The origins of the Unitarian Universalist faith go back two millennia, to those who first focused on Jesus’ teachings, rather than his divinity. They thrived in various forms over the centuries throughout Europe.
In England, some prominent Unitarians were the scientist Isaac Newton, the philosopher John Locke, and the poet John Milton.
In America, Unitarianism developed among New England Congregationalists, known as “Free Thinkers.” They founded Harvard University’s Divinity School.
Among their early leaders were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Rev. William Ellery Channing, who said that Jesus didn’t intend a church to “bear the name of a human leader, distinguished by a form or opinion”…that the essence of the church is “people made more holy, virtuous by their religion.”
Some Unitarians US presidents were John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft.
Universalists emphasized humanity’s heavenly nature and God’s love for the human race. They were active for years in reform for prison inmates and working women, opposing slavery, advocating separation of church and state, and supporting civil rights for all.
The two movements, Unitarianism and Universalism, had much in common, so they merged in 1961. Both reject some Christian orthodoxy, such as the trinity, original sin, the wrath of God, and hell. Both believe in the essential goodness of human nature and the importance of critical thinking in religion. Some believe Jesus embodied God’s hope for humanity; some opt for religious pluralism or non-theism.
UUs have founded several non-sectarian universities, including Tufts, St. Lawrence, and the California Institute of Technology.
As a united group, UUs support flexibility, freedom of conscience, and local autonomy. No minister, member, or congregation is required to subscribe to “any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.” They stand strongly for human dignity, social justice, compassion, the free and responsible search for truth, democracy, the global community, and respect for the environment.
[SUUF Member Paul Friedman continues to provide weekly articles for publication in the Red Rock News. This article – or a variation thereof – appeared in the Oct 21, 2022 issue]