International Unitarian Universalism: Torda 450: Celebrating the Anniversary of Religious Tolerance

Readings and Reflections

Readings and Reflections

  • From Singing the Living Tradition (SLT):
    • God is One by Francis David (Richard Fewkes, adt) (SLT #567)
    • The Limits of Tyrants by Frederick Douglass (SLT #579)
    • The Task of the Religious Community by Mark Morrison Read (SLT #580
    • A Network of Mutuality by Martin Luther King, Jr. (SLT #584)
    • I Call that Church Free by James Luther Adams (SLT #591)
    • Love One Another I John 4 (SLT #639)
    • Freedom by John Milton (SLT #671)
  • The T-word Rev. Eric Cherry

I admit that I have an impulse to protect people who are new to Unitarian Universalism from the T-word.

I’ll perform linguistic gymnastics to avoid uttering it. I’ll refer to Western Romania, a former part of Hungary, Eastern Europe, Erdély – anything but the T-Word.

I do this because of a fear that Americans, and potential new UUs, carry so much fictional baggage about the T-word that they’ll run away - in either fear of laughter - if I utter it with seriousness. That may be ridiculous or cowardly, but I admit that I do it.

This is a challenge worth facing because Hungarian Unitarianism, its leaders, its members and its churches are in my heart and my soul. I am committed to sharing their good news, their story, and their relationship to American Unitarian Universalism. But I don’t want to lose people because of a difficult word. So I’m careful.

Eventually I find a way to offer a request, and I offer the same request to you today: If “Transylvania” conjures images of vampires and werewolves and fairy tales, try to set that aside as merely a Hollywood trope. In reality, Transylvania is a geographical area in Europe. Since WWII it has been a part of Romania, prior to that it was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. It’s not gloomy and dark or even very mysterious at all. It’s beautiful…I mean, really beautiful: with mountains and valleys and rivers and small villages and a few larger cities. The people there offer a hospitality that is immeasurable by American standards.

There, in 1568, religious freedom was declared by government and religious leaders. There, Unitarianism found its first home. Let the word “Transylvania” start to conjure new images. Real and true images. Forget the story books. In this case, fiction is much less interesting than fact. Here’s a fact: For 450 years, aside from a few short years of political influence, the Transylvanian Unitarian Church has suffered serious oppression: from leaders other religious traditions, from Romanian Nationalists who despised the Hungarian language and culture within Unitarianism, and from Communism, which for much of the 20th century made it impossible for the Unitarian Church in Transylvania to arise without being struck down. Those are facts.

And here’s another one. The people held on. As dangerous as being actively Unitarian has often been in Transylvania over centuries, people held on. Transylvanian Unitarians learned what it means to sacrifice for their faith. They know something we only grasp occasionally, that the existence of Unitarianism, a historic tradition we share, is worth suffering and dying for. In the consumerist culture that effects American religious movements, even in Unitarian Universalism people sometimes walk away from the church after they’ve decided they’ve gotten as much as they can from it. In Transylvania, the Unitarian Church would have faded long ago if people didn’t ask, instead, what does the Church need from me? And how ironic that this question comes from people who often have very little materially to share. Yes, they give generously even of that. But what they have given that has sustained their Church is spiritual commitment.

Don’t let the T-word get in the way of sharing the story. And beyond the story, let us open our hearts to the transformative relationships that can be built and grow through global faith. Once the fairy tales are set aside, we can face yet more interesting, challenging, and difficult matters that come up in sturdy and trusting relationships, and become courageous and resilient through them. Yes, the T-word is the least important matter in committed global partnership. So much more valuable is building is the opportunity to build intercultural competency, to learn lessons in mutuality and sharing, to deconstruct oppressive systems based on (neo)colonialism. Perhaps most valuable as all – to consider theological matters sitting at the table with siblings in faith—each bringing experience, commitments, and vision that can contribute to everyone’s spiritual growth.

In this way we can come to know the greatest gift of sharing global faith—the fortification of our own hope. No longer is there an excuse to feel trapped by feelings of frustration, of sorrow, of emptiness in facing global challenges. As Thomas Merton wrote, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” In the end, sharing global faith heals our own broken hearts. To love like this is to create goodness in the world. And my friends, God knows, goodness is needed in the world today.

  • Freedom and Religion—Rev. Dana Greeley (edited)

The story of the Pilgrim fathers and mothers is one of the most familiar stories in New England’s history. In England the Puritans were being persecuted. They were in such constant danger that they finally decided to flee to Holland, where they would have the freedom they desired. But even there life was very difficult. At length, to better their worldly condition and to provide for their posterity, they determined to make another pilgrimage. After an arduous voyage, they anchored off Provincetown in Cape Cod and then settled Plymouth.

In that first terrible winter, and the few months following, half their number died. There were only 51 of them left. All of them had been extremely idealistic and brave, in England, in Holland, and on this shore. They had real earnestness in their religious conviction. That conviction was to them the most important thing in their lives. They couldn’t worship insincerely. They couldn’t pretend to believe things that they didn’t really believe. They were what we call non-conformists; their beliefs were different from the beliefs of the majority of the people. Rather than compromise, they insisted upon being honest both with themselves and with other people. Their consciences were their sole guides, or their primary authority…

They wanted freedom. They had a passion for freedom, a necessity for freedom. They wanted freedom to worship, freedom of religion, freedom for their own religion, which was for them their life itself.