[Editor's note: this is the first of a new monthly column that Rev. David J. Miller is writing for the UU Church of Worcester, MA, where he is Minister Emeritus.]
If we truly wish to make people, and especially minorities, feel welcome in our congregation, it is not enough to sloganize “All Are Welcome!” People will feel welcomed when we greet them by name as Pope Francis did in the course of his recent speech in Washington, when he asked his audience to pray for him and added, "And those who are not believers and cannot pray, please send me your good wishes."
Many non-believers hunger for the kind of recognition and inclusion represented by Pope Francis’ words.
In contrast, not so long ago a family member said to us in reference to our Humanism: “You are the kind of people who are ruining our nation.”
And I know a young man who was thrown out of his family home while still a teenager when he told his parents that he no longer believed in God.
And I know a person who was fired from his job when it became known that he was a non-believer.
To come out to one’s family as a non-believer may be to risk judgment, condemnation, rejection, and/or ostracism.
To come out as a non-believer in one’s workplace may be to risk discrimination or losing one’s job.
To come out as a non-believer while holding public office may risk political suicide.
And so, many Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers remain closeted because it is risky for them to reveal their religious/philosophical/life stance views.
I consider myself fortunate to have discovered UU churches as a teenager and to have a career as a UU minister: beyond the walls of the UU churches in my life, I have been largely closeted. In the larger community, I have been reticent about revealing my true views on theological issues; but, in UU circles, I could be open and forthright about who I am and what I believe.
At its best, our church is the place where we can hear our names (Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, Freethinker, or for that matter, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Theist, or Christian-who am I forgetting?) pronounced in tones of respect, acceptance, and friendship.
And especially for religious non-conformists, our church is an oasis amid the storm of passionate denunciation of non-believers that emanates from various outspoken religious and political leaders and news channels.
Now, as we reach out to the surrounding community with the aim of increasing the membership and strength of our congregation, I find myself wondering, “How can we reach out with a welcome to the non-believers in our larger community who hunger for the kind of recognition and acceptance that we know how to give?”
Rev. David J. Miller, Minister Emeritus
November 5, 2015