What do the Unitarians believe?
May 19, 2004 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Unitarians denied tax-exempt status in Texas. Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn ruled that Unitarian churches don't qualify as religious organizations because they lack a single creed. In issuing this ruling, Strayhorn ignored the fact that lower courts and the Texas Supreme Court have both ruled against the Comptroller's Office in an ongoing lawsuit stemming from a similar ruling (by a former Comptroller) in 1997. Strayhorn has vowed to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, stating that "Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption." (if you run into userid/password issues, use "bugmenot@fastmail.us" and "privacy")
posted by Irontom (48 comments total)
Well, they have a single creed now: Carole is a bitch.
posted by trondant at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2004

The Moonies, on the other hand, with their extensive Bushco holdings, are quite welcome to count all "church" businesses as tax exempt.

Shame on Texas.
posted by nofundy at 9:13 AM on May 19, 2004

Creed: 1. A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith. 2. A system of belief, principles, or opinions

UUA Covenant and living tradition

But of course in Texas, "if it aint ^G^od, we don't go fer that 'round here" (except in Austin, YMMV).
posted by m@ at 9:18 AM on May 19, 2004

Given that the Unitarian Church is one of the few (or the only) major church that is willing to perform gay marriages, this seems like a tit-for-tat and also a tactical move to try and blow some smelly gas in to reinflate the slightly flaccid "culture war" .

But, it's also a very, very dumb tactical move and - I'd also add - given the differences between the Old and New testaments of the Bible, there's a strong case to be made that all of Christianity (as it's currently practiced anyway) lacks a single creed.

What is the overriding creed of Christianity -

Love, charity, and forgiveness.....or violence and vengeance?
posted by troutfishing at 9:18 AM on May 19, 2004

If there's any group that's almost totally un-cult, it's the Unitarians.

Texans, speaking of "wannabe cult", is Scientology a recognized "religion"?
posted by tommasz at 9:19 AM on May 19, 2004

Amerikan Taliban™ - we aim to be your ONLY creed.
posted by troutfishing at 9:19 AM on May 19, 2004

It's ludicrous. But as a member of the Cynical Left, I find the UUs funny. Other churches have complicated sets of beliefs. UU's believe in going to church.

(yes, yes. Gross oversimplification. But its funny that a faction in its own membership attacks the church for lack of principles.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:21 AM on May 19, 2004

Curley, you got it wrong. We believe in recycling.
posted by Irontom at 9:23 AM on May 19, 2004

I see no useful purpose served in giving any religious organization or church a tax exemption...isn't it enough that most corporation do not pay any taxes? At least they make things and launder money and send jobs 0verseas...what do churches do? take parking spaces, cornhole young boys, wed people who do not stay wed, bury you when you don't even know they have done this, talk about some heaven in the sky and refuse to show you a slide show of it, read stuff out of a very old book and tell you to behave or the devil will put you in a timeout corner.

No wonder I cheat on my taxes!
posted by Postroad at 9:26 AM on May 19, 2004

My wife and I were considering joining a church and I was very amused to find that "freedom of religion" was one of the credos that our local Unitarians believed in.

These are my kind of people ...
posted by rks404 at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2004

Given that the Unitarian Church is one of the few (or the only) major church that is willing to perform gay marriages, this seems like a tit-for-tat and also a tactical move to try and blow some smelly gas in to reinflate the slightly flaccid "culture war".

That's exactly what I thought when I read this. Well Ms. Strayhorn, the rest of Texas may blow off your little ruling, but you'll probably catch more than a little grief at your offices in Austin. heh.
posted by whatnot at 9:31 AM on May 19, 2004

I'm with Mayor Curley - UUs are funny.

(I should say: I'm UU. Sort of. Ba dum dum.)

But troutfishing, yeah - maybe this is some of the "backlash" that democrats-who-oppose-same-sex-marriage have been warning us about!
posted by lumpley at 9:35 AM on May 19, 2004

Curley, you got it wrong. We believe in recycling.
posted by Irontom at 9:23 AM PST on May 19

I'm smiling. Really big. I love it.

Mostly recycling people.
You are forgiven your sins my son.
Now go and play.
posted by nofundy at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2004

Postroad: I would agree with you. But Carole dear is not against exemption for religions, she is targeting an specific (and very liberal) church. If she was really honest she would be going after the Catholics and Southern Baptists, under the same principle: since these Christians have all these different churches, they don't hold a single creed. One wonders how many minutes she would last in the job.
posted by nkyad at 9:56 AM on May 19, 2004

in america, you can be any religion you want! whether it's baptist, methodist, lutheran, presbyterian...
posted by mcsweetie at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2004

This isn't anything new to GW Bush's style. While governor of Texas he attacked the status of Indian tribes who wouldn't donate gambling profits to his campaign, effectively running roughshod over the federal courts' rulings regarding Indian sovereignty. Bush is a vengeful campaigner - pay the man or lose your status.

"Or maybe Bush wants to quash a potential source of campaign funds for Democrats: the Tigua gave $10,000 to State Representative Gilbert Serna (who lost in the primary), and have contributed to other El Paso candidates."

Down in Transylvania, where Unitarianism began, it is still practiced with hardcore calvinist simplicity. In the US Unitarians are perceived as liberals, and you know how dem people vote.
posted by zaelic at 10:10 AM on May 19, 2004

This is some good shit, seeing that many consider both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to be Unitarians in "theology" (both died before the Unitarians were institutionalized in the United States). Links have more information, as well as listings of many other "famous UUs" including a number of Presidents, politicians, scientists, and so on and so forth. Good stuff.
posted by tittergrrl at 10:17 AM on May 19, 2004

Down in Transylvania, where Unitarianism began -- See! It's not just a cult, its a vampire cult!
posted by malphigian at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2004

Strayhorn... a rogue administrator in Texas named Strayhorn... man that's funny
posted by zekinskia at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2004

Zaelic - Transylvanian Unitarians !

Do they stick their decapitated enemies' heads on pikes?

Here in Mass., at the Unitarian church in my childhood town, they decided that applause or clapping during church ceremonies was too "disruptive".

So, they voted to outlaw clapping and instead, now, they rub their hands briskly together - to make this sound:

"Swish swish swish swishswishswishswich......."

And then there's Texas.
posted by troutfishing at 10:32 AM on May 19, 2004

There are those in America who say that Thomas Jefferson was likely a Unitarian. He was not a member of a Unitarian congregation, but his well documented beliefs and actions indicate that his beliefs are in line with the doctrine of UU's today.

UUs love Jefferson and many UU churches are named for him.

disclaimer: I was raised as a Unitarian although I don't go to church/whatever you call it on Sundays. But I am glad that I was raised free of the suffocating guilt, sexism, magical thinking, and mindless dogmatism that I see associated with religions in general. Not that all religious people are all those things..
posted by Red58 at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2004

Ah tittergrrl beat me to it...
posted by Red58 at 10:35 AM on May 19, 2004

Charlottesville's UU church is of course named for TJ.

posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2004

Shame on Texas.
Given that the Unitarian Church is one of the few (or the only) major church that is willing to perform gay marriages, this seems like a tit-for-tat and also a tactical move to try and blow some smelly gas in to reinflate the slightly flaccid "culture war"

Shame nothing, you read the article, shame on you for thinking it has happened.
The last part of the news story:
"Craig Roshaven of Fort Worth's First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church said he has followed the comptroller's decisions with growing dismay.

His group has tax-exempt status, but he wonders what's to prevent Strayhorn from revoking it.

"The comptroller's logic could be applied to any of us," he said.

Ancira said the comptroller's office has no plans for such reversals. But then again, said Ancira, "There's nothing preventing us from doing so.""

WTF, this just a news story psyching us all out? Or is this just a poorly written news story based on possibilities.
If the state gives them tax-emption could the state also tell the church how to church? No same sex marriages. Add, none of the churches I've attended were tax exempt because they chose not to be one for the reasons of the state to stay out of churching.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:07 AM on May 19, 2004

Ugh, I live in houston and am UU, can we please stop with the lumping texans all together?

Yea sorry for Bush, our mistake! We had this big meeting and we thought it would go over great! Then in one voice we sent him to take over all the other weakling states, haha! Victory is ours!

Although I will be going to church this week to see what's up...
posted by rhyax at 11:19 AM on May 19, 2004

Hey Red, I was raised UU too! And I see you are from the DC suburbs, didja go to Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church as well?

And look, they have a rarely updated blog!

I have, being raised UU is one of the things I am most proud of when I think of my upbringing, and it wasn't something I REALLY started appreciating until I got into my twenties. I mean, really, we ought to be given a tax break right here on the spot, damnit. God would want that!

If there, you know, is a God and stuff.

on Preview:

tomcatspike: Roshaven's UU church didn't have their tax exempt status taken away. It was just another, the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church in Denison that was denied.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:20 AM on May 19, 2004

Q: How do you protest the fact that a Unitarian family has moved into your neighborhood?
A: You burn a question mark on their lawn.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:35 AM on May 19, 2004

infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.
Oops my mistake.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:35 AM on May 19, 2004

Steve: that was awesome.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:40 AM on May 19, 2004

You know what the answer to this is? No tax-exempt statuses for any religion. The tax revenue from the Catholic Church alone (the largest private landowner here in NYC, not paying a dime in property taxes) could fund so much public works...
posted by mkultra at 11:51 AM on May 19, 2004

could fund so much public works...

Yes, but then unbelievers might benefit, and God needs that money to support Himself and His people, not the rest of you infidels.
posted by aramaic at 11:59 AM on May 19, 2004

At my college, they did the diploma ceremony for the English Department in the UU church down the street. It was pretty funny hearing the Cultural Studies grad students get their theses titles announced in a church: Pat Donner, The Eye/I that Binds: Sadomasochistic Discourse in Mid-Century Autobiography.
posted by bendybendy at 12:05 PM on May 19, 2004

When I was a kid I went to Jefferson Unitarian in Fort Worth. (Craig Roshaven from that church is quoted in the article.)

Back then, in the mid- to late-60s, the church's minister was gay and the adults in the congregation knew it. I find that amazing now -- we're talking about Texas in the years of segregated schools and whites-only water fountains, and a church had an openly gay pastor.
posted by Holden at 12:37 PM on May 19, 2004

tittergrrl, I grew up in Delaware and went to the First Unitarian Church in Wilmington DE. I do remember the minister was great. Stand out sermons:

Minister went to a Zen monastery retreat and reported on his experience

"If Jesus was a Mushroom, So What" - a discussion of hallucinogenic drugs (peyote) and religion.

I have visited local UU churches in DC and MD suburbs and I know Paint Branch is rather famous for it's liberal activism.

Did you go to PB?
posted by Red58 at 1:19 PM on May 19, 2004

Strayhorn is a loose cannon. One of her more remembered (and reviled) stunts is when she raided Antone's night club in front of the evening news cameras.

On the other hand, for the past year, she has been giving it good to our blessed Governor Goodhair.

If Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison decides not to run, Strayhorn stands a good chance of becoming the next governor of Texas. And, I fear, this stunt isn't going to hurt her a bit.
posted by chipr at 1:23 PM on May 19, 2004

Strayhorn is prepping to run for Gov. More press, more press! Tho I think going after a well established religion that claims Thomas Jefferson is not brilliant.

I really don't want a Gov who doesn't know how to use Google.
posted by jopreacher at 1:27 PM on May 19, 2004

Was funnier when Garrison Keillor said it.

Seriously, I love the "your made-up story doesn't sound as good as the made-up stories used by others, so you can't be in the club" argument. Friggin' hilarious.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:34 PM on May 19, 2004

ObUnitarianJoke: If you present a Unitarian with the choice between going to heaven, or going to a discussion about heaven, they'll pick the discussion.

I was born in Chicago, and our family went to the Unitarian church in Oak Park, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I was raised Unitarian but eventually wandered away because it just seemed too... watered down for me, eventually. I mean, in the congregations I went to, you could hardly hear the word "god" spoken for fear someone would get offended. I longed for a tradition with rich rituals, symbols, and meanings that had one cohering viewpoint (yet was also humanist and didn't go for the imaginary-friend thing), and uh... still haven't found it yet, so what do I know?

Anyhow, I should probably get in touch with the church nearest me, I'd like to be part of any protest of this. This kind of crap is, I fear, just the beginning.

I'm guessing this is gonna rather light a fire under the UU community at large. I don't see them taking this lying down - and I'm talking the whole UUA.
posted by beth at 3:24 PM on May 19, 2004

To echo something I said in another thread, for me, as an unbeliever, it's just always seemed strange how some beliefs are considered "reasonable" and others "cults". Then I realized that these things aren't decided on intrinsic characteristics, but simply by social acceptance.

On that basis, of course, Strayhorn's objection to the UU church fails. Which is too bad for her, since her point is a valid one that the US has been struggling with for a long time regarding tax-emempt status. But then, also, as far as I know, most court rulings have erred on the side of cautious liberalism, wisely choosing not to get deep into the mire of deciding what's a "real" religion and what's not. I think the standard has been "if it acts like a church, and they call it a church or the like, then it is".

It's really too bad that the theists that continually claim that "secular humanism" is a religion are wrong...because it'd be nice if I could be part of a community the way churchgoers are. UU does serve that purpose, but in a way in which I'm not comfortable participating.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:24 PM on May 19, 2004

I think that it is important to note that although churches do not pay taxes, they frequently contribute the vast majority of non-profit services in many communities in this country. Many of them are spending their money in places that the government wouldn't even if they had the revenue to begin with, like caring for the poor and the elderly in remote areas. I would say that keeping them tax-free actually helps our society, rather than hindering it.

But then again, I'm not an economist. Or a xtian for that matter.
posted by evilcupcakes at 5:56 PM on May 19, 2004

oh yea, something similiar happened a while ago like this too with the boy scouts. they said it wasn't a religion for their religion patch or whatever. Not that they're the most open minded group anyway...
posted by rhyax at 10:07 PM on May 19, 2004

Turns out this evil woman has equally evil spawn.

She's the mother of Mark McClellan - FDA head and Scott McClellan - Whie Wash House Press Secretary. Very, very close BushCo ties with this family.
posted by nofundy at 7:56 AM on May 20, 2004

From The Simpsons: (might not be original)
Bart is playing Billy Graham's Bible Busters in which you zap people and convert them to Christianity. Bart is really getting into the game and after zapping a guy he exclaims "Alright I got him". Ned Flanders' boys reply, "No you just winged him, now he's a Unitarian."

More UU jokes here.
posted by of strange foe at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2004

To the person who asked whether Scientology is recognized in Texas ... the answer is yes.
posted by Orb at 3:48 PM on May 20, 2004

"It's really too bad that the theists that continually claim that "secular humanism" is a religion are wrong" - E.Bligh, I know you're good for an almost endless grudge match....and I know your cat's probably sick too. But you really mean this?
posted by troutfishing at 10:13 PM on May 22, 2004

What may be surprising to some of you is that religious evangelicals (at least some of them) agree that the UU church should be given its status.
posted by calwatch at 12:30 AM on May 23, 2004

"E.Bligh, I know you're good for an almost endless grudge match....and I know your cat's probably sick too. But you really mean this?"—Troutfishing
I meant it sociologically. Religion plays an important part in our communal lives and I think that contemporary, urban society is already quite deficient in this respect. For those of us who are areligious, there isn't really anything that serves the same purpose. I think that's too bad. I know that there are atheists that attend UU, but I can't bring myself to go to a "church" and to even appear to be wishy-washy about my atheism. So, I was remarking ironically that in spite of what the theists who are always going on about how "secular humanism" really is a religion, the fact is that it's not—not philosphically, not psychologically, and not sociologically. But religion serves important functional purposes in all those respects, and I do believe that the areligious are not exceptional and have similar needs.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:08 AM on May 24, 2004

Update: Comptroller attorney says..."Oh...but no...Keeton is a lunatic, the UU does have exemption...please don't sue."

(Ok, I made the quote up...but the decision was quickly reversed and Keeton was slapped like a dog at the breakfast table.)
posted by dejah420 at 12:25 PM on May 25, 2004

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