Thursday, March 21, 2024

Noncreedalisms Compared


The slogan "Deed Above Creed" is one popular with the Ethical Culture Societies. As a Humanist organization, the American Ethical Union does not participate in discussions of the supernatural as somehow reflecting reality, as is the case with traditional religion. The same slogan is popular with Unitarian Universalists as well, though. In my life I've been part of two religious traditions that claim to be noncreedal, and only one of them was legitimately so, in my opinion.

First, when I was 19 or so I found my way into the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. This is part of what scholars refer to as the Stone-Campbell Movement. The religious tradition began in the 19th century as some people in the United States sought out a form of simple, "original" Christianity. Part of this was setting aside the traditional creeds of Christianity, and emphasizing the Bible alone as the source of truth. One popular slogan was and remains this: "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible." Some within the independent Christian Churches refer to their movement as being "undenominational," due to the fact that there is no general headquarters for the religious tradition. As nondenominational evangelical Christianity appears to grow in the United States, their claim to being unaffiliated with any denomination becomes less and less significant. And besides, although they claim to have no creed, they more often than not have statements of faith on their church websites, outlining such basics as the Trinity, dual nature of Jesus, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and so forth. This noncreedal movement has both these written statements as well as an unwritten understanding about what constitutes orthodoxy. Any departure from it is generally unwelcome.

Second, there's the Unitarian Universalist tradition of which I have now been a part for nearly a decade. Although the tradition has 7 Principles (or 8) that tie the congregations together in covenant, there is no creed to which a member must assent before joining officially. Granted, a MAGA Republican will never be happy in a UU congregation, but there are no written rules other than, perhaps, about providing a safe and welcoming space to everyone. Within UU congregations there can be Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Muslims, Buddhests, folks of Jewish descent, and whatever else. What matters are not the particularities of religious beliefs, but the shared values of welcome and inclusion. There is a progressive lens through which the world is viewed in UU perspective, and this is what prevails. 

None of this is to suggest that being noncreedal is a simple matter. It's a practice that requires tolerance for difference, within the theme of welcoming all who welcome all. Honest noncreedalism envisions humanity united under certain shared values, not aligning on specific answers to all questions. This is one of the things I value deeply in Unitarian Universalism.