By Tal Davis
Official name: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
25 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.
02108 (617) 742-2100 Web
- (Canada) Canadian Unitarian Council, 705-55 Eglinton
Avenue, East, Toronto, Ontario M4P 1G8
(416) 489-4121 Web site: www.cuc.ca
Membership (2002): 1,010 churches, 214,738 members
Ministries and Organizations of UUA:
Religious Education Action Clearing House (REACH)
Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU, teens)
Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
Publishers and Publications:
Brief History of Unitarian Universalism
The concept of God as a single unitary being—as an alternative to
traditional Christian Trinitarianism—can be traced in ancient times to the
teachings of Arius (A.D. 256-336), a pastor in Alexandria, Egypt, who taught
that the Son was a created being and not equal to the Father. Arius, and his
movement called Arianism, argued that the Bible does not teach a Trinitarian
concept of God and that Jesus made no claims to deity. His Unitarian view was
rejected as heretical by the Council of Nicea in 325. The Unitarian view
remained dormant in church history until after the Protestant Reformation when
Michael Servetus (1511-1553) in Spain, and Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) in
Poland, questioned anew the historic Trinitarian doctrine. Later, a Hungarian
named Frances David (1510-1579) led a movement that was the first to be labeled
Unitarian. In England, Unitarianism raised its head in the teachings of John
Biddle (1615- 1662), who attempted to disprove the Trinity from the Bible.
In the United States, the first church to adopt Unitarian doctrine
officially was King's Chapel in Boston, Mass. In 1786, the congregation left
its Episcopal roots to embrace the Unitarian view. Soon afterward, Harvard
University followed suit.
The American Unitarian Association (AUA) was formally established in 1825.
It was led by William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), pastor of Federal Street
Congregational Church in Boston. Channing, as did most Unitarian ministers of
the time, despite their rejection of Trinitarianism, still relied on the Bible
for their theological formulations.
Unitarians claim that a number of prominent eighteenth and nineteenth
century Americans embraced Unitarian, or deist, beliefs. They include five
presidents of the United States: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy
Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft. Other famous Americans
claimed by Unitarians include Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Susan
In the twentieth century Unitarianism abandoned any claim to biblical
authority. In fact, in the years from 1918 to 1937, the movement internally
debated the very existence of God. Eventually, it fell under the domination of
naturalism and humanism. This culminated in 1933 with the publishing of the
starkly naturalistic Humanist Manifesto. One-half of its signees were Unitarian
ministers. Some prominent Americans in the late twentieth century who were
claimed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) included statesman
Adlai Stevenson, writer Robert Fulghum, actor Paul Newman, poet Carl Sandburg,
and writer and producer Rod Serling.
In 1961, the Unitarian churches merged with a small movement called the
Universalist Church of America to form the Unitarian Universalist Association
(UUA). In the decades since, the UUA has developed into a society of local
congregations that focus primarily on liberal social, political, environmental,
and gender-related issues. One surprising trend is the increasing growth of
neo-paganism and witchcraft in some UUA congregations. The influence of secular
humanism, while still strong, has diminished somewhat with the rise of
The UUA Today
In 1997, a survey was taken of more than 8,000 active members of the UUA in
North America. The results revealed a number of surprising facts about people
involved in the modern UUA.
When asked about their theological perspective, 46% described themselves as
humanist (atheist or agnostic). 55% regarded themselves as earth or
nature-centered (pantheists), Buddhists, Hindu, undefined theists, mystics (New
Agers) or other (pagan). About 1.5% identified themselves as Jewish. Only 9.5%
described themselves as Christian by any definition.
The median age of UUA respondents to the poll was 55.7 years, and only 27.5%
still have children at home. 67.6% of the respondents were women, meaning less
than one-third of UUA members are men. Only 27% of the UUA respondents
answering the survey described themselves as heterosexual men. 10.5% identified
themselves as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender.
As expected, more than 78% of UUA followers favored greater racial and
cultural diversity in their congregations. Nevertheless, the most surprising
finding of the survey was that 98% of all UUA people described themselves as
European Americans (white), meaning only 2% represent ethnic or racial
Beliefs of the UUA
Complete religious freedom for each individual
Unitarian Universalists affirm and defend the right of all people to accept
or reject any or all religions beliefs. No specific doctrinal perspective is
required for membership. We uphold the free search for truth. We will not be
bound by a statement of belief. We do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed.
We say ours is a noncreedal religion. Ours is a free faith. (Marta Flanagan, We
Are Unitarian Universalists, http://www.uua.org/bookstore/weare.html)
Christians also affirm the right of free, moral individuals to decide their
religious beliefs for themselves. No person should ever be coerced to profess a
religion's tenets that they do not actually believe.
Nonetheless, Christians also affirm the rights of local and national
religious organizations to prescribe doctrinal and behavior standards for
membership. Nearly all historic Christian organizations require adherence to
essential biblical teachings on the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus
Christ, and the way of salvation. Evangelical churches generally require
testimony of an experience of acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's personal
Savior and Lord (see Rom. 10:9-10).
Reason is our guide to truth
In the last century, most Unitarian Universalists maintained that human
reason, intuition, and scientific research were the only reliable sources for
discovering all truth. Generally, they rejected supernatural sources of
knowledge-especially divine sources of revelation such as the Bible or other
Nonetheless, in recent decades, many neo-pagan Unitarian Universalists have
accepted supernatural beliefs that defy naturalistic presuppositions. According
to Marta Flanagan,
The living tradition that we share draws from many sources:
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
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by
loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings that counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the
results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions that celebrate the sacred
circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
(Marta Flanagan, We Are Unitarian Universalists
Christians affirm that human reason, intuition, and scientific research have
some limited value for discovering truth about the natural world or spiritual
reality. However, they maintain that neither human reason, nor intuition, nor
science are capable of discerning all truth-especially that regarding spiritual
reality. That must come from special divinely inspired revelation (see Rom.
Christians, therefore, believe that God has revealed truth about His own
nature, the creation, and redemption only in the Bible and in the Person of
Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
No particular belief about God is taught
What the Unitarian Universalist fellowship offers me is the encouragement to
be utterly my most responsible self in matters of theological belief. When I
use the word God or God/ess, it is with the full understanding that I
speak from personal conviction and experience, and not from any desire to
impose my "revelation" on others. (Jack Mendelsohn, Being Liberal in An
Unitarian Universalists do not have any stated doctrinal belief concerning
the existence or nature of a god. It is entirely the prerogative of each
individual to determine what, if any, concept of deity they wish to accept.
Historically, Unitarians rejected the traditional Christian doctrine of the
Trinity as polytheistic. Currently, however, some Unitarian Universalists
profess belief in gods and goddesses of various numbers and kinds.
The Bible teaches that there is only one infinite and eternal God. He is the
creator of all that exists in the universe. The Bible teaches that this One God
exists eternally as three separate persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see
Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 8:6, 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22, 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).
Christians maintain that this concept of God is absolutely true and that any
other concept is false. Belief in and worship of any other god or gods is
considered idolatry and is unacceptable in Christian churches and fellowships
(see Ex. 20:1-6; Deut. 5:6-8, 6:4).
Jesus Christ was a great religious teacher (but not necessarily
But whatever we [Unitarian Universalists] call ourselves, (Christian, Jew,
theist, agnostic, humanist, atheist), most of us would agree that the important
thing about Jesus is not his supposed miraculous birth or the claim that he was
resurrected from death, but rather how he lived . . . The Apostles Creed and
other such statements of dogmatic theology entirely miss this point. (John A.
Buehrens and Forrest Church, A Chosen Faith-An Introduction to Unitarian
Unitarian Universalists who believe that Jesus actually lived-and many do
not-regard Him to be merely a moral teacher or religious reformer. They
generally reject any notion that He was a divinely inspired leader, and
especially reject the claim that He was the unique incarnation of God.
The Bible affirms that Jesus not only was a genuine, historical figure who
led a moral or religious movement, but was also the unique incarnation of God.
Thus, He was fully deity and claimed equality with God (see John 1:1,14,
5:17-18, 23, 8:56-59, 10:30-33; Col. 1:15-20, 2:9).
Jesus lived a sinless life and performed numerous miraculous acts that are
reported in the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Ultimately, He
prophesied His own death and physical resurrection (see John 2:18-22), and
appeared physically to more than 500 of His disciples (see Luke 24: 36-43; 1
Mankind is basically good
Unitarian Universalists reject the biblical doctrine of original sin. They
teach that basically all people are good and have no need for spiritual
redemption from the effects of sin.
"Doctrinally, Universalism's principle theological contribution lies in
striking hell from the theological sense. Complementing this, Unitarianism (in
addition to affirming God's oneness) removed original sin. Together they
conspire brilliantly on behalf of goodness." (John A. Buehrens and Forrest
Church, A Chosen Faith-An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism)
The Bible teaches that mankind—descended from Adam and Eve—is, by nature,
sinful. Thus, people are incapable of enjoying a relationship with a holy God
and are in need of full redemption. No acts of righteousness or good works can
restore a sinful person to a right relation with God. Neither can a person
overcome the effects that sin has both in this life and for eternity (see Rom.
3:23, 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8-10).
Salvation is finding one's own self-fulfillment and
Unitarian Universalists, as indicated, do not subscribe to any formal
doctrinal perspective. Also, as indicated, they have not stated a position on
the nature (or existence) of God. In addition, they have no concept of original
sin, and, in fact, reject the notion of mankind's sinfulness and affirm the
basic goodness of humanity.
As a result, Unitarian Universalists see no essential need for the
traditional concepts of Christian redemption and salvation. Since men are not
sinners, they do not need forgiveness from sin.
For them, salvation—for lack of a better word—is simply an individual's
achievement of self-actualization. In this view, whatever way one finds meaning
or purpose for her life is valid.
"For us, salvation is not an otherworldly journey, flown on wings of dogma.
It is ethical striving and moral growth: respect for the personalities and
experiences of others; faith in human dignity and potentiality; aversion to
sanctimony and bigotry; reverence for the gift of life; confidence in a true
harmony of mind and spirit, of nature and human nature; faith in the ability to
give and receive love; and a quest for broad, encompassing religious
expression-spiritual yet practical, personal and communal." (Jack Mendelsohn,
Being Liberal in An Illiberal Age)
Christians believe that since sin exists and mankind by nature is
sinful-that all people need personal salvation from its effects.
It is through the sacrificial atonement of Christ by His death on the cross
and the bodily resurrection that redemption was made available to all people
(see 1 Cor. 15:1-8). They believe salvation is accessed "by grace through
faith" in Jesus Christ alone (see Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
Life after death is an open question - heaven and hell are
states of mind
Most modern Unitarian Universalists do not concern themselves to a great
extent over issues of life-after-death. Those who do believe in some concept of
existence after this life describe it in vague terms. Many Unitarian
Universalists simply state that heaven and hell are only states of mind in this
life—that may or may not extend beyond death.
Some neo-pagans in the UUA probably have adopted eastern or New Age concepts
of reincarnation or spiritualism.
Nearly all Unitarian Universalists reject any concept of an eternal hell for
punishment of sin. One UUA writer praised the Universalists historic rejection
of the traditional Christian view.
"The creedal assumptions formulated at Nicaea must be in error. Even though
the Nicaean Council had pointed out that God's justice required the punishment
of sin, it was self-evident that a good and perfect God created humans to grow
eternally in the goodness of their creator." (Jack Mendelsohn, Being
Liberal in An Illiberal Age)
The Bible clearly affirms that all people live on after death (see 2 Cor.
5:8; Phil. 1:23-24; Rev. 6:9-10, 14:13). It indicates that those who received
Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord will abide in heaven for
eternity (see John 3:16, 14:3).
The doctrine of eternal hell was taught by Jesus and affirmed in the Bible.
He taught that the righteous will have eternal life, but the wicked will suffer
eternal punishment (see Matt. 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-48; 2 Thes. 1:9; Rev.
Witnessing to UUAs
1. Be sure of your own faith and the Bible. Christians need to understand
the basic tenets of Christian faith and why the Bible is reliable.
2. Inquire about the Unitarian Universalist's personal beliefs. Since the
UUA has no standard doctrinal beliefs, members vary widely in their personal
convictions. Ask her questions like, "What is God like - according to your
understanding?" or "Who is Jesus Christ in your opinion?"
3. Focus on the essential issues of the Christian faith: God, the Bible,
Jesus Christ, and salvation. Do not get sidetracked discussing denominational
differences or other non-essential issues.
4. Do not argue. Ask questions about her beliefs and listen to her answers.
Give reasonable answers to her questions or objections about your faith in
5. Share your personal testimony of faith in Christ. The Unitarian
Universalist may have many intellectual objections, but she cannot argue with
6. Share the plan of salvation. Remember, many in the UUA have a distorted
view of Christianity, and she may never have even heard the simple plan of
salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
7. Invite your Unitarian Universalist friend to read Christian literature
that you will provide for her. Some excellent authors and books that will
challenge her intellectually to consider Christianity are listed below.
| Charles Colson||Burden of Truth: Answers to Your Kid's Questions |
| Winfried Corduan|| Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian
| William Lane Craig|| Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics|
| Norman Geisler and Ronald M.
Brooks|| When Skeptics Ask: Basic Christian
| C.S. Lewis|| Mere Christianity|
| Paul Little|| Know Why You Believe|
| Josh McDowell|| More Than A Carpenter; The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict|
| John Newport|| Life's Ultimate Questions|
| Francis A. Schaeffer|| The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer|
| Lee Strobel||The Case for Christ; The Case for
| Ravi Zacharias|| Can Man Live Without God?|