Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

I went to church on Easter Sunday, as did probably billions of Christians all over the world.

The only difference was that, technically, I was not in a Christian church. While the Unitarian Church arose out of traditional Christianity, it actually has no formal doctrine. The word Unitarian suggests that Unitarians believe in the oneness of God, therefore recognizing Jesus as perhaps sacred but not as God. Other than that, the sky is the limit as to what the individual Unitarian may or may not believe.

Nevertheless, members of any Christian denomination would have been completely comfortable. The music is the same; it’s just that the words are sometimes different.

After the service, a friend and I were talking about our intellectual journey to Unitarianism and to the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Arlington. He suggested that I write about it in my column. So here goes: I must emphasize, though, that I am not proselytizing. That is a no-no in the Unitarian Church.

I was christened by the Episcopal Bishop in Wilmington’s St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. Later, my father and mother became members of the first Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was very active in the church – both theologically and socially – until I graduated from LSU in 1960.

For many years, I actively considered becoming a Presbyterian minister; so much so that I took two years of classical Greek as my language requirement in college. I still have Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Jason’s Anabasis in the original Greek on my bookshelves.

But as time went on through college and my early years in graduate school, I slowly became uncomfortable with dogmatic religious beliefs that insisted – no, demanded – that their’s was the only truth and that disbelievers were to be ignored (and often persecuted) because they were most likely going to hell.

While I was a fairly serious student of theology (yes, I have actually read the entire Bible cover-to-cover as well as my share of the great theologians), I could not accept the belief in an absolute truth, known in detail by imperfect man. I could not accept that the scriptures were the actual word of God, rather than imperfect attempts by man to interpret the word of God.

So I drifted away. Then I married a Unitarian, in one of the first weddings conducted in the modern Arlington Unitarian Church. The church intrigued me, not only because of its award-winning architecture, but because of its dedication to the search for truth, no matter where you might find it. In the Unitarian Church, the search is the thing, not an assumption that we have found the Truth and that all others are infidels. This, among other things, reflected a broad toleration of other religions and faiths in the assumption that we are all seeking the truth. We can all benefit from observing the ancient words and traditions of all religions.

On top of this, the Unitarian Church believes that social responsibility is part of our faith. Our Reeb Hall, for example, is named for an assistant minister who was murdered in Mississippi during the civil rights battles. I was hooked, and still am.

So that, in a nutshell, is how I came to the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Arlington, and I have never regretted it. I would suggest that you try it, too. But I am not allowed by my religion to do that.