An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #4 – Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church
Sunday, August 17th 2014
What: 10:00 AM “Worship Service”
Where: Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Springfield, VA
Why I picked it: As an Atheist looking for a church, Unitarian Universalist (UU) church seems like a perfect fit – they purport to be a church based on secular morals rather than dogmatic faith and claim to be open-minded and welcoming of all beliefs and peoples. Several friends had suggested I check them out and there was one just down the street from me.
Notes: Up until this visit, my only awareness of UU was a couple lines from one of my favorite movies, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, when two teens are buying blunt wraps at a convenience store mention it while making fun of the clerks Randal and Dante:
Two packs of Wraps.
Yo–how was the service?
The one at the Unitarian church where
you two got married to each other
What the hell are you talking about?
Jay said you had a Star-Wars–themed
wedding and you guys tied the knot
dressed like storm troopers.
Yeah. And he said you’re the bitch
and you’re the butch. Oh, sorry–the
Leia and the Luke.
I’m the bitch?!
Well if we were gay, that’s how I’d
Would you shut up?!
(to TEEN 2)
Holy shit, dude. The honeymoon’s
We’re not married to each other.
Well, sure. Not in the eyes of the
state or any real church, Skywalker.
It’s true that UU was doing gay marriage long before it was the cool thing to do, and I definitely appreciate their leading the way on that among churches. I was curious what UU could offer me for life-guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.
The chapel itself was cute, tucked away in a wooded area just off a main road, with a modern design. I was greeted by two friendly older folk when I entered and given a welcome packet and program for the service.
The sanctuary was also attractive – wooden, modern-yet-churchy, cozy but not cramped, decked out in woven rainbow mini-tapestries. I especially liked the windows behind the altar showing the tops of the surrounding trees and the sky – something I have never, ever seen before in a church – and indicative of a very different outlook on the world. All churches seek to insulate the congregants from the outside world, and any outside light that enters is filtered through stained-glass. Conceptually, this difference makes sense – UU explicitly champions reason, secular humanism, and life-on-earth – while traditional christian and jewish religion (on which UU is descendant from) denies this world in favor of the next…
The service itself was…absurd. I can best describe it as a cross between a gay piano bar and an Obama rally. The service included several musical performances by a flaming and awesomely-talented piano player & singer. As talented as he was and as much as I might have (under different circumstances) appreciated his performance, I found it awkwardly misplaced and oddly profane. Were my conservative roots and Baptist upbringing getting the best of me? I like to think not: It wasn’t his flaming gayness that bothered me, although it was certainly a change from what I was used to seeing in a “church”. On the contrary, I loved his enthusiasm and energy for what he was doing…and his talent was undeniable. No, what I found awkward were the tacky, secular music choices more befitting a piano bar or a TV commercial than what might have otherwise been a halfway-sanctified-feeling church experience. He performed “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “Imagine” by John Lennon. Both stale, hackneyed pieces worn-out maybe 2 decades ago…
As for the sermon: Did you ever have a college professor who was hellbent on pushing a political agenda on everyone in the class? That familiar combination of smug self-righteousness, a captive audience, and a political message delivered from a platform you expected to impart wisdom rather than rhetoric…The pastor, speaking about the Furguson, MO news, lamented the “white cop who gunned down a poor black teen” and the police response to the looting, which was “just like the protests in Birmingham and Jackson during the Civil Rights era.” The pastor shared a popular leftist urban myth that starts off: “An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days[…]” and ends by explaining how African tribes share everything because they are not greedy and they love each other and they call it “UBUNTU” and shouldn’t we be more like the African children in the story instead of the arrogant Anthropologist and live by UBUNTU too? He mentioned a school in El Salvador that he saw on a mission trip that was “bombed by weapons provided by the United States,” decried the “collateral damage” of innocent children in Gaza perpetrated by Israel, mentioned that “the war on terror” was created to create fear in Americans in order to manufacture consent for invasions of non-white peoples and to aid racist whites at the border who shamefully turn away poor refugee children, and to top it all off – that the war on terror and border control operations are both a conspiracy to funnel government money to weapons manufacturers.
Seriously. This place calls itself a “church.” I was particularly incensed by the racist, anti-white comments laced throughout his diatribe. The uniformly-white congregation around me nodded along. He said “white people” like it was another word for “the devil” and breathlessly said the magical word ~*Ubuntu*~ like a magical incantation of the goodness of the African Tribes. My temper rose as he laid it on thick and I began looking at the chairs in my row (I sat between two people) to decide which direction I would storm out and whether to speak a word of outrage over my shoulder as I did.
I stayed. I calmed myself. Before the “sermon” began, they spoke words about how much they valued “diversity” and even said “it doesn’t matter how you vote…we are all family”…
Instead of storming out, I stayed till the end and approached the pastor. I politely greeted and thanked him, explaining that it was my first UU service (he seemed surprised):
“How did you like [the service]?”
“It was very political.”
“Yes, it was today, but it isn’t always. Since we don’t ascribe to a religious faith in particular, Social Justice and ethics are very important to us.”
“I was pretty offended several times during your message, but I can appreciate having my viewpoints challenged (he nodded in agreement). I don’t know how much good it would do me, however, to have an opposing viewpoint preached at me from a pulpit every week, though.”
He encouraged me to check the website for the sermons and to come back on a week that was less-political, but said that he understood. He also mentioned that the main pastor (currently on vacation) had spoken recently about a desire to diversify the political composition of the congregation, apparently noting the overwhelming homogeneity that so rapidly alienated me.
UU is not a religion or a church, it is an overt left-wing political club with a pinch of new-age/hippie candle-lighting and singing of pop songs as ‘hymns’.