This blog has been discontinued. See Adam Gonnerman for all future posts.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Innovative Faith

Innovation is something startups are all about, and to which major corporations pay lip service but rarely manage to grasp without acquiring a startup. In religion, it is almost always the sworn enemy of orthodoxy, with the word ‘innovator’ used throughout history as an epithet against those who think differently and dare to talk about it. If you think about it, it really makes sense that the orthodox would fear innovation.

First, innovation threatens core beliefs and ways of doing things by saying that there could be a better way. Christianity, for example, claims to have ‘the faith once delivered.’ Roman Catholicism in particular talks about core dogma as ‘the deposit of faith.’ Innovation questions this fossilizing approach and looks to think and be better.

Second, innovation disrupts. Look at how Uber has thrown the taxi business into chaos around the world. Taxi companies could have invested in an app a few years ago, but they didn’t. They preferred to stick to a tried and true business model, until it was too late. If this is the case with business, how much more disruptive innovation can be to religious communities. In not only questions authority, it has the capacity to show them as being wrong or out of touch.

Unitarian Universalism can be a very innovative faith. So many ‘heretics’ of so many varieties in its history and its present reality make for some interesting ideas. At the same time, like any other organization with a bureaucracy, the Unitarian Universalist Association can lag behind at times. We see this right now, I think, in the fevered attempts to imitate the ‘language of reverence’ seen in dying mainline denominations. The thinking is that people want more ‘reverent’ language, and so UU churches should use more of it. This goes completely contrary to what’s actually happening in the United States, with a growing demographic of ‘nones and dones’ leaving church behind. We are seeing secular groups like Sunday Assembly and Oasis growing relatively swiftly, while mainline churches hemorrhage members. Newer, secular communities are innovators.

Within UUism there is an openness to difference, and a belief that change can at times be good. The pulpit is free, the congregations are free, and the mind of the UU parishioner is free. In this context, innovators should rise up and take the historic opportunity to form new UU communities that welcome all into upbeat gatherings, deep discussion groups, and meaningful service opportunities.