Something that I believe is worth discussion is the topic of social identity as an emerging youth community and/or for that matter, as a larger community.  I believe there are many of us like myself who have read and reread the wisdom found in the paper Social Problems of Religion only to find ourselves further perplexed at how best to mitigate the world’s and our community’s imperfections.  The most recent personal challenge has been trying to consider our function as a leadership body.  How do we best further the mission of the Fellowship while embodying the teachings of the Urantia Book without infringing on the liberties of personal religious expression?  How do we create structure in social community while maintaining a culture of coreligionist collectivism?

For me, it is a semantics debate over the interpretation of the mission of the Fellowship.  Our purpose is the “study and dissemination of the teachings of the Urantia Book.”  In my mind, the study element manifests itself when individuals of all types of personal religious background come together to share wisdom and discuss meanings in the reading of the UB.  Putting my organizational lens on, this means bringing together anyone with the sincere desire to study what the book means regardless of religious background or affiliation.  This is not a place to discuss anything but the meanings and ideas contained in the words of this book.  I believe other texts would be allowed, not as a focus of study, but to expand on the interpretation of ideas and meanings found in the Urantia Book.  The same goes for personal experience.  It is not the intention of the community to make the focus of study one or more individual’s personal religious experiences but rather to allow those experiences into the context of study, on a personal level, to discuss meanings found in the text.  Our goal is to study together as individuals.

The other half of the mission statement is “the dissemination of the teachings.”  To me this statement is a completely separate idea.  Sharing the written information, knowledge, philosophy, or wisdom found in the book or the book itself is not necessarily the same thing as disseminating the teachings.  My understanding is that disseminating the teachings is most effectively accomplished by living the teachings, by being a positive missionary evangelist of your personal religion (not our).  If this interpretation is valid, then our charter compels us to aid in the socialization of personal religionists as the method for the dissemination of the teachings.  Our mission is to unite individuals around the common goal of disseminating the teachings by fostering the value and ideal of living the teachings.  Sharing the words, knowledge, philosophy, etc. can be accomplished in the more objective environment of study groups.

There is a very significant implication to this in that if the Fellowship is providing a social infrastructure for those being a ‘positive missionary evangelist of their religion,” then there can exist a situation where people with differing levels of belief in the Urantia Book are all in the same room. Now what happens?  There are 7 people whose belief system is 95% congruous with the Urantia Book teachings, 4 people whose belief system is 80% congruous, and 1 person whose beliefs are 50% congruous.  All 12 people are both personal religionists and leaders in the Fellowship.  Now a situation arises at this Fellowship event where the one person is promoting his belief system, in a sincere and positive manner, and it just so happens it is regarding an issue that he is not in agreement with the beliefs contained in the Urantia Book and the other 11 leaders personal beliefs.  For some reason, he/she doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the story of his life is a metaphor.  He/she preaches the realization of the fruits of the spirit, the Fatherhood of God, brotherhood of man, service to one’s fellows, and ritual worship via speaking in tongues.

Now this irks the 4 at 80% and really irks the 7 at 95%. How should they respond as individuals and how do they respond as members representing the Fellowship? As individuals, the discussion is simple, to treat this outlier as Jesus would, tolerantly sharing one’s personal beliefs of enlightened consciousness.  How do we respond as a social organization?  Do we outcast him from leadership or publicly announce that he/she is in no way affiliated with the Fellowship because the message is in contradiction to the teachings? This is tricky.

From one vantage he is disseminating the opposite beliefs of those found in the Urantia Book and therefor it is a legitimate response.  From another perspective, he/she acting as an evangelist of his/her personal religion is perfectly disseminating the teachings in that he/she is living them.  What do we do?  We must dissociate ourselves from his beliefs.  But I argue if as an organization we condemn him for his actions then it is the organization which is acting in contradiction to its own purpose of disseminating the teachings.  In fact it might seem we want to further encourage his actions, just discourage his beliefs.  But as a social organization we cant make a statement about one individual’s beliefs, that would place our function in the realm of a social religion. it may seem like in this model, we can’t have both.

The only solution I can think of is to make a disclaimer and let him continue:  “The beliefs of an individual who is functioning as a positive missionary evangelist in no way reflect those of the Fellowship.”  This allows the organization to foster the teachings as found in his actions while dissociating itself with the misrepresentation of the beliefs found in his words.  And by not condemning his actions, the Fellowship is not acting in contradiction to its own purpose.

And if this is the way we treat one individual with 50% personal belief congruity, how do we treat those whose beliefs are 95% the same as the Urantia Book? or 99.9% ? It must be the same. I believe it is the responsibility of the organization to make this disclaimer about any individual with a personal interpretation, condensation of teaching, distillation of belief, etc. If we are not allowing the belief system of one individual to represent the Fellowship then we should not allow the belief system of any individual represent the beliefs of the Fellowship.[/wpcol_1half_end]

The challenge in this whole scenario is that I believe many people interpret the idea of ‘dissemination of the teachings’ as sharing the words, philosophy, wisdom ,etc. contained in the Urantia Book. From an organizational lens however, the obstacle is that some of the ideas contained within the book are factual (we share as a social-educational function), some are discussions of values (unite around as a social function), some a description of the goals of destiny (unite around as a social function), and others beliefs. How do we differentiate this as an organization? Because the second the organization reinforces or disseminates a specific belief (meaning not objective study), we are acting as a religious organization. So I ask the question, in the context of community identity and purpose, can ‘disseminate the teachings’ be interpreted as ‘disseminating the beliefs’?

I won’t answer that question, but I bring up this whole issue to get to this assumption. I believe because we study together, a process of examining the beliefs, values, and goals found in the Urantia Book, that we have the expectation or assumption that when we live as positive missionary evangelists together (of our personal faiths) we would see a greater harmony of beliefs. And this expectation ultimately results in the development of a judgement reflex.  We spend so much time discussing very specific meanings and beliefs in the context of study that the second we hear different beliefs in the context of personal missionary evangelism we freak out. “That’s not what the Fellowship supports!”

But isn’t it? ‘Study’ and ‘dissemination of the teachings’ have to be separate ideas because In my opinion, if we want a group of people evangelizing with identical beliefs, values, and goals, we need to form a religion and that is not what this organization is. The social role of the organization needs to be one of only judging whether the goals of the individual (i.e. being a positive missionary evangelist or fostering personal relationship with God) or the values of the individual (i.e. fruits of the spirit) are in harmony with the teachings of the Urantia Book, not the beliefs.  We should have a public disclaimer about personal beliefs to emphasize this (like the one above).

The other way I propose to emphasize this is by branding the organization as being an interfaith organization.  First off, what better way to penetrate to the heart of the Urantia Book, the message of sublime liberty through a personal relationship with a loving God, than to say everyone here is of their own faith? Everyone here has found God in the experience of the Urantia Book or elsewhere and strives to know Him personally. Everyone is of their own personal religion. We are a social organization of such individuals.    What better way to encourage sincere individuals of all walks of life to study the Urantia Book together?  What better way to set a foundation and foster a culture of overcoming differences?

Someone pointed out to me that we already adhere to the notion of personal religion as a community, that interfaith has a different social connotation. The connotation that implies members of different religious organizations coming together to further a purpose of social good rather than faith based conflict.

Wait.  Aren’t we a social organization centered around the social-educational goal of study of the Urantia book and the social goal of ‘disseminating the teachings’ as interpreted as fostering the socialization of personal religionists?  I think its perfect! It makes one ask the question why we call ourselves an interfaith organization?  Effect one of considering this question is that it instills the value of tolerance as something fundamental to the organizational function.  A connotation that is missing from ‘personal religion’..  The second is for outreach.  People hear Urantia Book Fellowship and think religion.  Saying interfaith forces one to consider the organization from a different lens.  It allows us to introduce the value of personal religion in the context of working together to do social good (i.e. educational study or loving service to our fellows).  I can’t think of anything that is not both literally and figuratively accurate about representing a social organization like ours as interfaith.

But I guess that’s why I wrote all this, to get your feedback. And obviously this whole argument is moot if we just forbid all evangelism as part of the community function, but I imagine that’s off the table?  I’m very interested to get your thoughts on these ideas.  I will say from limited experience that it is very easy to introduce the Urantia Book this way.

” Just as certainly as men share their religious beliefs, they create a religious group of some sort which eventually creates common goals. Someday religionists will get together and actually effect co-operation on the basis of unity of ideals and purposes rather than attempting to do so on the basis of psychological opinions and theological beliefs. Goals rather than creeds should unify religionists. Since true religion is a matter of personal spiritual experience, it is inevitable that each individual religionist must have his own and personal interpretation of the realization of that spiritual experience. Let the term “faith” stand for the individual’s relation to God rather than for the creedal formulation of what some group of mortals have been able to agree upon as a common religious attitude. ” Have you faith? Then have it to yourself. (UB 99:5.7)