Our History of Being an Ever Widening Circle

Some members have asked for some of the quotes and timeline points from this past Sunday’s service, about Unitarian Universalism’s evolution from two Christian denominations to the open, pluralist faith we are today. Here you go!

1777 Universalist George deBenneville writes:  “As no church is pure in all things, so none can be found that does not contain some truth. Glorious truths are found in every church and religion under the sun. And this glorious chain of truths . . . we believe will someday unite all of them into one form of love.”
1803 Universalist form a denomination with a faith statement called “The Winchester Profession.” They include in it a “Liberty Clause”: “Yet while we adopt a general profession of belief and plan of church government, we leave it to the several churches and societies or to smaller associations of churches, if such should be formed within the limits of our General Association to continue or adopt within themselves such more particular articles of faith or modes of discipline, as may appear to them best under their particular circumstances, provided they do not disagree with our general profession and plan.”
1815: William Ellery Channing, Unitarian, writes: “Let us be what we profess to be, patient inquirers after truth, open to conviction, willing to listen to objections, willing to renounce errour, willing to believe that we as well as others may have been warped in our opinions, by education and situation, and that others [29] may have acquired important truths which, through weakness or prejudice, we may have overlooked. Were we a party, anxious to make proselytes, we should do well to be positive and overbearing. But we profess to be anxious that our fellow christians should inquire for themselves into the difficulties of religion, instead of implicitly receiving what we have embraced. We profess to believe, that candid and impartial research will guide mankind to purer system of christianity, than is now to be found in any church or country under Heaven.”
1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson gives the Divinity School Address (“Acquaint Thyself First Hand with Deity”), telling seminary students they don’t have to believe in the miracles of Jesus, they can experience the divine directly and rely on their own moral intuition.
1841 In his sermon, “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” Theodore Parker says, “It is hard to see why the great truths of Christianity rest on the personal authority of Jesus, more than the axioms of geometry rest on the personal authority of Euclid, or Archimedes.”
1859 England Unitarian James Martineau disagreed with what he called “closed theology” and doctrine, even Unitarianism. “Beware of fixing upon worshipping assemblies and an ecclesiastical body whose life runs on through centuries, the mutable types of thought special to our own time. But such inadvertence we do assuredly commit the moment we attach a doctrinal epithet, be it “Unitarian,” or “Trinitarian” to the church of which we are members….Our whole inheritance from the past is bound up with the condition, that we are NOT to plant ourselves as a Church on a dogmatic foundation…” Martineau even felt we should not name our churches “Unitarian,” saying “This alone is enough to check the spontaneous course of gradual change.”
1866 James Freeman Clarke, Unitarian, writes, “We think it possible to have a Church, and even a denomination, organized, not on a creed, but on a purpose of working together. Suppose that the condition of membership was the desire and intention of getting good and doing good. The members of a church are not those who unite in order to partake the Lord’s Supper, but to do the Lord’s work. The Lord’s Supper is their refreshment after working. They come together sometimes to remember his love, and to get strength from him. Let them sit together, express their desires, confess their faults, say what they have been trying to do, where they have failed, where succeeded, and so encourage each other to run with diligence the race set before them. He later writes the book,
“Ten Great Religions: An Essay in Comparative Theology” to examine wisdom found in non-Christian religions.
1875 Jenkin Lloyd Jones works to have Unitarian churches known for a creedless “ethical basis” rather than a Christian focus.
1887 The Western Unitarian Conference adopted “Things Commonly Believed Among Us” by a vote of 59 to 13, which includes the line: “We honor the Bible and all inspiring scripture, old and new.”
1893 Unitarian minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones serves as Executive Secretary on the committee of the first Parliament of World Religions, held at the Chicago World’s Fair.
1933 “A Humanist Manifesto” lays out how to do religion without requiring a belief in God. 15 Unitarians signed, 1 Universalist
1936 The Unitarian Commission of Appraisal publishes Unitarians Face a New Age, the commission’s report. In it, they write:
Unitarians Agree
In affirming the primacy of the free exercise of intelligence in religion
Unitarians Disagree:
As to the expediency of using the traditional vocabulary of religion, within a fellowship which includes many who have rejected the ideas commonly associated with such words as “God”, “prayer”, “communion”, “salvation”, “immortality”.
As to the wisdom of maintaining the definitely Christian tradition, and the traditional forms of Christian worship.
1939 Unitarian James Luther Adams in a sermon “Why Liberal?” wrote that one of the cornerstones of our faith is continuous revelation: “…liberalism holds that nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism. Liberalism itself, as an actuality, is patient of this limitation. At best, even our symbols of communication are only referends and do not “capsule” reality. Stating this principle in religious terms, we may say that liberalism presupposes that revelation is continuous in word, in deed, and in nature, that it is not sealed, and that it points always beyond itself.”
1945 a group of Universalist ministers called the Humiliati present “Emergent Universalism” which they envision as “a higher development of … world religion,” that understands the universe transcends the partialisms of every religious faith, including Christianity.”
1949 Unitarian Kenneth Patton was called by the Universalists to be minister of the Charles Street Meeting House. He sought there to expand Universalism to be a religion bringing in elements of religions around the world.
1961 The Consolidation of Unitarianism and Universalism. 6 Principles are created, which include: 1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;
2. To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition.
1987 CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) was chartered by the Unitarian Universalist Association at the General Assembly.
1995 a 6th source is added: 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.