Archives For UUA

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Teo Bishop & Cher

Teo Bishop & Cher

You may remember one year ago when rising Pagan figure Teo Bishop revealed he was also singer-songwriter Matt Morris, a 1990s Mickey Mouse Club alum who has collaborated with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, among others. Well, Teo Bishop may be the first Pagan who can brag that he co-wrote a song for Cher, and that the song, “Woman’s World,” was performed on the season finale of NBC’s The Voice this week. Teo was in attendance at the taping, and has provided photographic evidence. Regarding this song, Bishop says that “the concept, lyrics & melody came from a Druid from Colorado,” and that he’s “a big believer in this message.” As for meeting Cher, and seeing her perform live, Bishop couldn’t hide his excitement, saying that he’s “on top of the world” and “I could just die and go to Gay Heaven.” As for the legendary Cher, this was her first television performance in over a decade, and is releasing a new album, “Closer to the Truth,” in September.

FishBird

FishBird

Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new band he’s started with Rachel Maxann, former lead singer of Elemental Groove Theory. The project, entitled “FishBird” is hoping to raise $3,100 dollars to finance a tour and recording their first album. Quote: “This summer FishBird will tour, going to Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York, where we will record several concerts to create a live CD. The CD will be professionally recorded, and well mastered, and will become commercially available as an indy recording. We need your help to defray our travel and production costs in order to to get the whole band from New Orleans to New York. There are great gifts for doing this, including hoolah hoops, original artwork, creepy dolls, and our undying eternal devotion.” They describe their sound as “dark jam-rock” and you can listen to some samples, here.

cuupsThe General Assembly (GA), the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) started yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky, and that means it’s also time for the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) to have their annual meeting and hold elections. This year, for the first time since 2007, CUUPS will be hosting an official General Assembly Program on Saturday where they will invite GA registrants to a celebration of the Summer Solstice. For UU Pagans interested in attending the CUUPS Annual Meeting virtually, it will be held at 7pm (EDT) Saturday, and can be access via the AnyMeeting service. You can read more CUUPS-related news in their June monthly bulletin.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • A call for submissions has been issued by Beth Lynch to create a prayer and ritual book for the god Odin. Quote: “I am opening up submissions for Prayers to the Allfather (tentative working title), with a current deadline of June 30th, 2014 (though this may change, depending on how many submissions I get by then and how many of them I accept.  Ideally, I would like to have the book out by Martinmas (November 11th) 2014.  I will be publishing it via CreateSpace under the Wild Hunt Press imprint, with a Kindle version available as well.  I cannot offer royalties or free printed copies of the book, however each person whose work appears in it will receive a free pdf (electronic) copy.” You can find guidelines and more information, here
  • The final installment of a wide-ranging interview with Wiccan authors/teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone is now up at PNC-Minnesota (I’ve previously referenced this series here, and here). Quote: “I am one of only five legal pagans in all of Ireland allowed to legally marry people. A legal solemnizer. I am on the health board as a hospital visitor. Ireland is a tiny island, but this is a major break through. Around 1982 Stewart  and I won the first witchcraft case in Ireland and changed the law which had made witchcraft illegal. It went to the high court in Dublin, and was given compensation because when “Eight Sabbats’ (A Witches Bible) came out a journalist called it devil worshiping, porn blasphemy. We won the entire case and were taken out be all the high court judges for a champagne reception.”
  • The deadline is quickly approaching for the matching challenge-gift given to Cherry Hill Seminary. The Pagan seminary announced earlier this month that a donor was willing to match up to $10,000 dollars in donations for a new scholarship endowment that would help students nearing completion of their Master of Divinity, to assist them with the expense of attending their required second intensive. So far $5596 has been raised, and the deadline is July 1st. You can find out more about the gift, including reactions from students and staff, here.  Those who wish to make a gift may do so online, or you can make a pledge of support. For further options, you can send a message to CHS@cherryhillseminary.org.
  • As mentioned in the latest installment of Pagan Voices, Teo Bishop is stepping down from the Solitary Druid Fellowship. However, this new initiative from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) will not be ending, as Bishop explained in a recent post to the SDF website. Quote: “My stepping aside as the Organizer of the Fellowship allows for a great many other things to occur. There will be new SDF liturgists, and new blog posts about solitude from new authors, and there will be people reflecting on what it means to be part of this congregation in solitude. What has begun will continue, but in a new way. The Good Labor of those who step forward will bring forth new opportunities for reflection, meditation, and contemplation for this community of solitaries.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There’s a certain truism that’s been adopted by commentators and analyzers of religion in the United States (and more broadly in the West), that liberal Protestant Christianity is in a demographic death spiral, and thus liberal forms of Christianity itself are in danger of winking out of existence. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat, author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” made waves this past Summer by asking if liberal Christianity could be saved.

“…if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves. [...] Liberal commentators, meanwhile, consistently hail these forms of Christianity as a model for the future without reckoning with their decline.”

Andrew Sullivan recently declared that Christianity itself was in crisis, and several scholars and writers have read the demographic tea leaves to see what happens as the “nones” grow and the generational shifts start to change the makeup of religious bodies. So it is within this atmosphere that I read about how the decidedly post-Christian Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has actually experienced growth in congregants over the past ten years.

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

“De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8% from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Although they remain small in total numbers with about 211,000 adherents nationwide, Unitarians believe their open-minded faith has a bright future as an alternative to more exclusive brands of religion.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise since, according to UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA is perfectly situated to appeal to those apprehensive of traditional Christian religious organizations, especially those claiming “no religion.”

“The great irony here is that these “nones” are very much aligned with Unitarian Universalist values. They are accepting of ethnic and sexual diversity. They are open minded. They also seek spiritual community. They present a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us.”

Also of note is that the UUA is experiencing a lot of their growth in the South, not just the traditionally “liberal” coasts and open-minded campus towns.

“The denomination, which started in New England, has been growing more in the South than in other parts of the country, said Rachel Walden, a public witness specialist from the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association. [...] In Tennessee, Unitarians grew by 20.8% from 2000 to 2010. During the same time frame, they grew by 22% in Georgia and by 42.5% in Colorado.”

Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening,” recently said in an interview that she feels that America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening, one that isn’t necessarily centered on Christianity or even monotheism.

“…when I talk about the fact that we’re in an awakening, I believe we are in a period of intense cultural reorientation or revitalization, and that during an awakening, politics, worldviews, religion, education—the whole way a society approaches being community, and connecting with one another, and understanding their God or their gods—it all changes.”

So what does this growth auger? What I think this means is that liberal, New Age, and Pagan faiths are perfectly positioned to benefit from the growing distrust and disillusionment of rigid one-true-way monotheistic forms of religion. They no longer care to wait while church organizations grudgingly admit the humanity of their gay friends, or litigate birth control yet again. Liberal Christianity is diminishing, yes, but what we’re seeing now is almost a slow-motion alchemy as these adherents search, seek, and often find a home with faiths outside the dominant Christian paradigm. So we see Buddhists grow, and Pagans grow, and yes, we see Unitarian Universalists grow.

The long-mocked theological flexibility of the UUA, which allows Pagans and Humanists alike in their pews to worship alongside the UU Christians  may turn out to be a secret strength that allows it to weather the post-Christian cultural transition that many Christian religious bodies seem unprepared for. Indeed, just a year ago journalists were questioning whether Unitarian Universalists would survive far past their 50th anniversary, with three years of “dips” in membership. Now the narrative has flipped, and suddenly we’re talking about their growth. While the UUA may never become a dominant demographical heavyweight as some denominations are today, their very nature may allow them to thrive and survive while other falter. They may even turn out to be a natural nexus point for liberal religon as it grapples with what the future holds.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Preliminary Australian Census numbers. (PaganDash)

Preliminary Australian Census numbers. (PaganDash)

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Welcome to the latest installment of Unleash the Hounds, in which I round up articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans. Before we get started I wanted to give an update on the Pagan journalism crowdfunding experiment I launched on March 21st. The very excellent news is that not only have I reached my fundraising goal of $1850 dollars to send The Wild Hunt to Chicago in November so that I can cover the American Academy of Religion’s 2012 Annual Meeting, but I’ve surpassed that goal by hundreds of dollars. All in less than a week! Thank you! Your enthusiastic response not only means I’ll be covering the AAR’s Annual Meeting, but that we have a head start on the next crowdfunding assignment (all monies raised beyond the goal will be rolled over into the next campaign).

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

Once the month-long campaign officially ends I’ll update my affiliates page with all those who chose to become underwriters, and update all who’ve donated on other promised perks. Considering the success of this initial go, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be using this model to fund other assignments. The big question now is, where would you like me to go, and how often do you think I should hold a crowdfunding assignment campaign? I welcome your feedback, and once we have some solid ideas for events you’d like to see me at, we can even hold a poll to gauge reader interest. Some initial ideas for future assignments include the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, and Paganicon in Minnesota. Make your voices heard, and if there’s enough demand, we’ll try to fund them one at a time. Ultimately, I would like to build this up and work towards funding a trip to the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

So again, thank you to my generous supporters. You made this happen. Now then, let’s unleash the hounds, shall we?

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed. Oh, and if you’re in the Oakland California area, be sure to drop by Hexenfest on March 9th!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The case heard by the Supreme Court involved a teacher at a Lutheran school who was fired due to a sleep disorder. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, backed by the Justice Department, felt that her role at the school was largely secular in nature, and shouldn’t fall under the exceptions usually given to clergy within religious groups. However, the court, in a rare unanimous ruling, sided with Hosanna-Tabor Church, and for the first time, acknowledged that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist.

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

“Closing the courthouse door much of the way, but not completely, to workplace bias lawsuits by church employees who act as ministers to their denominations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously gave its blessing — for the first time — to a “ministerial exception” to federal, state and local laws against virtually all forms of discrimination on the job.  The Court’s ruling, which only Justice Clarence Thomas said did not go far enough, did not order courts to throw out all such lawsuits as beyond their jurisdiction, but it left them with only a narrow inquiry before the likely order of dismissal would come down.  As soon as the denomination makes its point that it counts an employee as a “minister,” within its internal definition, that is probably the end of the case.  And the employee could be anyone from the congregational leader, on down to any worker considered to be advancing the religious mission.”

In short, ministerial exception involves not only ministers, but any employee who is performing religious work within a faith group. This was plainly expressed in the concurring opinion of Justice Alito and Justice Kagan, who noted that many religions do not use the term “minister” and that “courts should focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies.”

“The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religiousceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith.  Accordingly, religious groupsmust be free to choose the personnel who are essential tothe performance of these functions. The “ministerial” exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any “employee” who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.”

This concurring opinion will no doubt be very welcome to a coalition of minority faiths, the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council, United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha, who filed an amicus brief in this case  warning that they were particularly susceptible to judicial encroachment, and that their faiths often categorize what might be seen as “secular” work within a sacred context.

“…many seemingly secular activities take on deep religious significance within specific faith traditions. For Sikhs, for example, operating a community kitchen and providing meals (langar) to the needy and vulnerable is an indispensible element of religious worship. For some temple-centric religions, the actual process of constructing a temple carries deep religious significance. Hindu temple architects and artisans follow ancient religious traditions in their work. For others, temple overseers may be tasked specifically to ensure that construction workers follow religion-based standards and refrain from profane acts that might desecrate the temple. For other religious organizations, meditation is a form of worship, distributing aid through prescribed means is an essential sacred ritual, and counseling and healing are acts inspired by deity. But because such religious functions – at least from the external view – may be indistinguishable from the same activities carried out for secular purposes, courts trying to parse the sacred from the profane jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their own sacred missions.”

The court agreed with this view, noting that the “amount of time an employee spends on particular activities is relevant in assessing that employee’s status, but that factor cannot be considered in isolation, without regard to the nature of the religious functions performed.” Justice Roberts went on to say that the lower court’s ruling “placed too much emphasis on Perich’s performance of secular duties.”

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that this is a landmark ruling, enshrining the concept of ministerial exception in our highest court, and all but eliminating workplace discrimination suits if the plaintiff performs a significant religious role within an organization. That said, the court did stress that this doesn’t protect religious organizations from criminal investigation or other kinds of litigation, and should only be applied to the hiring and firing of “ministers”. How broad or narrow the understanding of “ministerial” duties will be is something that will no doubt be settled in the courts for years to come. For minority faiths, it seems to signal that the ministerial exception isn’t isolated to traditional minister-congregational models, and can be applied to any number of religious situations. What the ramifications might be for adherents to non-Christians models of worship and work remains to be seen.

You can read my original post regarding this story, here. For extensive links to documents and analysis of this case, do check out the information-packed SCOTUSblog.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case that could have serious ramifications on what’s known as “ministerial exception” at institutions run by religious organizations. Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission centers on a teacher at a Lutheran school who was fired due to a sleep disorder. The church is claiming that the teacher’s position falls under ministerial exception, and is therefore exempt from any discrimination proceedings, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, backed by the Justice Department, feels that her role at the school was largely secular in nature, and shouldn’t fall under the exceptions usually given to clergy within religious groups.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Chief Justice John Roberts

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Chief Justice John Roberts

“The core question before the Justices, in responding to the broad argument for an exception, is how to define the scope of duties of parochial school teachers like Cheryl Perich.   If the decision is that Ms. Perich was a minister, anti-bias laws cannot shield her in the workplace; if she was not, she is then like any other worker, protected against discrimination on the job.   In her case, the claim is that she was discriminated against because of her physical health problems and her insistence on her legal rights — in short, she was allegedly the victim of retaliation, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.”

While all the expected big players in American religion, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals, are backing the church, and a broad interpretation of ministerial exception, so too are a number of minority religions in the United States.

“Defending the school is a coalition of small and sometimes-obscure religious groups. They include the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council, United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha.”

In their amicus brief, this coalition of minority religions say they are particularly susceptible to judicial encroachment, and that their faiths often categorize what might be seen as “secular” work within a sacred context.

“…many seemingly secular activities take on deep religious significance within specific faith traditions. For Sikhs, for example, operating a community kitchen and providing meals (langar) to the needy and vulnerable is an indispensible element of religious worship. For some temple-centric religions, the actual process of constructing a temple carries deep religious significance. Hindu temple architects and artisans follow ancient religious traditions in their work. For others, temple overseers may be tasked specifically to ensure that construction workers follow religion-based standards and refrain from profane acts that might desecrate the temple. For other religious organizations, meditation is a form of worship, distributing aid through prescribed means is an essential sacred ritual, and counseling and healing are acts inspired by deity. But because such religious functions – at least from the external view – may be indistinguishable from the same activities carried out for secular purposes, courts trying to parse the sacred from the profane jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their own sacred missions.”

Interestingly, the Unitarian Universalist Association, filing along with the ACLU and American United, takes a very different view of this case. In their opinion, a generous interpretation of the exception shields groups engaging in abusive or exploitative actions.

“The ministerial exception is designed to allow religious bodies to practice their religion and convey their message without government interference. But the exception thwarts society’s interest in ending discrimination—without serving the exception’s purpose—when applied to shield a religious entity from liability for discrimination or retaliation that is unrelated to religious ideology. As a result, in applying the ministerial exception, courts can and should use their considerable experience in determining whether sincere religious views animated a litigant’s conduct. And the Constitution provides no bar to this enterprise.”

It all comes down to viewpoint. For minority groups like Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye or O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, who have both gone to the Supreme Court to protect their beliefs and practices, the less power the government has to pass judgment on their practices, the better. For the UUA, and the civil liberties groups who often represent minority faiths in court, it’s about accountability and justice.

“The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of religious-liberty groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, considered by many to be one of the most important religious liberty cases in years.  The brief argues that although churches certainly have a constitutional right to religious autonomy, that right is not absolute, and religious organizations do not have the right to discriminate based on non-religious grounds. Religious institutions should be given some leeway in hiring practices in order to express and practice their faith. For example, a Catholic church need not hire a female priest and an Orthodox Jewish congregation need not hire a female rabbi if doing so would violate their religious tenets. However, this ministerial exception should not apply to discriminatory decisions that have nothing to do with religious doctrine.”

So how will SCOTUS rule? Well, a good preview might be Sylvia Spencer v. World Vision Inc in which the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the religious non-profit organization could hire and fire workers based on religion. That decision was just denied certiorari, meaning they’re allowing the ruling to stand. Is it a harbinger? Will the six Catholic justices find themselves moved by their own church’s position on this case? SCOTUS will have to decide how far the First Amendment reaches, or as law professor Richard W. Garnett put it: “Does a government like ours, limited by a provision like our First Amendment, have the authority to second-guess a religious community’s decision — even a decision that seems wrongheaded or objectionable — about who should be its religious teacher, leader, or minister?” What do you think?

Top Story: The Religion News Service is featuring a story (alternate link) on the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and whether the shrinking (162,800 members, down 1,400 from last year) creedless denomination can endure for another fifty years.

“For 50 years the UUA has conducted a virtually unprecedented experiment: advancing a religion without doctrine, hoping that welcoming communities and shared political causes, not creeds, will draw people to their pews. Leaders say its no-religious-questions-asked style positions the UUA to capitalize on liberalizing trends in American religion. But as the UUA turns 50 this year, some members argue that a “midlife” identity crisis is hampering outreach and hindering growth. In trying to be all things to everyone, they say, the association risks becoming nothing to anybody.”

Modern Pagans are a vibrant part of the modern UUA, and the article by Daniel Burke starts off the piece with a Pagan member of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore leading a service.

“A recent Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore ended with an apology. Laurel Mendes explained that religious doctrine had been duly scrubbed from the hymns in the congregation’s Sunday program. But Mendes, a neo-pagan lay member who led the service, feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every Soul and Nation” might upset the humanists in the pews.”

While I’m pleased to see UU Pagans get noticed, I’m less happy with the fact that Burke seems to use this moment to underscore how far the UUA has drifted from its Christian roots. As for the future of the UUA, Burke cites an internal document from 2005 that says the denomination needs to create boundaries, to overcome its “reluctance to proclaim religious tenets.” Current UUA president Rev. Peter Morales sees “amazing opportunity” in the growing number of “nones,” people who don’t claim adherence to any particular faith, the “spiritual but not religious” demographic, but can outreach of this sort compensate for reports that the UUA is losing 85% of its children?

For many years the UUA has served as a haven and home for Pagans, especially in towns and cities that lack an established Pagan community. Many Pagans have fond feelings towards the UUA despite some institutional bumps in the road recently, with some prominent Pagans, like Margot Adler and Isaac Bonewits, having played significant roles within the Unitarian-Universalist sphere. But if those predicting the disappearance of the UUA are correct, if the next 50 years will see their slow fade-out from American life, then modern Pagans invested in the benefits of this denominational body will have to tackle the question of what the UUA provides us, whether we can replicate it independently of the UUA if need be, and what role groups like CUUPs and independent UU Pagans will play in the near future.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!