Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

08 January 2018

Sometimes the top of a New Year invites open-ended questions following some self-examination. In an institution such as ours, or more broadly the UUA, it is advised to occasionally ask what is working effectively and what is not. Given the assumption that there is always room for improvement, people as well as institutions might gain insight from an objective evaluation of where we are personally or institutionally.

I’ve been doing some reading of late which raises the question of modernizing the traditional church. It represents a philosophical view that in order for churches to survive in an increasingly secular society, it must open itself to science and rational thought. A fine example is Pope Francis who is trying to lead the Catholic Church away from antiquated superstitions and practices to find the light of day in contemporary times. Old church thinking will keep the institution from contemporary relevance. The pope’s detractors insist that tradition has more value than current relevancy. An interesting argument…

I can’t help from raising the question of what modernization means for Unitarian Universalism. Even if just an academic question, shouldn’t we be thinking along those lines, just for good measure? Modernization begs the question of relevancy. Unitarian Universalism has been content for a very long time in its acceptance of science; there is no need for opening church windows to let in the new light of discovery. In fact, many regard Unitarian Universalism as a science-based faith, as paradoxical as that may sound. But do we stop there in considering what modernizing really means, even for a progressive church?

What might it mean for Unitarian Universalism to modernize, or do we believe there is no such need? After all, we have purged all superstitions from our liberal doctrine for over a century. But do we dare ask the next question: Are we still relevant?

Modernizing is as basic as the laws of evolution. It needs to be a continuous and open-ended process. There’s a need to examine the internal dynamics of an institution as well as its structure. A case in point may be the recent Golden Globes awards. It may have been their 75th anniversary, but the internal dynamics were radically altered by a more “modern” assessment of where the entertainment industry finds itself today. The 2018 Globes were draped in black, with actresses and some (remaining) actors initiating a new era for entertainment given the oppression and harassment of women and the expected silence that followed. Still, not one woman was even nominated for Best Director, although there were many who should have been in the nominating pool.

Modernizing does not mean an immediate fix, but at least an awareness of old habits with a commitment to becoming relevant again as the times demand. Given that the population of UUs across the country has plummeted drastically since the merger in 1961, it might seem appropriate and even advisable for our denomination and our local church to consider what it means for us to “modernize.” Change for the sake of change is not helpful. But raising the question of whether or not we have adapted to modern needs could prove a fine soul-searching exercise. Science is not the only criteria for a modern-day religion. Perhaps we have remained content for too long. TRG