From the Minister

Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, Minister
Excerpt from the newsletter of the
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis
December 2002
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Values can be such inconvenient propositions! Challenges pop up where we least expect them, and often one value conflicts with another. Recently a guest presenter at an FUS Sunday morning forum made a somewhat off-hand comment that troubled me at the time, but it seemed contrary to the values of hospitality and good order to stop the conversation and challenge it then and there. Im still not sure whether that was the right decision or not, but I do want to take this opportunity to clarify and share my own thinking on the issue.

We like to say that Unitarian Universalism has a long history of advocating for the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people and compared to many other religious traditions, which still struggle with this issue, it is true. However, that history is not so very long by other measures. There was a time when openly gay ministers would not have been recommended for settlement in UU congregations, and when it would have been understood as appropriate for a congregation to fire a minister if they discovered that he or she was a practicing homosexual. The early efforts of gay and lesbian people to challenge and change these attitudes were initially met with incredulity, hostility, and ridicule. It was only through a process of carefully examining our core values around human sexuality, and comparing them to cultural assumptions, that we began as a movement to recognize the potential integrity of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender relationships and lifestyles. All this has taken place within the professional lifetime of some of my colleagues; it has certainly been within the forty years since the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations.

The creation of the UUAs office of GLBT concerns (in 1973) was a hotly debated move; there were people who were incensed that our Association could consider dignifying what they referred to as perversion with this kind of institutional support.

When I contemplate this history, I can find little justification for an out of hand condemnation of the organization of UUs for Polyamory Awareness. As explained on their web site (www.uupa.org), Polyamory is a general term covering a wide variety of relationship styles, including group marriage (polyfidelity), open marriage, expanded family, intimate network, and some kinds of intentional community. Polyamory is the potential for loving more than one person within a given period of time, defining love as a serious, intimate, romantic, stable, affectionate bond which a person has with another person or group of people. Responsible nonmonogamy is another way of saying polyamory, and it is used to distinguish polyamory from cheating.

To stigmatize those who seriously seek to explore the question of whether human nature is such that more than one intimate and sexually active relationship at a time is responsibly possible, with terms such as wife swapping and group sex is the equivalent of calling people in loving relationships with someone of their own gender perverts and fags.

Looking at a wide range of human history and culture, it is clear that nuclear families and monogamy are not the only relational structures in which people can be nurtured and find happiness. As a woman, I am inclined to regard with suspicion the proposition that the unreflective imperatives of traditional western culture necessarily constitute universal moral absolutes.

At the very least, courageous people who want to raise questions about such customs ought be heard with respect and candor, not dismissed with opprobrium.

It is not impossible that there are members of this congregation who are striving to build non-traditional families of various configurations; to the extent that they are founded upon values of mutuality, honesty, responsibility, care and respect, they deserve to find support, not prejudice, in their religious community.

Each of us, as always, is entitled to formulate our own opinion, and assuredly to regulate our own lives as we judge best. Yet part of the function of a faith in freedom, reason, and growing light is to call us from time to time to a re-evaluation of conventional wisdom, in the service of greater understanding and larger truth. I should be sorry to think that we had reached some culturally prescribed limit to that possibility in our Association, and to be understood as endorsing an objection to such institutional exploration would misrepresent my own leadership.

Dr. Gibbons is a Past President of the UU Ministers Association

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