“All the heroes of tomorrow are the heretics of today.” E.Y. Harburg
I was reading an article the other day about a school that is like “Christian Hogwarts” and the church that runs it also has a program called Young Saints. I started thinking and wondering, if these young folks are “Young Saints”, then are Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults “Young Heretics”? Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?
My experience growing up as a youth in Raleigh, North Carolina was difficult. Some difficulty came from being an adolescent who didn’t want to move, some from being a yankee moved south, but some of my hardest experiences happened because of my Unitarian Universalist faith. As a child in Massachusetts, there were UU churches in every town and many of my schoolmates were UUs (though none of them attended the church in the town we lived). In Raleigh, I was the only one at my high school. Freshman year I earned the title of “Satanist” after debating against the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Too many times to count I was prayed for, told I was going to hell, or implored to find God. As I continued to feel othered by my peers, my Unitarian Universalist faith deepened. After learning about Miguel Serveto and Ferenc Dávid, I scrawled “HERETIC” across my backpack in white-out pen.
Back then, it felt heretical to speak against my Christian peers and hold steadfast to my agnosticism. Some days, it felt like I was a martyr for my faith. While I’m not sure I would call myself a heretic today, I do believe that one of the hallmarks of our faith is that we are raising heretics and saints.
Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities are raising and creating heretical saints, especially young ones. Our churches teach that all are loved, all are worthy, all is holy, and all are connected. This is heretical right now. Decades of work that moved us closer to equality is being undone by our president and his cronies. The alt-right thinks loving your neighbor makes you a snowflake. Our faith that asks us to answer the call of love, to challenge and dismantle white supremacy, and to build the Beloved Community are heretical thoughts and actions today. In a world that hates so fiercely, to love all is heretical.
It is also saintly. Saints are devoted to their faith and the practice of it. Historically, many of them were martyred for living their faith proudly in the world. Saintly is usually used to refer to someone very holy or morally upstanding. I know Unitarian Universalist saints, working with them is the best part of working at the UUA. These are folks who love Unitarian Universalism and carry it into the world. They fight for justice, they serve their neighbors, and they nurture their families. They covenant with themselves and with others almost without noticing it. They live our principles and find wisdom in our sources. They prophesize a hopeful future, one built on love, care, and equity. They bend the arc of the universe towards justice.
Unitarian Universalist heretical saints are leading the way. They are asking us to challenge white supremacy, to resist in the name of love, and to not give up hope. Think about your Unitarian Universalist community. Mr. Rogers’ mother always told him to “look for the helpers” in times of crisis. Look for the heretics, the rebels, the saints, and the ones drawing the circle wide to bring all in. Then, go help them. We are all called to be the heretical saints the world needs right now.