Unitarian Universalism as One Big Codependent System


Yesterday I wrote about a new insight I am exploring in which the anti-Christian sentiments found throughout Unitarian Universalism can be seen and understood as aversion addiction.  This post has received a lot of traffic. In 24 hours it is already one of the most visited posts in the history of this blog.  It has received as many comments as I usually get on a post, many post comments coming on the Facebook cross-posting and not here.

David Pyle’s (Celestial Lands) comment notes that he has looked at the phenomenon of anti-Christian attitudes in our communities before through the lens of post-traumatic stress, but he says the analogy didn’t quite exactly fit.  He writes that the aversion addiction angle seems to be a better match for the behavior that he too has experienced in our congregations, especially in light of family systems theory and we all know how big the UUA – and many church consultant types are on family systems theory.   And he asks the big question – so how do we respond?

I think we need to seriously consider Unitarian Universalism, the Unitarian Universalist Association at large and certainly most of our individual congregations as Codependent family systems.  We have addicts – people with aversion addictions to Christianity, certainly, but also to spirituality, and spiritual and religious language.  The entire structure of Unitarian Universalism colludes to support this addiction.  Within the last decade a brief intervention was begun with then President Rev. William Sinkford’s call to reclaim a “language of reverence” in an effort to be a more relevant religion.  Although welcomed in some quarters of the UUA, it was met with the reaction that most addicts have when confronted with their addiction in other quarters: denial, rejection, ignoring, and other delaying tactics so as to not have to confront the reality of the addiction.

The ministry, the religious educators, the national staff and leadership have for too long been enablers of the aversion addiction.  We, the leaders of Unitarian Universalism have created a codependent and culture. We collude with the aversion addicts to keep religious language neutral, leave theology out of our church life, and not demand spiritual discipline or disciplines.  If we were to insist on such things, the church family system would blow up in anxiety.   Gerald G. May writes

“Codependency is not simply a matter of other people trying to cope with the addicted person’s behavior. They actually create their own interweaving webs of deception. They may even unconsciously develop new, more inventive mind tricks for the addicted person to use. Ironically, it is the most sympathetic, compassionate, loving persons in the addict’s social circle that are most likely to fall into such collusion.” (Addiction and Grace)

We really have no choice but to name the addiction and demand that it stop. Now. Why?

“When the community surrounding an addicted person tried to help in way that does not support ending the addiction, it will wind up supporting the addiction instead…Both the …addicted person person and his or her immediate community know that the ….addiction has to stop…but at another, more insidious level they find themselves colluding with the addiction.” – Gerald G. May, Addiction and Grace

We do verbal gymnastics in Unitarian Universalism to avoid words like God, spirit, covenant, and faith. Why? Because some people have an aversion addiction to them.  It is completely fine that some people in our religious communities are not Christians. It is completely fine that some people in our religious communities do not believe in God.  What is not acceptable is that some of these people hold our community hostage with their aversion to the language, ideas and expression of faith and spirituality.  At a theological level, that kind of insistence on never hearing certain words is a fundamentalism. It is just as much an expression of fundamentalism as insisting a person accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or they are going to hell and that every single letter of the Bible is factually, historically and theologically true. At a behavioral level it is an aversion addiction.

We have lost much of our ability to deal with this addiction because we have become largely codependent.  We are not a place where people holding differing religious views are welcome. If that were true, I wouldn’t be writing this.  We are a generally a place where people holding some different religious beliefs except Christianity, which is ironically our roots and history, are welcome.

Let’s take a look at some of the Characteristics and Patterns of Co-Dependents from Co-Dependents Anonymous.  Read through the list and see if any of the patterns remind you of common patterns you recognize in congregational behavior.  It’s not very scientific, I admit, but my observations from being intimately connected to four UU congregations (one as a member and three as a minister) is that of these four congregations, the one that exhibited the fewest of these characteristics was the UU Christian congregation.

We do a lot of relational gymnastics because of this codependency.  When there is a major conflict in our congregations, we are extremely hesitant to name the aversion addiction.  We skirt around differences of religious language and perspective, especially if the addicts are major donors or hold positions of power or leadership in the congregation.  After all, consider a family system in which you need to confront a parent with their alcoholism.  We send leaders to workshops on family systems, we hire consultants from the Alban Institute and study congregational dynamics and all kinds of leadership theories.  None of it amounts to much in terms of Unitarian Universalism growing into a vital spiritual presence in America. Our congregations continue to shrink, people who grow up UU leave and join Christian churches or Buddhist sanghas, we continue to suffer from lack of financial support and lack of sustaining mission and vision.  Revival will depend on becoming missional, but we can’t be missional while being codependent.

I am not arguing for a return to a liberal Christian only Unitarian Universalism, but I do believe we need to insist on naming the aversion addiction.  If someone needs to be a community where there is never any mention of God, no one ever prays and religion itself is thought to be for lesser people, let’s be honest and tell them they don’t belong in our congregations.

When ministers confront the addicts and the addictions, they should be supported by their colleagues, district and national staff and policy.  Our polity get in the way of doing this and is another piece of our codependency.  Often, addicts are in positions of leadership and by standing up for Christian or things associated with Christianity or spiritual or religious expressions, the clergy become targets of addicts, made to be the scapegoats of systemic dysfunction which is in reality an addiction and not the addiction of the minister.  The ministers, however, often contribute to the codependency for many reasons, not the least of which is they need to keep their source of income.

This exploration has generated a lot of conversation so far and I look forward to more.