Just last week, United Church of Christ (UCC) President John Dorhauer wrote an opinion piece claiming he supported religious freedom, so long as it wasn’t used to express “homophobia” or “religious misogyny.” Now, an outspoken UCC minister has decried religious “absolutism,” except in cases of racial, sexual, or gender identity.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder serves as an ordained UCC minister at City of Refuge church in Oakland, California, and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. She spoke about the account of Pentecost from Acts 2 during a chapel service at Union Theological Seminary in New York City on February 10. She used the platform to declare there was a “certain intrinsic evil in our religious history.”
“It is the sin of absolutism, and we suffer from it horribly,” Flunder said.
Later, Flunder argued that so-called absolutism was “embedded in religion” and that “75 percent of what we call ‘absolute religion’ is in fact culture.”
Flunder couched her attack on absolutism within the topic of unity. She asserted that the “absence of unity is a critical problem that exists in the conversation of religion,” an obstacle which she said was religion’s “greatest challenge.”
Yet fighting for social justice apparently trumped Flunder’s appeal against absolutism. Flunder, who is a self-described Lesbian and has married her partner, said she had given the Holy Spirit free reign to guide her into taking controversial stands: “No more closets. Break out wherever you [the Holy Spirit] want to, under any circumstances, whether it’s politically correct or not.”
She told members of her audience that the Holy Spirit would give them power to “put your foot down.” She encouraged them to take a firm public stance on issues like race, sexuality, and gender:
“Now let me say to you while we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, while we’re talking about gay lives matter, while we’re talking about women’s lives matter, hallelujah. Let me say to you, if you’re not ready to be public, if you’re not ready to put something on Facebook and put your real picture, not an avatar, use your real face, take a real risk, then all of the justice work that we are doing behind closed doors is not helpful to the movement that we are called to. Question is not what you will live for, but what do you believe enough that you will die for. Somebody said, ‘Well I’m not ready to die.’ Well there’s a lot of ways to die. Not just in terms of the death of your body, but sometimes the death of your future in terms of how you have plotted it out. Because you want the big church on the corner – come on with me now – and you want to be politically correct so you can get a politically correct job. But the Holy Ghost, my grandmother would say, is calling you to out yourself as a justice warrior. The Spirit of God is not good for the cloister. The Spirit of God needs people that will take it the street, and pay the price for what it is that we both believe and have received.”
So apparently, select social justice issues fall outside of purview of Flunder’s admonition against absolutism. Putting your foot down, being willing to pay the price for your beliefs, and even accepting possible death for taking a stand, certainly sounds absolutist.
One issue that Flunder did not press her audience to take a firm stand on was their theology of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Flunder – who identifies as a Pentecostal – expressed a highly pluralistic view of the Holy Spirit’s work during her remarks.
She argued that the Holy Spirit “comes different” to various groups. She initially noted that separate Christian denominations relate to the Holy Spirit in different styles, but then proceeded to explain how this principle might also apply to non-Christian traditions:
“In their own language and in their own culture, perhaps the Spirit comes in the dance around the holy fire; or the intimacy of a sweat lodge; or on the runway in the House and Ball culture; perhaps in the spinning of the Whirling Dervishes; in the bathing of the waters in the Ganges River. Perhaps God honors the expectations of our culture, but at the same time: same Spirit, same anointing, same presence of power to bring us from the cloister and to take the love of God to the street.”
Flunder thus welcomed a wide range of belief systems to experience God’s presence. This meshed with the premium she placed on religious unity. Summarizing another author’s comments, Flunder said the Holy Spirit “retreats from disharmony and disunity.” But at the same time she also encouraged others to follow her in taking a divisive stand on liberal social justice issues. That’s ironic, to say the least.Google+