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Unitarian Universalism
Founder: Unknown

Overview:
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (commonly called the Unitarian Universalist Association or UUA) is a liberal religious organization, serving the Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches of North America. The UUA was formed from the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Churches.

Before about 1960, UUs were largely considered the most liberal of Christian denominations. Since then, the beliefs of Unitarian Universalists have become quite diverse. In June 1995, the UUA acknowledged that its sources of spirituality are: Christianity, Earth Centered Religions (Afro-American religions, Native American spirituality, Wicca, other Neopagan religions, etc.), Humanism, Judaism, other world religions, prophets, and the direct experience of mystery. Fewer than 10% identify themselves as Christians; the organization no longer qualifies as a Christian denomination; it is a multi-faith group.

Unitarian Universalists value the teachings of:

  • Origen (circa 185 to 354 AD) Origen is generally considered to be one of the greatest theologians in early Christian movement (If you were a heretic). He stressed Jesus' humanity, and believed that God might eventually receive all people (even Satan and his demons) into heaven.

  • Jan Huss, a Bohemian church reformer and martyr, was burned at the stake in 1415 CE.

  • Michael Servetus who wrote "On The Errors of the Trinity" which led to his execution at the stake in 1553 in John Calvin's Geneva for his unitarian heresy.

  • King John Sigismund of Transylvania (now a part of Romania and Hungary) in 1568 issued the first edict of religious freedom. This allowed citizens to hold diverse religious beliefs and still be loyal to the state.

  • Writers, scientists, and others who promoted religious tolerance, including Alcott, Bryant, Holmes, Locke, Milton, Newton, Florence Nightingale, and Thoreau.

  • American politicians such as John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Adlai Stevenson and William Howard Taft.

  • John Murray, who in 1779 became the minister of the first Universalist church in the U.S. at Gloucester, MA.

  • Joseph Priestly, chemist and Unitarian Minister who established the first Unitarian Church in the U.S. in 1796.

  • Hosea Ballou, author (in 1805) of "A Treatise on Atonement" which argued against the existence of miracles, the Trinity and of Hell. He is sometimes referred to as "The Father of American Universalism".

  • Preachers and theologians Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker.

  • Julia Ward Howe, a fighter in the abolition of slavery.

  • Clara Barton, who worked for penal reform.

  • Susan B. Anthony, who advocated women's rights.

The first church to call itself Unitarian was established in Transylvania, in 1638. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Universalist groups were formed in England. An organization which was to become the Universalist Church of America was formed in 1785. By 1810, there were 20 Unitarian churches in England. In the U.S., many churches were founded which were Unitarian or professed Unitarian beliefs. Theirs was largely a reaction to the rigidity of Calvinist belief in New England. These churches formed the American Unitarian Association in 1825. The first Unitarian church in Canada was established in Montreal in 1842. In 1961, the Unitarian and Universalist churches merged to become the UUA.

According to a 1997 survey of almost 10,000 UUs gave their theological perspective as:

  • Humanist at 46.1% is the most common perspective.

  • 19% identify themselves as Nature or Earth centered religion (e.g. Wiccan, Druid or other Neopagan tradition.

  • 13% describe themselves simply as Theist.

  • 9.3% self-identify as Christian.

  • 6.2% are mystic.

  • 3.6% are Buddhist.

  • Other perspectives listed are Jewish at 1.3%, Hindu at 0.4%, Muslim at 0.1% and other at 13.3%

It is obvious that the "glue" that holds congregations together is not a shared theological belief system, as it is in almost all other religious groups. The 1997 survey also found that the four most important factors are:

  • Shared values and principles: 52.1%

  • Acceptance, respect and support for each other as individuals: 42.5%

  • A desire to take religious questions seriously: 14.6%

  • Commitment to social justice and public witness: 11.5% 2

The term Unitarian has traditionally had two religious meanings:

  1. A monotheistic belief which was widespread in the early Christian movement, that God is a unity, not a trinity. The exact nature and makeup of deity occupied the thoughts of many Christians during the first few centuries CE. There were many anti-trinitarian movements at the time: monarchianism, sabellianism and patripassianism. A series of church councils decided that God is a Trinity, composed of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarianism then became a heresy and was suppressed.

  2. A religious movement which features a lack of dogma, a belief in the inherent goodness of people, and the obligation for each member to seek out and develop his or her own system of beliefs and ethics. (It is this second meaning of Unitarian that will be used here.)

The term Universalism has also had two religious meanings:

  1. The belief that Jehovah as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is the deity for all humanity, rather than just for the Jews.

  2. A religious movement which promoted the concept that every person will go to heaven after death. This is in contrast with the traditional Christian belief that one's natural destination is eternal torment in hell. Only those who are saved will attain heaven. Today, the latter beliefs are still held by some conservative Christians. Other mainline and conservative Christians are drifting toward the Universalist belief. Liberal and most mainline Christians are already there. (Again, it is the second meaning of Universalism that will be used here.)

Cult Beliefs:

The two religious organizations that became the "UUA" were originally viewed by the public as Christian churches who were defined largely by their heretical beliefs about the nature of God and the afterlife. However a gradual change started during the 19th century and continues today. It is now a multi-faith religious group.

  • Each person seeks their own unique spiritual path, based upon their personal life experience, the use of reason and meditation, the findings of science and their fundamental beliefs concerning deity, humanity, and the rest of the universe.

  • The prime function of a clergyperson and congregation is to help the individual members to grow spiritually.

  • All the great religions of the world and their sacred texts have worth.

  • There should be no barrier to membership like a mandatory adherence to a particular belief.

 

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