrown on the defensive, especially because some of its staff didn't like the sound of poly themselves, and it issued a statement that poly is not on the church's agenda. But the UUA cannot regulate member activities or set doctrine. UU-ism is a "congregational" religion, meaning that congregations govern themselves; the role of the national office is to support congregations and act as their voice rather than issue edicts. Not that UUs would pay attention to edicts anyway.
The controversy died out, and almost nothing of it has been heard for years. Then this:
Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet
By Lisa Miller
The joke about Unitarians is that they’re where you go when you don’t know where to go. Theirs is the religion of last resort for the intermarried, the ambivalent, the folks who want a faith community without too many rules. It is perhaps no surprise that the Unitarian Universalist Association is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the country, ballooning 15 percent over the past decade, when other established churches were shrinking.
Actually, that number may have been true back during the peak child-rearing years of the baby boom, but from 2003 to 2012 UU membership grew by only 3% in actual members (as opposed to what people may tell pollsters).
...But within the ranks of the UUA over the past few years, there has been some quiet unrest concerning a small but activist group that vociferously supports polyamory. That is to say “the practice of loving and relating intimately to more than one other person at a time,” according to a mission statement by Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA “encourages spiritual wholeness regarding polyamory,” including the right of polyamorous people to have their unions blessed by a minister.
UUA headquarters says it has no official position on polyamory. “Official positions are established at General Assembly and never has this issue been brought to General Assembly,” a spokeswoman says.
But as the issue of same-sex marriage heads to the Supreme Court... the Unitarians are so liberal that they’re playing right into conservative hands. And the conservative blogosphere has responded predictably: First Things has taken disapproving note of the trend, as has the American Conservative.
The debate also makes the whole denomination look silly. “Unitarian Universalism is so broad-minded that it has become flat-headed,” Michael Durall, then an editor of a UUA magazine (he no longer works with UUA groups), wrote in 2004. “This is an abdication of leadership leaving Unitarian Universalism vulnerable to ridicule. Jay Leno would have a field day with this one...."
Read the whole article (March 22, 2013).
For years now the "vociferous" UUPA has, I have to admit, done and said little. It focuses mainly on educating a scattering of curious UU ministers about polyfamilies who might show up in their churches. Its member Mim Chapman recently produced "Love Makes a Family", a poly religious-education curriculum for congregations and religious professionals. And its listserve offers discussion and support among UU polys themselves.
Wrote a UUPA founder, "I think all we can do is disseminate accurate information, not be defensive, and support UUs as the open, welcoming people/denomination that we are."
So, did some new event prompt the story? I've found nothing except maybe the Supreme Court's plan to hear arguments on gay marriage this week. I asked our minister this morning, and he hadn't heard of anything either. He asked a friend in the UUA headquarters who would have heard of any such event. That person had "no idea" what prompted the article and said, "Miller called our PR office on Thursday to ask for the UUA's position on poly. There hasn't been anything new on this issue for years."
So I think the writer just decided to recycle an old article to meet a deadline.
Yet for a while this evening, the article became the #1 most popular on the Washington Post's home page — beating out the sequester and Obama's trip to Israel — no doubt because it's being linked to from many religious sites.
Update: The Post has published three letters to the editor in reply, under the headline An insulting caricature of Unitarian Universalism (online Apr. 2, 2013; earlier in print).