Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Taking It Home: Rise in the Sea: Unitarianism

Mindful of truth ever exceeding our knowledge and community ever exceeding our practice, reverently we covenant together, beginning with ourselves as we are... — Walter Royal Jones, Jr., chair of the commission that drafted the 1985 revision of the Unitarian Universalist Principles and Purposes

Our early American Unitarian ancestors—and their detractors—wrestled mightily with labels. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the epithet "Unitarian" labeled those who thought differently from mainstream Protestants. In 1819, Channing took the bold step to define and to claim "Unitarian" as a description of his own emerging theological understanding. In one stroke, Channing turned the tables on those who would use the term to deride others.

As individuals and as groups, we are labeled, and we apply labels to others. Often labels are thrust on us in ways that are deeply hurtful. But there are other moments, such as Channing's delivery of the Baltimore Sermon, which can inspire us to claim as a proud descriptor a term intended as an insult. Think, for example, of "queer," and its evolution from a negative label used by a homophobic culture, to the positive identity term claimed by many gays, lesbians, questioning youth, and allies.

In what ways have you been labeled by others? Have those labels been agreeable to you, or upsetting? Have you ever taken a negative label and turned it around for yourself?