The Cambridge Platform of 1648 read, “There ought to be no ordination of a minister at large. He would be a pastor without a people” (15).
This is interesting to me both in this context (community ministry) and in the context of the theology of ordination. As a transfer candidate, I’m interested in what it means that the UUs honor my ordination as a Presbyterian minister. For some UUs, perhaps it means that “something happened” in the laying on of hands, something divine, something magical (in the best sense of that word). For others, it probably means simply that another religious community (in my case, the Presbys) recognized my gifts, skills and training as a minister, and that those gifts, skills and training transcend differences in theology; in other words, I am who I am, no matter what faith tradition I serve.
The theme, for both community ministry and the theology of ordination, is accountability of ministers to the community (and I supposed of the community to those who minister). I think it’s Cartman from South Park who says, “I’ll do what I want!” That instinct is in us–well, it’s in me. But the constraints of accountability are good for us; they are meant to keep us from going off the deep end, or from going so far in a direction of our choosing that the congregation can no longer see us.
Maintaining the idea of community as parish became problematic in reality, as a theology of conformity was used to empower a politics of exclusion and abuse….the indigenous origins of our liberal religious grounding are found in early models of religious dissent….Perhaps it is from this place, where theology became a moral question rather than a doctrine of judgment, that we derive our impulse for community ministry (16).
It is much, much easier, to tend a flock that, well, flocks together. A religious community with a theology of conformity is theoretically easier to control. But in my experience, some of us just have a real problem with conformity. It makes us claustrophobic. And so we become dissenters, who either leave on our own, or are excluded by the conformers. There’s something, too, about communities that are excessively concerned with theological conformity; compassion is often a casualty of that excessive concern. If compassion survives, it’s often exercised in the service of theology–“if we are kind to them, they will believe like we believe.”
Caleb Rich..arrived at Universalism through a personal struggle in which the threat of Hell did not seem to him a worthy motivation for living a good life (21).
It’s an effective motivation, but not a worthy motivation. As I moved in progressively more liberal circles, there was more than one time when I shook my head ruefully and said, “People must have been so much easier to motivate when they believed in hell!” The difference, though, between goodness motivated by fear, and goodness motivated by love, is immeasurable.
In the eighteenth century, Arminian (later Unitarian) and Universalist beginnings cleared small spaces in the densely wooded landscape of orthodoxy to plant seeds of liberal religious thought and practice. They posed two emergent alternatives to the Calvinist status quo, each offering in its own way a more optimistic view of the human capacity for good. One was taken up by the more educated and economically well-situated; the other was embraced by people closer to the ordinary exigencies of life. In both cases, the possibility for being righteous was not precluded by the doctrine of election; in both cases, compassion and the capacity for righteousness took precedence over depravity as the lens through which to view humanity (24).
I love the imagery in this paragraph. One of the interesting things that is happening for me as I read this book is that I keep comparing the arc of UU history with the trajectory of my own spiritual journey. There are definite parallels. I wonder what will happen as I continue. Am I still clearing small spaces in the dense woods of a fundamentalist childhood? Even though I live in the broad, open fields of 21st century Unitarian Universalism, are there still invisible, imaginary branches brushing against my face, casting shadows in my path?
Ware…moved from an Arian view of Christ to a Socinian view, whereby Christ was simply a man and had no existence before his birth into the world. This shift was typical of Ware’s generation of American anti-Trinitarians, adopted a generation earlier in England (26).
This theological shift is so important. When people look at the life of Jesus, and believe that he was God, there’s a tendency to think, however unconsciously, “Well, of course he could do that. He was God.” A further shift, letting go of a belief in a Magical Other who will save us, helps wake us up to the fact that if we don’t do something, it won’t get done.
In the liberal theologies that broke with orthodox Calvinism and rejected innate depravity, we find a moral imperative alert to human need in the larger human family (27).
So, the liberal theologies told people, “You are not depraved. You can do good. Now go and do it.” And they helped people see Jesus, not as the Magical Other whose example of love they could not possibly live up to, but as a fellow human being whose life they could aspire to emulate.