Monday, August 25, 2008

Unitarians. The Best Kept Secret?

I had the pleasure of attending a Unitarian church service in my neighborhood yesterday and it was lovely. On October 5, I will be leading a writing workshop on race and identity at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. And my husband and I were actually married in a Unitarian church in Milwaukee ( to the great shame and horror of some of my husband's Catholic friends, but that's another story). And yet, I don't know very much about the Unitarian Faith/Religion.

What I do know is that Unitarian Churches are open to people of all religions, races and sexual orientations; they are very active in causes of social justice and peace the world over; and they've been around for a very long time. So I'm just wondering why they don't get more attention for having diverse congregations and likewise why more Black folks don't get with the Unitarian cause.

I spoke with a very wise African-American Unitarian on Sunday and he too seemed baffled by the low numbers of Black (and by extension other people of color) people attracted to the Unitarian church, especially considering how much work they have done and continue to do on behalf of civil rights. It was this man, whom I'll dub "The Professor" (b/c he really was a professor of philosophy), who said, "Yeah I call the Unitarians the best kept secret because I can't figure out why more Black people aren't attracted to this church."

The two of us stood in the garden behind the church and laughed about it, came up with some ideas but I'm still confused. So many people, especially us 20-40-something colored folks, who may or may not be connected to someone of a different color, seem to be searching for a religious home that respects and honors our cultural heritage yet isn't so foreign that we feel like we have to study up before we can commune with the divine. Is the Unitarian church the way to go?

Dear Meltingpot readers, anyone out there a Unitarian and want to explain why Unitarians churches aren't the rainbow congregations they should be by now?

I am intrigued.



a passive observer said...

I have a thought as to why you dont find a lot of African Americans in Unitarian churches. Maybe its as simple as there arent any in the neighborhoods where tend to populate. And Im not so sure if AAs would be too open to the idea of such a liberal (sexual orientation) church? I dunno, Im thinking of traditional Baptist and those from TCGC goers.

Me said...


I like your hair and mask. Thanks for your comment. I agree that the location of UU churches may be part of the problem. Also, The Professor and I did talk about how some AA raised in the traditional Baptist churches might have a problem with just how "open" the UU congregation is. Sad but true.

Thanks for reading the Meltingpot!

Christina said...

Great topic. We actually do have a Unitarian Church located in a predominantly AA neighborhood. We're in the process of deciding if a new church is in order, and were considering visiting the Unitarian Church to check it out. I'm hopeful that it will be relatively diverse given its physical location, but we'll see. I'll let you know what I find out!

glamah16 said...

I have seen a few in Chicago. Especially Hyde Park near the U of C. Im curious to visit. Im at those points in life where I want to find a church, but one that suits me. Im not into all the "pastor worship" that goes on these modern mega chuches.

Me said...


Good luck with your visit to the church. I hope you find a welcoming congregation for your beautiful family (I just spent an hour!! reading your adoption story.). And thanks for reading the Meltingpot.

Glamah Girl,

I've missed you:) I hear you on the mega churches thing. Not my cup of tea. What I really enjoyed about the UU service was the sermon stimulated my mind, gave me something to think about and walk away with. It was great, and of course, walking in with my Spaniard husband didn't cause even a single glance. Which is always a relief, cuz you never know how people will react in their "sacred spaces."


Sara said...

Odd how experiences cluster together. I attended Unitarian chuch in high school, in Mequon, WI, in fact, and I am biracial, so the issue of race politics in the Unitarian church is very important to me (when I make the point to remain involved in the church.)

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Racial Justice Committee for First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee. We spoke quite a lot about this very topic.

Unitarian Universalism, is (le sigh) sometimes difficult to swallow. The large part of congregations are made up of wealthy white people, often suburban. And while these rich liberals are good-hearted, often (and I know this from personal experience) they are ignorant and preachy and it's hard to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue attending church when met with the hypocritical feelings that I have been in the past.

At any rate, if you're up for some reading, look around the UUA website ( and it may answer some of your questions.

Me said...

Hi Sara,

Thanks for joining in at the Meltingpot and for your insider information. Very interesting perspective. I'll def. read up on the website and I think the family and I will visit the church again. I have to say, their Sunday school curriculum seems well organized and right on point for my kids.

Have fun working at MYSO! That's so cool.

Carleen Brice said...

The Unitarians own Beacon Press (which has published 2 of my books). I've long been a fan, but this post really makes me think about checking out a church and attending a service.

Funny about black churches and sexuality. All those gay male choir leaders, yet it's ok if you just don't talk about it? LOL!

Anonymous said...

I'm an African American woman who is interested in Unitarianism. (Smile at your interracial marriage-I love Latino men too). I quickly noticed in my web surfing that there aren't many Black Unitarians! There is a local church where the median age is 65. I'm single and hopefully, looking to meet others to be active with. I saw a singles group that camps-it looked "fun" although I'm not much of a camper. At this rate, I'll try anything. I'm looking to connect.

I found this intriguing web page that is relatively blank. It promotes Latino Unitarianism.

Unitarianism appeals to me because it seems dogma free and doesn't say WE are the only TRUE way.

I think that many Blacks may not be aware of the Unitarian church. The style of worship may also be off putting to many Blacks. It feels to me like the average Black person is brainwashed to read the bible 24/7 & quote it without giving any thought to anything else. I wasn't raised that way. I recently made a new friend who is encouraging me to attend her church. I find it odd that she tells me I need someone to "help" me read the bible and understand it. It feels like indoctrination to me.

Here I am speaking about Unitarianism and I've yet to attend a single service. I know that I am seeking. From everything I've read this seems like a fit in some ways. I've always felt that it's really sad how people who want you in their church will be so friendly and open but personally it feels like they are ONLY interested in you as a potential church member. Why can't someone care about me and my life even if I am not affiliated with a church?

Another thing that is "interesting" there is a UT single's web site and from what I've seen the men are still doing the "I'm only attracted to thin women or I'm looking for someone who takes care of themselves physically" BS! I thought Unitarianism was about accepting all people.

akmmd said...

AAs as you may know have a deep Christian tradition that extended before slavery in this country.It is deeply rooted in our culture and for some, provides the spiritual comfort needed against the pervasiveness of racism. UUs believe in finding your own path which does may not provide the structure or discipline AAs need. Because slaves were forbidden in part to practice their religious traditions, it made sense to practice the religion of their owner even though they largely had no choice. I'm sure AAs think on some level even today, Christians can't possibly hate fellow Christians. We all know that is a false assumption. I am a proud AA UU for many years.