Forty years ago this month, four working class boys from England landed in this country and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. And the country fell in love.
But I had fallen in love with the Beatles quite a bit earlier. They were adorable, they were enchanting, and I was fourteen going on fifteen.
They meant everything to me and to my favorite cousin Frimma. When we were together, we listened eagerly, passionately for their songs to come up on the top-40 radio station.
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. But of course we heard this line as HE loves ME, yeah, yeah, yeah. She liked Paul and I liked John. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, for a couple of teenage girls, they were gods. They were a kind of salvation and certainly the embodiment of love.
If you talk to the academics who teach evangelists what is known about the psychology of conversion, they will commonly tell you that teens, young teens, are especially ripe. Their hormones and their great, mostly unrequited longings are sitting there, more properly, seething there — ready to connect. With younger people, it seems to me, it can go one way or another.
Love or Justice.
In the case of the teens and young adults I knew anyway. You either hung out with those folks who some older people often scornfully called peaceniks, sitting in coffee houses or planning demonstrations — the justice freaks — or with those who took the bus to the Haight Ashbury, buying love beads, hanging in the park — the love-in crowd. Marching on one side, mellowing out on the other.
Love is but a song, fear’s the way we die.
All we need is love, love is all we need.
As the larger culture struggled to define itself, to position itself on what is sometimes pictured as a love-justice continuum, so did our loosely knit Unitarian Universalist Association. What comes first, love or justice? What changes us, transforms us, as individuals: our minds or our hearts? And what changes the world?
Coming together as one of my ministerial colleagues has called “kissing cousins,” related, but not in the same nuclear family: one religious tradition — Unitarianism — coming more directly out of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason and empiricism and its goal of better and more just societies.
What’s love got to do with it?
The other — Universalism — more interested in universal individual salvation and a heartfelt personal relationship with God, which was all loving.
He or she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. All we need is love.
And then, the time in the early 1960s when they merged, these two liberal religions with somewhat differing world views. The Kennedy murders, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The riots in cities all over the country. The cold war with its ever escalating arms race, the war in Vietnam.
Not a lot of love, not a lot of compassion. And the God of Love, the God of Love is all there is, seemed to be missing in action.
As we frequently, perhaps too frequently, remind ourselves, making generalizations about Unitarian Universalism as a monolith, as a spiritual block, is an exercise in futility. But if we take a look at our covenants and how they have changed, there does seem to be a discernible pattern of change.
If we are what we covenant together, then there as been, whether intentional or not, a process of gradual omission. To put it succinctly, even bluntly: where has all the love gone?
Rev. Dr. Edward Frost, in his very fine With Purpose and Principle essays about the seven principles in Unitarian Universalism, says that while we might not agree that we have a common creed, we have a long history of attempts to state, if not a common faith, at least a workable consensus about what brings us together as a religious community.
If we look at the history of Universalist statements of belief, the original emphasis seems clear. The so-called Winchester Confession affirmed what they called the central doctrine of the “New American” religion, that in God’s love and forbearance, all souls are saved.
This emphasis on love, specifically divine love, can be seen in the first hymnal published after the two denominations merged. In 1964, in the grey hymnal Hymns for the Celebration of Life, there is the Universalist Declaration, “We avow our faith in God as eternal and all-conquering love (and in the spiritual leadership of Jesus).”
On the Unitarian side, the very first statement from the American Unitarian Association revealed, as Dr. Frost has written, the predominantly practical emphasis of Unitarianism.
“We value our doctrines only as far as they evidently are the revelation of the will and character of God, and so far as they tend to improve the religious, moral, and intellectual condition of mankind (sic). The great end of this Association is the promotion of pure morals and practical piety.”
Not much love here.
In all fairness, however, in an effort to redefine itself as a Christian denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association in l894 adopted another statement, which declared “these churches accept the religion of Jesus in accordance with his teaching that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to Man.” Which deliberately excluded Humanists and led to a huge divide between Humanists and theists for the next 30 years, and indeed well into the 21st century, in some corners of our movement.
In the back and forth swing between head and heart, love and justice, God as love and God as moral judge, one covenant in the 1964 hymnal was clearly a tilt toward the mind/justice end of the continuum:
“In the freedom of the truth
And the spirit of Jesus,
We unite for the worship of God and the service of Man (sic).”
And in what I see as an emerging compromise, or moving toward each other on the love/justice poles, a familiar affirmation to many of us, the chalice lighting this morning:
Love is this church, and service its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.
But while this is often recited and even hung on sanctuary walls, this has never been a formal statement of what we hold in common.
The emphasis following World War II has been based less in traditional or even non-traditional religious language or statements of faith and more as prevailing principles.
Listen to the five principles developed by the first committee dedicated to coming up with a common statement:
Individual freedom of belief; discipleship to advancing truth; the democratic process in human relations; universal brotherhood (sic), undivided by nation, race, or creed; and allegiance to the cause of united world community.
Not many warm fuzzys here.
In 1977, a group of women successfully pressured the Unitarian Universalist Association to revisit these principles and the language surrounding them, asking if they affirmed women. They were concerned about the continuing use of exclusionary language like “brotherhood of man” and wanted to replace words, words they believed were hierarchical and self-limiting, words like foundation and fellowship, with words they believed were more inclusive and heart-felt, like center and community.
But somehow and somewhere between the original effort to reform our statement of things held common among us and the resulting seven principles and purposes we have today, love missed the cut.
The one fleeting reference to love in a 1983 revision of the UU bylaws, asked us to defend and promote “love, acceptance, and spiritual growth in our religious communities and a world community of love, justice, and peace.” In the final version, the one most of us know, love was lost. Was it because love was thought of as just Judeo-Christian property, relegated to one mention in our listing of the sources of our living tradition, and by placing it more prominently and solidly in our covenant we would be playing religious favorites? Does its omission then mean we are saying that other world religious traditions — including religious Humanism — do not value love? Or that love is not a factor in human transformation or the transformation of the world?
And then, since compassion was kept in, are we assuming that these are synonymous? The last time I checked, compassion is concern for others. Is not love something deeper, or at least different, than that?
What’s the fuss, anyway? Love or Justice. Love and Justice. What’s it all about, anyway, in these times, in this time?
I have come up with at least two reasons why this matters, one personal and one more global. First, with all we know about personality and human growth, it seems to be true that we are different in where we start, where we feel most at home on the love-justice continuum. Some of us, as the Myers-Briggs indicators would assert, are inherently prone to prefer reasoning our way, and judging our way, through the experiences of our lives. Some stronger on feeling and sensing. The human task, the personal growth challenge for us, is to move toward balance. Nudged and nurtured by those around us and along with us on our journeys. Not love or justice, but love and justice.
The second consideration is how we respond as congregations and as a society to the issues we face. The current most divisive issue in this country, even more so than the war in Iraq or the state of our economy, is the loving affirmation of, and legal sanction of, same-sex marriage. It is in the air and in the news, from fast-track efforts to pass a Georgia state constitutional amendment pre-emotively banning legal unions or marriages for same-sex partners, to efforts on the federal level to pass a similar amendment, to the recent ruling in Massachusetts that same-sex partners have the civil right to marry, not just a different form of union.
Our denominational president, William Sinkford, issued a pastoral letter this week, emphasizing the justice-end of things. The banner on the side of our offices at 25 Beacon Street in Boston proclaim, he declared, that we believe that civil marriage is a civil right for all.
On the other hand, my colleague Rev. Don Southworth has framed it another way. Using an amalgam of the language in our principles, that we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and justice and compassion in human relations, he also adds back the left out word:
This is the time for us, he wrote in his pastoral letter, to act to live out our principles and not sit on the sideline as people are discriminated against because of who they love.
While acknowledging another of our binding principles, our belief in the right of individual conscience and democratic process, he called upon the members of his UU congregation to take into consideration both justice and love. What is right and fair and what is the loving position to take?
What’s love got to do with it? More than some of us have allowed.
In the words of an old and familiar and beloved hymn:
We would be one in building for tomorrow a better world than we have known today.
We would be one in searching for that meaning which binds our hearts and points us on our way.
As one we pledge ourselves to greater service, with love and justice, strive to make us free.