From the Archives: Questioning Authority

From the Archives: Questioning Authority

This past Sunday (August 7th), I talked about why I left the faith tradition of my childhood. I was told by my Sunday school teacher that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions in class any more. I’m sure the teacher was just a poor parent volunteering their time, with no training in theology or maybe just a beginner’s understanding of the Bible and whichever story we were learning that Sunday.

I don’t remember what question I asked that was the final straw. I asked a lot of questions in my childhood! Maybe it was how could Jonah live in a whale’s belly when whales’ mouths aren’t big enough to swallow a man whole? Maybe it was how could angels walk around on clouds and not sink through them? Maybe it was why everyone hated Samaritans so much? In any event, what I do remember vividly is stomping up the stairs to announce angrily to my mother that I wasn’t going back to that class.

To this day, I still ask questions. Lots of questions! I have more questions today than I did as a child. I hope this column reminds you of the importance of asking questions in your life, too. I hope you remember that this applies as much to adults as to children. We are all seekers as Unitarian Universalists. I wonder what kind of questions you will ask today? This week? This month or this year? I wonder. . .

And if you are inspired by the idea of helping children learn how to question authority, I hope you will consider serving as an Religious Education teacher this year. We need people to facilitate for children AND for adults. We need help on Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, or evenings for adults!

Sign up here:

When asked what I do in my position as a religious educator, I frequently describe my job as teaching children and youth to Question Authority. That description raises some eyebrows, elicits quizzical looks, occasionally raises gales of laughter. Why on earth would I want to encourage more questioning? Don’t children already ask enough questions? What does it really mean to raise children in a liberal faith?

My faith is Unitarian Universalism. It’s a faith tradition that encourages questions. We are a creedless tradition; we challenge ourselves to constant exploration, reevaluation, and transformation, both in ourselves and in the world, rather than telling our members what to believe. For our adults and children alike, questions are a tool that we use in pursuit of our faith. Part of my job, as Director of Religious Education, is to help children, youth, and adults understand the value of questions, the appropriate use of questions, and how to ask the kind of questions that inspire others.

In our Religious Education program, we spend time learning about the wonderful ideas we share with other world religions, and about our Unitarian Universalist principles. We learn about what it means to be in right relations with other people. We learn about social justice, and why we should act on our values. We learn about the interconnected web of life of which we are a part, and how to take care of the earth. And we learn how to transform our beliefs into actions that we can carry back out into the world.

In all of these lessons, our ability to question plays a great role. We spend some time being intentional with questions. We learn why questions can make a difference. We learn how to ask the kinds of questions that will inspire others to make a difference, and when to ask them. And we ask questions of ourselves each week, each day, in an effort to understand our own call to action. What do we have in common with other religions? Why is that important? What can we learn from prophets and other wise people? Why is it important to act on our beliefs, and what will happen if we don’t? How can we help heal the earth and her people? How can we make a difference?

Our children and youth learn about calls to action throughout the years they will spend in religious education. They start with small actions, like making cards for the elders or donating mittens for children who don’t have any. As they grow older, they start cooking for the soup kitchen and supporting the Black Lives Matter vigil. Our Senior High Youth spend all year working toward a phenomenal week-long mission trip, and along the way, cook for the Warm Welcome Shelter, build a Halloween Haunted House, and find other ways to be in relationship with the world.

My work as a Director of Religious Education is all about making a difference. I can make a difference in the lives of individual children and teens, by being willing to listen and encourage choices that keep them in right relations with others. I can teach them how to ask the kinds of questions that make people think and reconsider, and to ask those questions in a way that motivate people to act, to make a difference. I can help children and teens think about the big questions in their lives … Why are they here? and What is the right way to behave? and Who am I? I can’t give them answers; I can give them the tools to find their own answers.

My job, really, goes far beyond teaching how to Question Authority … it strives to encourage inquisitiveness, to expect right relations, to empower a call to action. My dream is for our children to grow up understanding that they can always make a difference in the world, one act at a time, one question at a time. icon-fire


  1. Kathy Parker

    Thank you for this, Robin! You raise so many wonderful points! I think we all have a moment when we need to re-think our religious commitment and for many of us, it means finding a more open religious community. I am happy you came to UUCC with your gifts of educational leadership! How about if I talk with you about what I might do for RE? My work schedule is somewhat overwhelming, but I would like to do what I can.

  2. Gail Thompson

    Robin, thank you for giving us “I wonder…” as a way to ask questions without putting listeners on the defensive to provide answers.
    I could help out in classrooms, particularly with craft projects, the messy ones. Of course, I can help with bits of UUCC history, how it has changed over time, its up and downs, and its recoveries.

  3. Ray Donaldson

    I hope you don’t mind that I copied all of your message in an email to members of my congregation, the Columbia United Christian Church. We have been meeting at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center at 10:30 AM on Sundays for 50 years. We are currently in the process of evaluating our future.


    • Robin Slaw (Author)

      Hi Ray,
      I’m honored that you found so much meaning in my column, and I’m glad it might be helpful for all of you at the Columbia United Christian Church! Best of luck as you go through the evaluative process and may you find the right questions to ask and guide you through the process!
      In faith,

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