Last month I told you about a project I have set for us over the next several months to explore different dimensions of liberal or progressive theology. What at the most basic level distinguishes us as a religious movement?
We began in January with an exploration of how we might describe our “eschatology”–our understanding of the beginning and end of all things. In early March we’ll move on to consider our “ecclesiology,” or our theory of the nature of the church, the institution that gathers us. More will follow.
But before we get there, I want to take a detour to consider another aspect of the religious search, one that doesn’t always get much attention but that strongly influences our religious lives: our racial identity.
Theology is presented as a kind of abstract discipline regarding universal principles that soar high above the particulars of our daily life. But that’s inauthentic. Our lived experience has a lot to do with how we organize our thoughts around our religious lives.
Review the roster of great theological thinkers and you find mostly a list of white, European men whose perspective has dominated religious thought. That means that in any theological conversation their thinking, their perspectives lie at the center. That puts the thinking of others – non-white writers and thinkers, not to mention non-Europeans, and for that matter non-male writers and thinkers – on the periphery.
Bypassing those voices tends not only to impoverish our understanding but also to invalidate those voices, to make them appear inconsequential. But as Unitarian Universalists we affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity and a voice worth attending to.
To open the way for the larger multiplicity of voices, our challenge is to find ways to de-center the predominant white, male perspective. That’s not to say that their perspective isn’t worth knowing – it is – but it’s only part of the picture.
One way to correct for past practices of shutting people out is to make a new practice of inviting them in. My goal is to take a step in that direction in a series of two services in February. Given all the work we are doing around racial justice, I have chosen as a focus the work of the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of the most important Black religious writers and thinkers of the 20th century.
I’m framing these services as opportunities to “encounter” Thurman as a unique, progressive voice. What I present will, of course, come through the lens of my own perspective, but my goal will be to “center” his perspective for a moment as we work through our religious understanding. I make no claim to a unique way of thinking about his work, but while we are doing this theological digging, I think you will find him a voice worth attending to.
In March, my colleague, Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez, will take a similar tack, leading a service focusing on another figure, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Sor Juana was a writer living in 17th century Mexico who used poetry and drama to develop a kind of public theology, but who was marginalized at the time as a woman born outside of Europe.
These two figures are but a sampling of the wealth of voices who might inform our religious understanding if we would de-center our thinking and widen the lens of our view.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister