I think we all understand that religion in America is going through a major period of change. In 2012 then President of the UUA made it clear that our brand is obsolete (https://youtu.be/fynHyUlX410).
Many congregations are responding with new offerings and different attitudes. They look at themselves from outside – asking “what do we look like to those who have fled or are considering leaving their current religious affiliation? What barriers do they see? What enticements are there?”
It is fairly easy to come up with new programs, and to emphasize the positive activities already happening within most congregations. Social jusstice, anti-discrimination stances, and so many more activities are what we are about and what is favorable in attracting the attention of those souls who are seeking change.
But little things can become big barriers. One ‘little thing’ is our name.
In the 1960s, the Radio Corporation of America realized that ‘radio’ was very limiting in an era of computers, radar, and other electronic developments. Further, ‘America’ did not sit well with Europeans and other country cusomers. So they changed the name to RCA Corporation. This name kept the heritage alive, but presented a fresh look to the market.
RCA was later bought by General Electric Corporation, who also saw that ‘Electric’ was too limiting, and became GE Corporation.
The American Association of Retired Persons, Inc. decided to expand their reach to those not yet retired, in part, I suspect, because people are not retiring as young as they had been. They are now AARP Inc.
United States Rubber Co,pany went all out to get the European market – they became Uniroyal, since bought by Michelin.
Even Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC to avoid the stigma of fried food.
Ther are more stories like these – major companies changing their name to provide a better image to their customer base, many retaining reference to their heritage.
We call ourselves Unitarian Universalists, knowing full well that we are neither. Some like to redfine the meaning for those words. That dooesn’t work. Look up either term most anywhere and you will find that Unitarians believe that God is one entity as opposed to the Trinity, and Universalists believe in universal salvation — the doctrine that every human soul will ultimately be reconciled to God. These words were extracted from Wikipedia, which – to be fair – presents an accurate description of Unitarian Universalism. None the less, the term Unitarian Universalism is misleading and potentially detrimental to the future.
And even if you argue that We are Unitarian Universalists, the name is a drag. It is long, and not very revealing. Besides, as others have noted, it is also a mouthful!
I propose that we follow the lead of many corporations and chage our name to UU. We already use it extensively. Few say ‘I am a Unitarian Universalist’ – mostly you hear ‘I am a UU’. This changes nothing about us as a religion. It simply removes a confusing aspect of our public image.
This seems like a perfect solution – change to the UU Association of Congregations. Change our congregation names to use UU. Define UU exactly as we do today, with a new name that clearly reflects our heritage and does not mislead or confuse those who ade interested in us.
We already use the term UU heavily. Our publication is UU World. Our literature is full of UU. Google UU and you get the UUA website. UUA operates the UU Book and Gift Shop. There are plenty of examples of official and unofficial use of the term UU.
Achange in name is one small step that removes a potential obstacle to our acceptance by those people who are UUs at heart but don’t know it, and might become actuve members if they are not turned away by our current name. And it relieves us the burden of explaining our name – much easier to say
UUism is a liberal religion characterized by a ‘free and responsible search for truth and meaning’. We do not have a creed. Instead, UUs are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth.
Oh, yes, it is also a one time chance to get some huge publicity about who we are at a time when people need to know, at a time when that is most needed.
I have to add this bit of humor – suppose instead of the Universalists, Unitarians had merged with the Metodist Episcopals – we would now be calling ourselves the U MEs . . .
Hugh Stewart 2017
Member of the Marblehead, MA UU Congregation
currently living in Tokyo