Loving Our Theological Diversity: Finding Our Spiritual Center

“Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.”
—UUA Bylaws

Our Views of Jesus

UUs have a variety of views of Jesus. In December 2019, Rev. Elizabeth asked First Church congregants to share what the stories of Jesus mean to you. Here is what you shared:
 

"I'm in the school of enlightened great teacher; someone truly who understood the transformational power of love. He's one of the transcendent ancient ones that inspired all humanity, like Siddhartha, Mohammed, Confucius. I think of him as a community organizer, fighting the oppression of empire with radical love. I struggle with the one and only son of God concept - the guy didn't walk on water, but I can believe he was miraculous in many ways."

"So, for me, there's familiarity from my childhood church, but more negative than positive. And I went to high school with incredibly judgey brimstone Baptists, and I want nothing to do with that. Still, I'm excited when I hear people talking about Jesus as a rebel or activist, because that's an energy I can understand, and I get excited when people talk about him as the "Prince of Peace" or otherwise emphasizing love and even humanity above all the rest. I can relate to that, and I think both are valuable now. I'm comfortable with the story of Jesus in the context of the inherent right of all people to commune with god/light/spirit; that basic morality is the only way this is truly possible (any amount of hordeing/overlording tendencies will get in the way of your path to true love/god/etc). And I'll throw in here that one of the things I liked about the Catholic church was the credit that Mary got, that she was all loving, and all supporting until the very end (when his disciples were not even around). Most of these old traditions completely write-out the value of women, but perhaps Mary had an important role too. Just an aside, but yeah, patriarchy is the main problem I have with most religions. :) "

"I was raised Christian but consider some church's(not ours) focus on certain aspects of Christianity not in line with my beliefs, for example if you don't believe/accept Jesus was the son of God then you are punished/fire/birmstone stuff. I also think just because people with more conservative (read: negative, close minded) world views are more outspoken about their beliefs, then they get to "own" the narrative about Jesus in our culture.
I enjoy Christian traditions and like thinking more deeply about the new testament stories centering around Jesus in church but I don't consider it to be the most important type of story we can learn from."

"I always believed that Jesus was a real, human person, who had extraordinary insight. I think that he had original thoughts, a lot of passion and the power to inspire others to listen to him. I find the story of Jesus interesting and am curious to study more about Jesus and his teachings in the context of the time that he lived."

"I view Jesus as a symbol, not necessarily a man, or a person. Jesus symbolizes love, as well as suffering. I like to think of Jesus not as a "he", "she", or a "they", though I realize Jesus is always seen as a male. When I consider Jesus I think about the lessons this being tried to teach the people of the world through his life."

"A good man, perhaps a student of Buddhism. He became a story about what he said and did, a story used to give lessons about values and kindness and it’s meaning. Finally a mythic tool for the Roman oligarchy."

"i like idea of jesus. but never sure why god needed to create the whole idea."

"I’m a a Jewish Unitarian Atheist, which means I don’t believe in God as an all knowing all powerful creator. I therefore don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. However, I do find inspiration from the life and teachings of Jesus and parts of the Gospels, particularly the aspects you have highlighted in numerous sermons about challenging the power of empire, corrupt power, and oppression through the power of love and community rooted in justice."

"I guess I think of him as a reformer of the Jewish faith, and perhaps as a teacher, although I don't really trust the Bible as a source of any substantive truth about his life. I am not a believer in gods or saviors. Sometimes I think of myself as a pagan or a humanist, although I think we're a flawed species!"

One congregant shared that Jesus is not particular important and is not a part of their religious practice. They see resonances with the fictional story of Jesus' birth in modern times, and think Jesus may have been a good person who people who helped the poor and fed the hungry.

Another congregant shared that they think Jesus was probably a pretty interesting and special person, though not "the son of God," and that they love the Christmas story because it uplifts the possibilities of a baby. They like sermons about Jesus as an anti-imperialist and a disruptor. They wrote that they wish they knew the stories of the Bible better because they are frequently referred to in our culture. They also see the stories as instructive, and wonders about similarities with parables from other religions or moral traditions.

"Jesus was a teacher who preached equality, love, and service to others. He was not a god or the son of God, but he preached a message from a God whom he interpreted as all-loving and all-accepting. I do not believe in his divinity - and since I do not think he was the Christ, I guess that makes me not a Christian? ... Jesus is important to me because of the messages he spread, not because he was somehow divine."

"I grew up Catholic but never really connected with Jesus as a spiritual figure. Reading scripture as an agnostic adult with an interest in religious studies (along with other texts like Zealot by Reza Aslan) has shaped my understanding of Jesus as an interesting historical figure with a radical message of compassion and selflessness. I would look at him the same way I look at Mr. Rogers-- someone who inspires me to be an example of generosity and social reform but not as my literal divine lord and savior."

"I view Jesus as a symbol, not necessarily a man, or a person. Jesus symbolizes love, as well as suffering. I like to think of Jesus not as a "he", "she", or a "they", though I realize Jesus is always seen as a male. When I consider Jesus I think about the lessons this being tried to teach the people of the world through his life."

"Holy Mary Mother of God! You scared the bejeesus outta me! Christ Almighty! Not so good with 'scripture' -- book religions -- although it's amazing that we have this detailed (flawed) chronicle of this person. I'm more for models/paradigms that are happening now rather than 2K years ago. Not a fan of Christianity with its guilt, good/bad, original sin, and all. And Jesus was a man. Can't easily relate."

from Joel Peterson: "I see Jesus as a real person, a radical and a teacher. I don't believe in all the magic and the mysteries which have been attributed to him. It seems he was a person who questioned the status quo and landed on fertile ground, attracting others who would challenge the way power in all its forms was distributed at the time. It's unlikely that he considered himself anything more than an observant Jew. I also think that he would be embarrassed by the cult of worship which rose up after his death. I suspect he would have denied much of what others spoke of him in performing miracles, etc. And a bit more in Matthew 6:25 "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin..." When this was shown to a Buddhist monk of high standing his remark was, "This one is close to Buddhahood!"

from Abby Krueger: "My mother recently gave me a cross from her jewelry box, it had belonged to a cousin who was given it by Honduran farmers when she was serving as a veterinary missionary. I don’t wear it all the time, and when I do wear it I often conceal it, because people who wear crosses make me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to explain myself, or have others make assumptions as to what it means. And so, I welcome this opportunity to reflect on this.
I have no idea what “Jesus died for your sins” means. If God is all powerful, He could just forgive my sins without killing his son. I prefer to reverse it “Jesus was born for your virtues”. God is too abstract, sure, there must be a prime mover, the first miracle which set up the laws of physics, how does that matter for me? But, humanity matters, and connects to me. God (that prime mover, first miracle, presence always here) came in the form of a man to make human connections, to help us be our best selves.
Because he was a man, he had to die. Because he was a prophet, and a threat to the order, he had to be killed young by authority, and because he was God, he was resurrected.
This entity is with me when I need human connections, when I need help to be my best self. I can talk to this man who lived 2000 years ago, I can rub this symbol of his standing up to what was more important than his life (since I have only recently had this cross, and don’t normally wear it, I am more likely to draw a cross on my hand with my finger). Sometimes I do this to start a dialog with a well-formed question – that’s not typical, When the question can be well formed and articulated, I am more likely to write it out, and send it to someone. Instead, I ask Jesus to come hang out when I don’t know how I will get to the next moment, when the weight of this world is so intense. And, often, he comes."

from Janna Frelich: "As a child of the sixties/seventies, and growing up with Jesus Christ Superstar as a backdrop, Jesus for me is all of the things you mention. Do I believe in his divinity or origin as a seed sent from God and born of a Virgin? Not really, but I do know that many cultures have children of God(s) somehow sprung from godlike origin (for example, Zeus and all his various progeny). Thus, Jesus symbolizes, represents, and connects two realms, earth and heaven, and therefore he is a conduit to divinity. His teachings of caring and sharing are important to me. His irreverence for money and greed, his belief in the importance of all of us, no matter how lowly or sick. Also, without him, we wouldn't have Mary, and she is so important as a woman in the pantheon, not because of her virginity, but because of her willingness to sacrifice... To trust and have faith, to be willing to move through the unknown. And it is she who is the one that historically, many cultures have revered as the great mother. God couldn't give us a son without a woman being involved. So, she rocks. In getting back to Jesus and women, Mary Magdalene is just an ordinary woman, scorned for her past, but whom Jesus knows is just as valuable a human as any other. The story of Jesus's birth for me also represents the magic sacredness of birth and the beauty of a newborn child. That we should revere every child from its birth, no matter how lowly the child's origin,that we all deserve gold, frankincense, and myrhh.
Plus, without Jesus, we wouldn't have all this great Christmas music we get to sing."

"I see Jesus as a human moral teacher. I probably have an instinctive reaction against focusing on him, perhaps partially out of feeling like he already gets plenty of attention from our society and perhaps partially out of a sense of loyalty to my Jewish mother. Beyond that instinctive reaction, I haven't minded hearing more about anti-imperialist Jesus."

"Jesus was always a mystery to me. I never saw him as a real person, just some kind of "special person" as the son of God. I read the UU views of Jesus and got the sense that the people who wrote their thoughts did see him as a real man who lived. Some mentioned he cared for people that society didn't care about, that he was a radical. It was educational to me to think about him that way and opened my mind. I guess he's still mysterious but with a new identity for me - something to think more about."

"Jesus is a historical figure whose teachings brought a kind and loving god and kind and loving expectations of human interaction that did not exist with the god of the Old Testament."

from Jason DeCosta: "Jesus is important to me, because I read the Bible and he is everyone's salvation as long as they believe in him. He is a teacher of good things in life."

from Daniel Verinder: "This reminds me of that Dishwallah song, “Tell Me All Your Thoughts On God”. I think it’s hard to talk about Jesus for a few reasons:
1. We don’t know who Jesus was. We only know what early writers said about him, and they projected a lot of their hopes and fears and personsal blindspots onto those writings.
2. Furthermore, Jesus was a product of his times and his birth/youth. We take Jesus out of context and find superficial ways to universalize his life and teachings.
3. The books we choose to read are those canonized by bishops in power with an agenda. UU would be a great place to explore non-canonical works!
4. Who Jesus was thought to be changed when Paul jet in the Gentiles, and again when Constantine made Christianity the Imperial religion. They Hellenized/Romanized/Gentil-ized it, and pulled off the ultimate desecration by making it anti-Semitic!
5. Most of us past and present Christians look at Jesus stories, agree that he did amazing things, and secretly know in our hearts that if we saw someone being that Christlike today, we’d think they were crazy. And/or we put Jesus on a pedastal, out of reach, saying what he did only the divine could do."

In September of 2016, as part of the search process, 80 First Church congregants answered questions about theology, ministry, and your hopes / expectations for First Church:

To the statement “The life, death, and teachings of Jesus Christ are central to my understanding of the world and the human condition,” sixteen of you agreed or strongly agreed; forty of you disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Symbols

 

In October of 2018, congregants were asked to fill in the blank:

 

“Symbols that are meaningful and positive for me are__________.”

 

Rev. Elizabeth received 36 responses: they are represented below.
Each time a symbol appears represents one time it was circled.
For example, ten times, a congregant circled the cross as “meaningful and positive.”

Many congregants circled multiple symbols.

Also suggested were "images from nature.”

Three congregants said they prefer a display of many symbols together.

Five congregants named the cross as “complicated or negative.”

Eleven congregants named the crucifix as strongly negative.

The Prayer Jesus Taught

 

In February of 2018, Rev. Elizabeth preached about the Lord’s Prayer and invited congregants to share their own associations with the prayer by writing in a “connection card.”

She received 26 cards and would categorize the responses as:

 

6 strongly find it meaningful
5 generally positive
4 generally mixed/neutral
6 generally negative
5 strong negative associations

SHARE YOUR VIEWS

Share your vies of Jesus with the congregation and with Rev. Elizabeth!

In September of 2016, as part of the search process, 80 First Church congregants answered questions about theology, ministry, and your hopes / expectations for First Church. Since then, Rev. Elizabeth has used “Connection Cards” to ask about related topics. Here is a report on what she's learned so far:

The purpose of Sunday worship

In February of 2019, Rev. Elizabeth asked the congregation what our Sunday worship services are for, with a wide variety of answers.

Church

In February of 2019, Rev. Elizabeth asked the congregation what church is for - with lots of variety of opinion.

God

In your congregational survey in 2016, 80 of you answered the question about theology and spiritual orientations and beliefs.

One statement was: “A personal relationship with God is a vital part of my life and necessary part of my church experience.” Twenty five of you agreed or strongly agreed. Thirty of you disagreed or strongly disagreed. (22 neutral)

To the statement “there is a God but a personal relationship with God is unnecessary to my church experience,” 16 agreed or strongly agreed; 34 disagreed or strongly disagreed.

“God may or may not exist, but we have more important things to worry about in this life.”
    Strongly agree: 10 Agree: 26. Neutral: 18.
                Disagree: 12. Strongly disagree: 13

“The powers ascribed to God are inherent in the natural world, and it is the natural world to which I focus my respect and devotion.”
    Strongly agree: 21. Agree: 20. Neutral: 25.
                Disagree: 7. Strongly disagree: 6

“I do not know if God exists but it is important to explore that possibility.”
    Strongly agree: 9. Agree: 31. Neutral 15.
Disagree: 15. Strongly disagree: 9

“‘God’ exists in the relationships we build with one another.”
    Strongly agree: 29. Agree: 30. Neutral: 12.
Disagree: 2 Strongly Disagree: 5

“There is a higher power that connects us all.”
    Strongly agree: 32. Agree: 22. Neutral: 14.
Disagree: 5. Strongly disagree: 4

Rituals and Tradition

 

From the congregational survey: “Rituals and tradition are an essential part of my church experience.”
    Strongly agree: 12 Agree: 31 Neutral: 16.
Disagree: 11. Strongly disagree: 2

Life after death

 

On the 2016 survey, you were asked "which of the following corresponds most closely with your beliefs about immortality?"

A person lives on in the memory of others: 37

A person's body dies but their soul lives on: 18

At some point in the future a person's body and soul are resurrected: 0

A person's soul is reborn into another living being: 3

Concern for immortality distracts from the important issues of this life: 7

No opinion: 2

Other (people were invited to comment): 14

Religious/Spiritual Practices and traditions:

From the 2016 Survey:

 

How frequently do you engage in...

Prayer

Often: 21   Occasionally: 27   Seldom: 17   Never. This is not important to me: 15

Meditation

Often: 23   Occasionally: 34   Seldom: 19   Never. This is not important to me: 4

Journaling

Often: 12   Occasionally: 15   Seldom: 25   Never. This is not important to me: 27

Yoga

Often: 18   Occasionally: 17   Seldom: 19   Never. This is not important to me: 24

Connecting with nature

Often: 53   Occasionally: 22   Seldom: 3   Never. This is not important to me: 1

Reading religious/spiritual texts

Often: 16   Occasionally: 32   Seldom: 22   Never. This is not important to me: 10

What faith traditions are important to you?

Unitarian Universalism: 70

Christianity: 49

Buddhism: 39

Judaism: 30

Earth-centered beliefs: 29

Religious Humanism: 26

Taoism: 13

Hinduism: 8

Islam: 9

​​

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