I was recently reminded that an early proponent of Unitarianism in our country thought that we should practice “charity, forbearance, and a delight in the virtues of different sects.”
When William Ellery Channing wrote these words in 1819, he was arguing that, while the Unitarian faith has a set of beliefs that set it apart from traditional Christianity, that it was not those beliefs that made our tradition distinctive. What made us distinctive was our appreciation of the diversity of faith. And a marker of our maturity in practicing our faith was an attitude of curiosity that would lead to delight in what other religions were discovering was true.
For Channing, the censure and condemnation of others for their incorrect beliefs reflected a kind of backwardness. He argued against a sense of superiority within our tradition, and warned that we should at least recognize danger in any elation with the belief of our own correctness. Charity was required, and forbearance, and the discovery of virtue. And real delight that others were finding their own way to truth.
It isn’t easy to build a multifaith, multicultural congregation. We try to find ways to share in worship that moves the heart, soothes the soul, challenges the intellect, encourages the development of virtue (including generosity, compassion, humility, humor, etc., etc., etc.!).
We share a song. We offer a prayer. We hear a poem. We do a little chair yoga. We make an offering. We listen to music. We breathe into silence.
We share a message that we think is a little too political—or not political enough. We consider a joke that is too edgy and a meditation that is too reverential. We get confused by someone’s slang or baffled by someone’s academic jargon. We are sometimes bothered by a religious symbol that we are not sure has a place in our midst.
It all happens in one shared hour.
We are one people with many diverse experiences. We share one hour, and are given a chance—with charity and forbearance—to delight in the virtues of others.
And thus to make old Mr. Channing—and even ourselves—proud.
Yours in a faith that frees,
Rev. David Carl Olson