Some years ago a handful of Unitarian Universalists began preaching the good news of a missional approach to church. We called ourselves the Red Pill Brethren and our unofficial symbolic leader, for he was the one who introduced us to this approach and first lived it out among us, was Ron Robinson. Ron was arrested on child pornography charges last Thursday. Since then, those of us missional Unitarian Universalists have talked, shared, and held each other up. This is a statement from our group on this tragic, horrible, painful news.
The missional church movement was brought to Unitarian Universalism when some of us formed a group originally called the Red Pill Brethren. We used the term “Red Pill” after that metaphor in the film The Matrix, because each of us could remember that moment when the world stopped spinning on its axis and we suddenly began seeing “church” in a different way. The idea of an “inside-out” church, where going out into the community and making lives better, rather than spending all our energy inside our four walls, was irresistible. Don’t GO to church, BE the church! Make working with your neighbors to heal and strengthen the community not a little outreach project you do, but your whole reason for being!
What if building the Beloved Community wasn’t about building the membership of your church, but about building the world we dream about? What if church was as simple (and as difficult as) feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and setting free the oppressed?
What if …?
One of our group created a community, an honest-to-God, missional community. He lived out the vision in a self-sacrificial way, even going so far as to set the goal for himself that he would be a reverse-tither; he would give away 80% of his wealth to help the community. He practiced the Three Rs of Christian community development: relocation to abandoned places of empire, redistribution of resources to places of need, and reconciliation through repairing relationship between people and between people and God. And he created an amazing community, based in these values, the values of the Jesus he freely followed.
We lifted him up. We told the stories of his community in workshops, articles, sermons. We put him on a pedestal. This, what he had achieved, was the pinnacle. The radical embodiment of realized eschatology. For many of us, he was an honest to God agent of salvation. Our eyes were opened. Church and ministry were not about institutional associations and congregations, but about serving the mission, the oldest mission there is—creating beloved community by being a powerful agent of love in the world around us, about loving the hell right out of the world. You didn’t need to be a minister or a DRE or even a church to do that. Many of us were ready to give up on ministry and/or church. Having our eyes opened to this new way of seeing church and ourselves is what kept us going as ministers, religious educators, and Unitarian Universalists. His vision was real.
But the man was flawed, deeply flawed, criminally flawed, and he was arrested for (and has admitted to) the crime of seeking out, possessing, and viewing child pornography. He taught us to “Love the Hell out of the World” because the world is indeed full of hells. One of these hells is the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Our missional approach calls us to find the people our hearts break for and be in solidarity with them. Our hearts certainly break for all the children who are abused and exploited through child pornography and prostitution.
The news of his crimes broke. We gathered together. We who had already given up “Brethren;” we who had already given up “Red Pill” because the term had been co-opted by those supporting hate. We who still believe in the idea that there are no great things, only small things done with great love. We who believe that one should be ashamed to die before winning a victory for humanity. We who still, God bless our pointed heads and imperfect souls, believe that when you did something for the least of these, for the lost, the last, and the left out, you did it for the greatest good; for the creative, sustaining, transformative power at the heart of all that is—for God.
We still believe.
We are grieving. We are questioning ourselves. Did we exalt one of our own so much that he couldn’t bring a prayer of confession to any of us?
We gathered together online for a conference call, (the technology that facilitated his crimes, also brought us together in pain and fellowship) the night the story broke. We expressed our disillusionment, our grief, our anger.
We will grieve. We will examine how we can be more fully there for each other, how we can encourage the true vulnerability of asking for serious moral help.
But we know this: Missio Dei—The Mission of God—even for those of us who quibble about the definition of “God,” is bigger than any one person, or movement, or religion.
The mission of oneness, that we are here to serve each other, to create a Beloved Community that is nothing less than a heaven on earth.
We are not all Christian, not by a long shot, but we all believe in Resurrection. We believe in a larger truth—that we are here to abet and witness to the wonder of existence, that we are here to serve each other and to realize Shalom—that each and every one of us is a minister, a servant of that creative, sustaining and transformative power. We all believe the Missio Dei is real, and that it can, and will, be reborn again and again, as we commit our lives to healing and wholeness.
We still humbly call ourselves “missional,” and we recommit to the mission of loving the hell out of this world.
Yours in Faith,
The Unitarian Universalist Missional Cohort:
- Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford
- Rev. Tony Lorenzen
- Rev. Chuck Freeman
- Rev. Cecilia Kingman
- Rev. Jake Morrill
- Rev. Eric Posa
- Lori Stone Sirtosky
- Thomas Earthman
- Joy Berry, DRE
- Rev. Jennifer Innis
- Rev. Sean Dennison