I finally figured out what has been troubling me so much about the articles in the UU World on ministering to both the perpetrators and the survivors of sexual abuse in our congregations: we have no distinctly UU theology, understanding or ritual of atonement, confession, forgiveness, redemption, assurance, reconciliation, and restoration of right relationship. Now I am someone who hesitates to use the word “theology”, as it by definition implies talk about God. And I have no idea anymore what the definition of “God” is. It is a word that is constantly subject to semantic juggling in UU circles to the point where it can mean anything and everything and absolutely nothing. I try not to use words I do not understand. But it seems to me that we UU’s need some sort of grounding in theology, cosmology, ontology, morality, ethics or something that allows us to broach the subject of atonement and forgiveness. Otherwise we find ourselves begging and borrowing from other religious traditions committing the sin of sacramental misappropriation.
Here is what I know for sure about ritual: we human beings crave it. Ritual allows us to mark the meaning making events of our lives. Ritual makes room for the possibility of the presence of something larger than ourselves to show up. Ritual provides a safe framework to move through the mysteries and challenges as well as the celebration of our lives. I remember a Christian colleague talking about how being beaten into gangs paralleled the ritual of confirmation into church. His point was that we humans will find a way to create rituals out of a vacuum if necessary.
Because I so believe in the role of ritual in religious life, I find myself wanting to ask Unitarian Universalism to stop asking its people to forgive and embrace perpetrators of sexual abuse seeking redemption and restoration to right relationship until it articulates an intentionally religious process and ritual or ontological cosmology (for lack of a better phrase). Forgiveness is a process with its own timeline. It cannot be forced. Similarly we cannot ask congregations to jump to reconciliation and full inclusion of perpetrators of sexual abuse until there has been some sort of ritual engaged in not just by perpetrators and survivors but the entire congregation.
Anyone want to join me in creating a specifically UU ritual that address atonement, confession, forgiveness, redemption, assurance, reconciliation, and restoration of right relationship? Someone else is going to have to articulate the theological or ontological cosmological piece…