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John Murray Lecture: Love and Power—The Universalist Dilemma

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General Assembly 2003 Event 3111

Sponsor: Murray Grove Association

The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt centered her talk about the struggle with notions of Love and Power. “I wanted it to be filled with hope, as cynicism is ‘against my religion,’” said McNatt. “But,” she continued, “I have to say that UUs [Unitarian Universalists] are so keen on being pure that we won't compromise much and therefore we don't accomplish as much as we could.” McNatt pointed out that when you're willing to work with others who might not fully agree with us, you can accomplish a lot more.

McNatt incorporated quotes from powerful leaders. From Clarence Skinner, she read, “The Universalist notion of God is an imminent...spirit whose nature is love. ...It is the most expansive hope ever dreamed.” Frederic Douglass wrote, “If there is no struggle, then there is no progress...Power concedes nothing without a demand....” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly...the problem is that concepts of power and love are usually seen as opposites...but power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

McNatt pointed out that Douglass reminds us the beloved community will not come into being simply because we long for it. It will not come by singing. And, she said, Dr. King reminds us about the abuse of power.

“Our passion for purity,” said McNatt, has limited our effectiveness. UUs have become marginalized, and are no longer central to the national voice; we are relegated to the last 5 minutes of the newscast, along with other human interest stories. We run the risk of becoming hypocrites if we are not willing to take stands and put our bodies on the line. McNatt recommended the book Going Public by Michael Gecan, in which he talks about how to take power back from institutions that hold it against us. None of us, said McNatt, can be innocent again—and frankly, innocence is overrated.

McNatt then took questions from the floor.

What do you propose to do to “get out of the wilderness?”
Many times you don't, replied McNatt, but instead you try to be as religious as possible while you head through the wilderness.

How can we become living breathing embodiments of divinity when some of us deny the existence of divinity itself?
That is a question that needs to be held among the people who are undergoing the journey.

Should we be considering a multi-sided conversation about theism, atheism, etc., as we did with racism?
Most definitely, answered McNatt. I would love to see us evolve an open non-confrontational discussion of this.

McNatt continued by pointing out that those of us who care have a responsibility to take on a position of discussion and action, and not just whine. For example, we don't meet people where they are on anti-racism; it's hard to do and we think they should be farther along so we torture them, and they leave the conversation.

Yet, said McNatt, congregations can become communities of moral discernment, moving along by meeting people where they are, and not forcing them on the journey. One good resource is Richard Gilbert’s book, The Prophetic Imperative. This is the way that we, as Unitarian Universalists, can work to change the world, and increase our place in the public realm.

Reported by Allan Stern; edited by Lisa Presley.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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