Welcoming the Closeted

[Editor's note: this is the first of a new monthly column that Rev. David J. Miller is writing for the UU Church of Worcester, MA, where he is Minister Emeritus.]

If we truly wish to make people, and especially minorities, feel welcome in our congregation, it is not enough to sloganize “All Are Welcome!”  People will feel welcomed when we greet them by name as Pope Francis did in the course of his recent speech in Washington, when he asked his audience to pray for him and added, "And those who are not believers and cannot pray, please send me your good wishes."

Many non-believers hunger for the kind of recognition and inclusion represented by Pope Francis’ words.

In contrast, not so long ago a family member said to us in reference to our Humanism: “You are the kind of people who are ruining our nation.”

And I know a young man who was thrown out of his family home while still a teenager when he told his parents that he no longer believed in God.

And I know a person who was fired from his job when it became known that he was a non-believer.

To come out to one’s family as a non-believer may be to risk judgment, condemnation, rejection, and/or ostracism.

To come out as a non-believer in one’s workplace may be to risk discrimination or losing one’s job.

To come out as a non-believer while holding public office may risk political suicide.

And so, many Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers remain closeted because it is risky for them to reveal their religious/philosophical/life stance views.

I consider myself fortunate to have discovered UU churches as a teenager and to have a career as a UU minister: beyond the walls of the UU churches in my life, I have been largely closeted.  In the larger community, I have been reticent about revealing my true views on theological issues; but, in UU circles, I could be open and forthright about who I am and what I believe.

At its best, our church is the place where we can hear our names (Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, Freethinker, or for that matter, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Theist, or Christian-who am I forgetting?) pronounced in tones of respect, acceptance, and friendship.

And especially for religious non-conformists, our church is an oasis amid the storm of passionate denunciation of non-believers that emanates from various outspoken religious and political leaders and news channels.

Now, as we reach out to the surrounding community with the aim of increasing the membership and strength of our congregation, I find myself wondering, “How can we reach out with a welcome to the non-believers in our larger community who hunger for the kind of recognition and acceptance that we know how to give?”

 

Rev. David J. Miller, Minister Emeritus
November 5, 2015

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About Maria Greene

Maria Greene's picture

Maria Greene is the UU Humanist Association's part-time Executive Director. Maria is also a professional web developer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, their three busy kids and assorted pets. Maria's home congregation is the First Parish Church of Stow & Acton, she helps coordinate the Concord Area Humanists, a UUHA local group and chapter of the American Humanist Association that meets in Concord, MA, she is a volunteer with the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts, and with the Boston Coalition of Reason.

1 Comments

I came "out of the closet" thirty years ago, sharing what I learned in college with my parents. I had to, even though I knew that it would hurt them. They had dreams that I would grow up to become a missionary, preaching salvation across the globe, a respectable and good vocation as a PK (preacher's kid). Instead, I learned the truth about the making of their Holy Bible, its intentions, its errors, its often angry god created in the image of angry man, its demanding holy teachers, its intolerance for diversity and opposition, and so on. I left the safety of the group and ventured out on my own, with no support, no encouragement, no fellow-walker to hold my hand or pick me up when I fell. For thirty years. And then I saw a cluster of trees. Online reading at atheist sites told me that UU congregations would welcome me into their fold, treat me as a friend, encourage me to pursue knowledge, listen to my shared thoughts, give me a chair and want me to sit in it beside them. Wow! And the best part is that I am surrounded by a diversity of thinkers, some who believe in a good God and others who can't find any out there (or in here), people who don't demand that I believe as they do or force me to recite a creed in order to fellowship, people who see what you do for others as the judge of your character. I am happier than words can express with this oasis I found. After years of feeling merely tolerated (by my family), I have found a place where I am wanted, liked, respected. I love the words within the songs we sing. I love the motivating stories and plays and theatrics. I love the discussion group that meets early in the morning. I love the coffee and cookies after worship. I love the people who greet me by name and remind me that my journey upon life's ever-changing and sometimes challenging trail is worth the effort, and that I am not alone. I am not alone.