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Unitarian Universalist Association: A Profile

The term refers to the view that God is one person only, thus denying the doctrine of the trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts

Membership: 220,000

Publisher: Beacon Press

Periodicals: UU WORLD (6 times per year), Interconnections (a bi-monthly newsletter for UU lay leaders), Inward Springs (a bi-monthly periodical for families)

President: The Rev. William Sinkford was elected to a four-year term in June 2001. He is the first African-American president.

Terms

Unitarian: The term refers to the view that God is one person only, thus denying the doctrine of the trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This view was taught in the early church by a heresy known as Dynamic Monarchianism, which claimed Jesus was a man energized by the impersonal power of God. The Roman Church condemned this view as early as A.D. 195.

Universalism: This term refers to the view that all beings (humans, angels and the devil) will ultimately be saved by the love and grace of God. Several early Christians taught this view, including Origen (185-254), who believed even the devil would be saved. Universalism was opposed by Augustine and condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 453. Universalists ordained their first female minister in 1863.

History
Modern Unitarian thought is best traced from the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Michael Servetus (1511-1604), a Spanish physician, published a book entitled On the Errors of the Trinity in 1531. He was tried for heresy “in Calvin’s Geneva” and burned at the stake.
Unitarianism in America developed independently from European or English liberal religion. It attracted individuals opposed to revivalism and the necessity of a conversion experience in the First (and later Second) Great Awakening. In opposition to preaching about the sinfulness of mankind and the wrath of God, Unitarianism attracted those who held an optimistic view of the goodness of mankind and a rejection of hell. Universalism was a logical conclusion to this theology, but it was left to the Universalists to emphasize these teachings. Reason was accepted; all creeds rejected.
Kings Chapel, an Anglican (Episcopal) church in Boston, became Unitarian in 1787. A church in Northumberland, Penn., under the leadership of Joseph Priestly, referred to itself as Unitarian in 1797.
William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), pastor of the Federal Street Church in Boston for 40 years, was instrumental in organizing the American Unitarian Association in 1825.
Other early American Unitarians included John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Louisa M. Alcott, and Susan B. Anthony.
The Universalist Church was organized in 1797.
The Unitarian Church and the Universalist Church of America merged in 1961 to form the Unitarian-Universalist Association.
An annual General Assembly is held. The 2000 General Assembly in Nashville drew 4,000 UUs. The 2001 General Assembly in Cleveland was held June 21-25.
A president is elected to serve a four-year term. He/she may be elected to a second term.

Beliefs
Unitarian-Universalist beliefs have changed over the years. Early Unitarianism could be compared to Arianism, a teaching by Arius, a 4th century leader of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, that Christ was more than man, but less than God. Arianism was condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325.
William Ellery Channing, who spoke of two conversion experiences, wrote in 1811,
We regard the Scriptures as the records of God’s successive revelations to mankind, and particularly of the last and most perfect revelation of his will by Jesus Christ. . . . Jesus Christ is the only master of Christians, and whatever he taught, either during his personal ministry, or by his inspired Apostles, we regard as of divine authority, and profess to make the rule of our lives.
Channing believed “the Father sent the Son, and gives, to those that ask, the Holy Spirit,” but that only the Father possessed “supreme Divinity.”
Today, Unitarian Universalists do not require belief in a supernatural power or personal deity. There are no required rituals, no church doctrine. “Unitarian Universalists, let it be said clearly, have given up the necessity to accept orthodox beliefs in Revelation, Miracles, Immaculate Conception, Bodily Resurrection, and Salvation . . . ”
Talking about God is controversial in many Unitarian Universalist congregations.
The UUA is a diverse association. There is the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, Inc. for Unitarian Universalists who accept and desire to follow Jesus’ ethical teachings, particularly as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. There is also the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans for pagans and those who wish “to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” There is also an affiliated group called the Unitarian Universalist Humanists.
David Burton, a Unitarian Universalist in Virginia, recently formed a splinter group of Unitarian Universalists because he says the denomination ignores God. The Unitarian Universalist Association sued Burton and his group because the chosen name, American Unitarian Association, belongs to them, even though they never registered it.
The principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association are:
·        The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
·        Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
·        Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
·        A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
·        The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
·        The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
·        Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> Unitarian Universalists draw from many sources to develop their principles and find truth:
·        Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
·        Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
·        Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
·        Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
·        Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
·        Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. – (www.uua.org/principles.html)
None of these principles are supposed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief, which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages.
Unitarian Universalists reject all creeds and statements of faith. Each person is encouraged to develop his own personal theology. While all religions have potential value; reason and conscience have ultimate authority rather than the Bible or any other religious book.
Unitarian Universalists believe reason can guide a person to truth. God may be an idea, force or personal deity. One survey found that only three percent of Unitarian Universalists believe in a “personal” God. God, if He exists, is ultimately beyond our understanding or comprehension, therefore, all our statements about God are inadequate.
Jesus was a great religious teacher. Unitarian Universalists may accept Jesus’ teachings, but not necessarily accept Him. Jesus’ deity and supernatural miracles are rejected. Mankind is basically good and capable of “saving” himself by achieving a more ideal, moral life. Truth is ultimately within each person. Personal ethics are left to the individual’s choice, however, Unitarian Universalists stress responsibility as well as personal freedom. Heaven and hell are mental states only. Belief in an afterlife and immortality is “an open question.”
Worship services are typically held on Sunday mornings at 11:00. Services vary widely and may include hymn singing, silent meditation, readings from the Bible or other religious books, sermons (sometimes called “lectures”), discussions on ecology, AIDs, civil rights, yoga, etc. (The sermon title at one Unitarian Universalist Church I attended was “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd,” words from an old Roger Miller song.)
In newspaper advertisements, Unitarian Universalists ask, “Are you a closet Unitarian?” and respond, “You could be a Unitarian and not even know it!”
The Unitarian Universalist Church has no connection with the Unity School of Christianity or the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon.
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Gary Leazeris the founder and president of the Center for Interfaith Studies, Inc. He received a bachelor’s degree from MississippiCollege, and a master’s of divinity and doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His primary areas of research have been the New Age Movement, the occult, sects and the world religions. He served on the staff of the Home Mission Board’s Interfaith Witness Department for 14 years.

To subscribe to the Center for Interfaith Studies newsletter, call 770-979-1687 or e-mail leazer@mindspring.com.