This is a continuation of the series Why People Commit To Your Church.
3. Prayer builds bonds of affection and confidence
I do not know of any denomination that is critical of people for the way they pray, except Unity. That "you can get in trouble today in Unity for praying to God" was conveyed to me two weeks ago by a well-known, highly-respected Unity minister.
But, according to Stark and Finke, people won't commit to a church unless people pray. The form of prayer is not relevant; what matters is that people have a faith or hope that there is a personal God who hears. They write:
"Prayer builds bonds of affection and confidence between humans and a god or gods."
"Prayers may be silent or spoken out loud, impromptu or regular, formulaic or spontaneous, mandatory or voluntary, and they may express need, praise, hope, joy, or even despair ... But, in all cases, prayers are meant to be heard ... prayer is ostensibly a manifestation of a personal tie with the transcendent ... and constitutes an act of faith or hope that it will reach it's mark" (p.109).
As I explain below, many people now feel inadequate and unwelcome in Unity, sensing that they don't fit in because the language they use in prayer isn't good enough.
What Unity teaches about praying to God
The video you see to the left is segment eight of On Wings of Truth, which was produced by Unity sometime in the 1990's.
None of these Unity leaders make any mention of the language or the words we use in prayer. There is no caution about talking to God. On the contrary, Sharon Poindexter and Jim Rosemergy use very traditional language in these clips: "Praying, often, for me is my talking at God, talking to God" (Poindexter); "Through prayer we give ourselves to Spirit and we are then like the clay that the Father can then work with" (Rosemergy).
Prayer is not about the words we use, it is not about the language. What matters in prayer is who we become. It's all about the consciousness from which we pray. And, ultimately, it's about the character that is expressed. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, your language is irrelevant.
Listen to the audio clips below. These clips show that our founders taught that we ought to pray to God from a consciousness of God's good. Unity teaches that you and I are a Christ, an expression of God, and that we should call God forth through that expression. Calling God forth is talking to God.
From Myrtle Fillmore:
You remember the spiritual inspiration that Paul had, an inspiration that is also ours as we claim the light, power and love that are God's expression through us. If the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his spirit that dwelleth in you ...
From James Dillet Freeman:
I wrote this when my first wife was dying and I went to pray in the Silent Unity Prayer Room and as I prayed I heard a voice, an audible voice like mine is now. I'm always listening for an inner voice but that morning I heard a voice that was not mine. And this is what the voice said to me. Do you need me? I am there. ...
From Martha Smock:
When we pray in the name and through the power of Jesus Christ, is it the mere pronouncement of the name that heals, that transforms, that blesses? No, it is what we experience when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said 'where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them. When even one person prays in the name of Jesus Christ he invokes the living presence of the loving Christ. We're not alone when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, he is with us. His presence and power are with us and the power that is of God flows through us...
From May Rowland:
If you feel disturbed, restless and perhaps fearful, this is the time to listen to that ever-present one within you saying "Be still and know that I am God" ... Feel and realize that this is God talking to you. A great peace and calm will come over you and you will be assured that God is looking after you. Feel the presence in the quietness of your own soul then you will feel his presence always with you and about you.
From Eric Butterworth:
What this says is, in its simplest possible terms is while you may be involved in praying to God, the ultimate reality is God is praying for you. Understand that? The Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, the Allness has but one intent as far as you're concerned, that is to perfect itself and to express itself in and as you. ... This is why I say so often, "don't pray to God but pray from the consciousness of God ... Be still and know that ... God is present, not absent ... and I allow that infinite process to do its perfect work ... it has no other intent as far as I'm concerned except to heal me, to guide me, to direct me ...
From Ernest Wilson:
That prayer is not only asking, you see, but more deeply it is knowing, knowing God as our unfailing supply and support. ... Eric (Butterworth) says prayer is not a position, but a disposition ... it is not flattery, but a sense of oneness. It is not asking, but knowing. It is not words, but feeling. Feeling is the secret. It is not will, but willingness. So, ask, believing that you have received, said Jesus, and you shall have it.
Unity's new language and getting dinged for praying to God
At some point, Unity's teachers began to focus, not on the consciousness from which we pray, but on the language used in prayer. The "current thinking in Unity" declared that precision in language produces power.
During class discussions, students are often "asked" to "repharase things", and they are then asked "do you feel the power?" I don't recall any student ever responding "no, I don't." But I do recall many feeling frustrated, inadequate and having lost their ability to freely pray in a Unity setting. A minister friend of mine remarked that he had to "get out of integrity" in order to pass some of the classes.
I don't think this new focus on precision encourages "a manifestation of a personal tie with the transcendent ... and constitutes an act of faith or hope." I don't think that precision "builds bonds of affection and confidence between humans and a god or gods." Precision discourages prayer. Precision is the intellect driving the heart-centered process of prayer. It doesn't work.
Jesus warned the Pharisees that the words they used, however grand, were no substitute for a pure heart. We need to reconsider what we're doing today. Here's how the wheels come off when we emphasize precison over consciousness ...
She was a sweet, country gal ... early-20's ... married to a Marine who was at that time stationed in Iraq. Although raised Baptist, she attended the rural Unity church because that's where her brothers and sisters attended; family was important to her. She came to SEE-In-The-Field in the Austin area, a five hour drive from home, because she wanted to know more about Unity. I don't know what she wrote in her paper. I suspect that it had a fair amount of evangelical language because that's the religious language she knew. Regardless of what she may have written, I was told later that when the paper was graded and came back to her, it came with the final comment, "Are you sure you belong in Unity?"
"Are you sure you belong in Unity?" So much for unity. So much for oneness.
Here's the point: language does not reveal consciousness. Language is the way we communicate. Language reveals culture, not character, not consciousness. There is no correlation between language and maturity. One cannot tell from the words we use if we are in fact working from "embedded" theology (whatever that means). Do you listen to 1950's rock and roll? If so, does that mean you really yearn to be somebody's baby?
So let's get over it. Truth transcends culture and Unity is bigger than nit-picking spiritual elitism.
I am open to the defense that this is all a misunderstanding, that I have misinterpreted things. If you have another interpretation, then leave a comment below. In fact, I'd like nothing more than to acknowledge here that I have been all wrong about the criticism of people who use the same language as Charles, Myrtle, James Dillet, Martha, May, Eric and Ernest.
As I said at the beginning of this series, the purpose here is not to arrive at Truth. Rather my purpose is to explore how to grow a church. I am dealing with "the human side of Unity" from the perspective of a sociologist, not as a theologian.
I don't see how we can build a thriving Unity movement when teachers criticize people who pray in a certain way. It seems to me that when we do that we are really asking "do you belong around here?"