SAMPLES FROM THE LATEST UU CHRISTIAN JOURNAL
WHAT IS LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY?
Resources for Discussion and Reflection - UU Christian Journal
Our most recent UU Christian Journal, vol. 61, has several articles that delve into different aspects of inter-religious encounters, and the best, and worst, approaches. Here are excerpts from three essays in the Journal: Rev. Harry Hoehler's "Christian Zionism, The Bible, and God"; Rev. Mark Belletini's "From Resentment to Justice: The Son of Mary as a First Century Hebrew Prophet Faithful to the Torah; and Rev. Lisa Friedman's "The Jesus Quandry: Exploring Jesus from the Jewish Perspective and as a Jewish Unitarian Universalist."
Copies of the Journal can be purchased at UUCF Bookstore on this website.
From Rev. Harry Hoehler's "Christian Zionism, the Bible, and God":
Christian Zionism is that 'movement within Protestant fundamentalism that understands the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and thus deserving of politcal, financial and religious support."...
"When Jerry Falwell announces that the "strength of Christian Zionism is that it is based on confessional faith in God and His Word" doesn't one have to inquire whether this sentiment is compatible with the vision of God in Christ that scripture proclaims?...St. Paul reminds us that the God we know in Christ "has no favorites" (Romans 2:11), that "chosenness," contrary to contemporary Zionist insistence on a priveleged status for the state of Israel, has no national, racial or ethnic boundaries in God's economy...
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright links this Christian understanding of calling and chosenness to the Christian understanding of the apocalypse. "For St. Paul and other New Testament writers," he notes: the apocalyptic event had already occurred in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ...[therefore] our calling is to celebrate and embody the fact that in Jesus Christ there is new life, resurrection life, the life of God himself, coming to love and heal and to reunite the world."
...This is the New Testament vision of what it means to "walk in the newness of life" (Romans 6:4) now and in days to come...Participating in the new age inaugurated by the advent of Jesus Christ becomes a reality for us as we become comformed to Christ and channels, through the new existence Christ grafts into our hearts, of God's gracious mercy and justice to all people. It is then that we live not only in the present moment but inn a present yoked to and defined in its fullness by God's promised world to come when the God manifested in Jesus Christ is indeed "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
Contrast this vision of the end times with that of the Christian Zionists and by implication the God they claim to serve. As Michael Prior has observed, Christian Zionists worship at the altar of an ethnocentric, belligerent, imperialistic deity whose summons to adherents is to purify the Holy Land by forcefully subjucating, transferring out if necessary, 3,000,000 plus people (including 125,000 nearly forgotten Israeli, West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinian Christians."
...The basic question with which Christian Zionism leaves us is: what is the character of the God whom Christ calls us to obey and serve? Is it the God of the Rapture, the God of the tribulation, the God of Armageddon, the God of the Second Coming who rescues the few and destroys the many (including the vast majority of Jews who fail to recognize Christ as their Savior)? Or is it the God who invites us to new life in Christ (II Cor. 5: 17-18) and to the kingdom God has prepared for all, without distinction, who in their personal and institutiional lives have taken up the tasks of feeding the hungry, welcoming the alien, clothing the naked, caring for the sick adn visiting the incarcerated in (Mt. 25: 31-46)? For all who believe that God's self-giving love incarnated in Jesus Christ has direct implications for our commitment to the virtues of justice and mercy in our life together, the answer is clear.
From Rev. Lisa Friedman's "The Jesus Quandry" (a paper submitted to the Ohio River Study Group of UU ministers)
Memory: I was preaching as a guest minister at the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church, in Hanska, Minnesota. The worship leader, himself of Jewish background, asked me if I had ever seen the portrait of Jesus behind the pulpit. He drew back the plush blue velvet curtains and revealed an elegantly simple oil painting of Jesus standing by a young boy. "Do you notice anything different?" inquired my host. At first, I didn't. The familiar brown-haired, blue-eyed Jesus was clothed in a sparse robe, as homespun as the boy's tunic. I scanned the painting for several more minutes until it dawned on me--there were no signs of crucifixion, nor blood or wounds or crown of thorns, nor was there any halo or aura around his head. Here was the human Jesus, resting his hand gently upon a child's head. Once I saw the difference, I found it both startling and beautiful. My host then told me that the painting was a replica of a Norwegian piece, whose painter had been charged with heresy.
...And what of our understanding of Jesus and Unitarian Universalist Christianity today? For a sense of this, I turned to the website of the UU Christian Fellowship, as well as the recent collection of stories of personal spiritual witness, Christian Voices in UUism, edited by our colleague, Kathleen Rolenz. In the preface by Carl Scovel, he observes that "these witnesses point toward a Jesus who is not just human but humane, not just in touch with God but in touch with them. This Jesus is relational, robust, and real...No two people relate to Jesus or God in exactly the same way."
And, reading the stories that followed, he's right. The answer to the question Jesus asks Peter, "Who do men say that I am?" will always of necessity be a slightly different question as a historical or spiritual answer, no matter how closely the two are related. What interested me most in the essays was a glimpse of the value that each person saw in being a Christian within Unitarian Universalism, as opposed to another faith tradition. For, from a different direction, is it the same question that Jews must ask themselves. Why be a Jew in an essentially Protestant movement, when I might be better seen and understood elsewhere? Only one essayist gave his answer as the chance to build the beloved community. Of those who gave an answer, most echoed the satisfaction of being rooted in a movement that defends religious freedom and asks us each to push our own theological understandings to their limits. Many affirmed that they would not have been able to find their way to Jesus, or back to Jesus, without the free, open and creedless way of our tradition. The UUCF website itself opens with the motto: "Following Jesus in Freedom."
Memory: I am exchanging pulpits with my UU colleague twenty minutes south of the congregation I serve. She preaches in our pulpit, leading worship for a multi-theological historically Humanist congregation. I lead worship in the first UU Christian start-up congregation outside of New England. My sermon is carefully cosen to be scripture-based and I lead the gathered assembly in the Lord's Prayer. Each of us wonders, why are we doing this/ We affirm the importance of reminding our people that we have more in common than we think.
...We are not being asked to become our neighbor. We are being asked to respect and communicate with each other about our journeys. For our Jewish and Christian members in particular,we may find it helpful to use the techniques of Jewish-Christian dialogue among ourselves. Many will have only touched the surface of the tensions, connections, and evolution of thought outlined in this paper from a scholarly perspective. Yet they are probably still living some of them out, often unknowingly. My own journey bears witness to the fact that it is indeed possible to find one's spiritual foundation within this broad and complex history. And withthat foundation comes the peace to engage the larger conversation of what Judaism and Christianity mean in our movement today more deeply.
I still wish that I could go back in time and meet Jesus of Nazareth. I with that I could have been a fly on a rock somewhere in Galilee or Jerusalem and observed him with my own eyes and my own Jewish heart. I wish thatmy Grandma Alice could have met him, if not in her beloved land of Israel, at least through some of the eyes of the current scholars of our day. I think that she would have found him intriguing. She might even have liked him. She would certainly have been willing to say his name aloud, and perhaps she and her Catholic friend could have discovered some surprising common ground.
Rev. Mark Belletini's "From Resentment to Justice: The Son of Mary as a first century hebrew prophet faithful to the torah":
"The work of the prophets has to do with turning the world upside down, and restoring some economic equity at the welcome table, both justice and justness. By taking on students in such number, Jesus was clearly suggesting that the work of the prophets has to be our present work to complete too. And, like King, Jr., who was a prophet long after him, Jesus insisted on dealing with the inequities of society without violence, and with compassion fused to cold anger, calling for honest community building before ritual relationship. And like the prophets before him, Jesus used symbolic events and stories to convey the truth, so that the people might come together in joined strength before daring to confront the powers keeping all privilege to themselves. The truth which the typical peasant resister, Jesus, was trying to convey, a truth rooted deep in the Torah, was an economic spiritual truth, and it's put most simply in his aphorism: "You cannot serve both God and mammon," or in modern English, "your investments" (Luke 16:13).
"The death of the Galilean peasant Yeshu' bar Maryam sometime in the later tenure of Pontius Pilatus, the Praefectus Iudaea (26-36 CE), is rife with social and economic strata at its core: there's the accusation that Jesus wanted the political/financial/collaborationist Temple of the day torn down, and perhaps replaced with something wiser and more Torah based. There is the snappy question and answer session about taxation and Caeser in which Jesus scores a bulls-eye against the collaborationist approach. And there is the very sarcastic titulus which hung around his neck as he bore the beam of his cross to the quarry at the crossroads where the stakes were fixed: it read, according to all four gospels "ho basileus ton ioudaion" which translates "the Judean Emperor" a clearly political charge. And one it seems reasonable to assume, which was based on the reported substance of his teaching about the Empire of G-d being a just contrast with the unjust Empire of Caeser, the Roman Son of God and Savior.
"The later theology of Christendom, translating his cruel death into a neo-Maccabean martyrdom on behalf of others, begins to feel almost desperate to me, an end-run around the demand for economic justice here on earth, and not after death in some other realm where there is neither vine, nor fig tree with shade, under which one might keep a lovely sabbatical rest. And even the ancient radical Christian snub, "Jesus is Lord", i.e. "Jesus is the Real Emperor' has now become a post-Nicene bumper-sticker that utterly guts the political forcefulness of those words. It reduces the phrase into a baffling affirmation which confuses the son of Mary with the capricious and often rather petty fate-like God of the neo-Calvinism which dominates conservative religious culture in this our modern United States.
"No, the life of Jesus was far more a political and economic protest and call to resistance than it was a reformation of Hebrew theology...."
What is Liberal Christianity - Resources for Discussion and Reflection
I am convinced that liberal Christianity has little future unless it can articulate its stance to itself in such a way as to differentiate itself from the activist, mystical, and psychological movements toward which it gravitates from time to time. Theologically it cannot exist as a watered-down form of conservative Christianity. If we liberal Christians are unable to state the authentic Christian gospel meaningfully and relevantly in our own terms, there is little value in our survival. Unless it is the Christian gospel that makes us liberal, and not simply an erosion of faith, we are not in any serious sense liberal Christians.
- John B. Cobb, Jr., Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads, Westminister Press, 1973.
The “unity” of Christendom can never be creedal. It can only be a common acknowledgment that the person of Christ, his existential power, his freedom, and his persistent teaching, deserves to haunt the intelligence and imagination with its manifold enigmas. To follow Christ means, minimally, to be concerned, to be fascinated by his reality and to be continually brought back to his commentary on the human condition and its implied hope for the future of man.
- John F. Hayward, Existentialism and Religious Liberalism, Beacon Press, 1962.
Unitarian Christianity affirms Jesus to be the central figure in human history, and his life, death and victory to be its pivotal event. It affirms life in its heights and depths, its breadth and quickness. It affirms man as born of God and struggling with fear, scorn and pride, to be worthy to be born again in embracing love. It affirms the personal character of faith, and the difficult road marked justification. It affirms personality as given in the image of God, and strives that personality may exist free and uncorrupted. It affirms the universality of idolatry and alienation, and gives forgiveness for hatred, good for evil. It affirms God as reconciling spirit, Jesus as His instrument, man as consummation. It affirms the past as revelation, the present as freedom, the future as fragile hope. It affirms the greatness of the human soul, living or dead, and believes in inheritance and recurrence akin to immortality. It affirms Divinity in the shining eyes of children, in . . . sacrifice simple and heroic, in silence, song and dance, and in the dream of order that binds man to man. It affirms love in all its forms, forsakes the screaming violence of war, gives peace and joy unquenched. It affirms not itself but God, in the mercy of whose care and the glory of whose presence it is sanctified and made whole. It affirms the Pext moment as time enough for light to cast out darkness, and the soul of man to be made free.
- David B. Parke, “The Integrity of Unitarianism,” Faith and Freedom, Autumn, 1960.
Liberal Protestantism . . . originated in the nineteenth century and achieved its zenith in this country in the decades preceding the Second World War. It was characterized by (1) an eagerness to discard old orthodox forms if they were judged to be irrational in the light of modern knowledge or irrelevant to what was regarded as the central core of religious experience; (2) a confidence in the power of man’s reason when guided by experience; (3) a belief in freedom; (4) a belief in the social nature of human existence; (5) a faith in the benevolence of God and the goodness of Creation.
- Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms, Macmillan, 1964.
Christian liberalism . . . sought to liberate men, not from positive Christian convictions, but from blindly held convictions which would not cohere with the reasoned inquiry of a free mind.
- Georgia Harkness, The Modern Rival of Christian Faith, 1953.
The most characteristic theme of liberal theology . . . is the emphasis on the freedom of man, his capability of responding to God and shaping his life in accordance with divine will. Christian liberals share with their classic forerunner Pelagius the insistence that even in his freedom man cannot be saved without the grace of God; but with Pelagius against St. Augustine, and against the later views of Calvin, liberals have rejerted the doctrine of the total depravity of man, and have condemned theories of predestination as destroying man’s freedom.
- Daniel D. Williams, “Liberalism,” Handbook of Christian Theology, World Publishing, 1958.
Between (1735 and 1805), two generations of religious liberals, commonly called Arminians, rejected traditional Calvinistic patterns of thought and developed a new set of basic assumptions about human nature and human destiny.
The doctrinal position of the liberals combined three tendencies which may be logically distinguished: Arminianism, supernatural rationalism, and anti-Trinitarianism. Arminianism asserted that men are born with the capacity both for sin and for righteousness; that they can respond to the impulse toward holiness as well as the temptation to do evil; and that life is a process of trial and discipline by which, with the assistance God gives to all, the bondage to sin may be gradually overcome. This assertion of human ability contrasts with the Calvinist belief that the innate bent of all men is toward sin, that God has decreed everlasting happiness to some and eternal torment to others, and that salvation comes as the unmerited gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
Supernatural rationalism, accepted by many Calvinists as well as by the liberals, was virtually the orthodox theology of the Age of Reason. It asserted that the unassisted reason can establish the essentials of natural religion: the existence of God, the obligations of morality, and a divine order of rewards and punishments. But unlike Deism, it insisted that natural religion must be supplemented with a special revelation of God’s will. The Bible is such a revelation, which reinforces natural religion by stating its obligations more clearly and impressively; and it proclaims the gospel of redemption through the perfect obedience of Christ, which unassisted reason could never have discovered…
Finally, the liberals tended to be anti-Trinitarian, largely because they were not convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity is scriptural. Most of them were Arians, believing that Christ, while not a part of the Godhead, is a being of a far higher rank in Creation than mere man.
- Conrad Wright, The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America, Beacon Press, 1966.
When nineteenth-century New England Unitarianism finally emerged out of the crypto-Arminianism of the eighteenth century, it stood revealed as a well organized philosophy of Christian humanism . . . a confluence of Protestantism with the Enlightenment.
- Daniel Walker Howe, The Unitarian Conscience, Harvard University Press, 1970.
If life is to be disciplined at all, of what fashion shall the discipline be? Amid all the variations of ethics which have sheltered under the name of “Christian,” two in particular stand out in marked contrast. On the one hand there have been teachers and sects who have prescribed for their adherents, and individuals who have prescribed for themselves, a life of rigorous self denial, self-mortification, and other-worldliness . . . Against this rigorist other-worldliness must be arrayed a “this-worldly” code of ethics, which also appeals for its sanctions to the gospel. This (Christian humanism) bids us enjoy life in due moderation, and realize the highest possibilities of every instinct and factor in the complex organism of personality. It prescribes positive social virtues as the ideal, and seeks to set up a New Jerusalem by steady evolution out of the existing world-order. It finds goodness in embracing the world and its joys, not in flight from them; it looks for God in His creation, instead of seeking Him by spurning what He has made . . . Within the womb of the Christian Church these two children -- rigorism and humanism -- have striven for the mastery from the moment of their conception.
- Kenneth E. Kirk, The Vision of God, Harper Torchbook, 1966.
Be not anxious to destroy. Whatever in the counsels of God is destined to come away, let it come away kindly with the dissolutions of time. It is so much harder to give life than to destroy it, to affirm to any purpose than to deny! Next to intolerance in religion, I hate that negative, destructive spirit which would take from us all that the past has handed down, and leave us nothing but barren negations instead. Enough of negation! Enough of destruction! Enough of rationalism! Have done with denying; the soul demands something positive. Give us the everlasting Yes~ Flesh and heart crieth out for the living God
- Frederic Henry Hedge, “Divinity School Address,” Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 15, 1849.
We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works, for these things are good and profitable unto men.
- Universalist “Profession of Faith” adopted in Winchester New Hampshire, 1803.
We desire openly to declare our belief as a denomination, so far as it can be officially represented by the American Unitarian Association, that God, moved by his’ own love, did raise up Jesus to aid in our redemption from sin, did by him pour a fresh blood of purifying life
through the withered veins of humanity and along the corrupted channels of the world, and is, by his religion, forever sweeping the nations with regenerating gales from heaven, and visiting the hearts of men with celestial solicitations. We receive the teachings of Christ, separated from all foreign admixtures and later accretions, as infallible truth from God.
- American Unitarian Association, 1853.
In the freedom of truth, and in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man.
- “The Ames Covenant,” written by Charles Gordon Ames for the Spring Garden Unitarian Society in Philadelphia, in 1880, and later adopted by many Unitarian churches.
Liberal Christianity, or freedom in religion, does not mean liberty to believe what we choose, but freedom to seek the truth anywhere, everywhere, and always. It means that we should not only be willing that others should differ from us, but ready to help them to inquire freely, even if their inquiries lead them to believe what we consider erroneous. It means that we are not to judge each other (Matt. vii. 1-5; Rom. xiv. 1-23), nor to submit our own belief to the judgment of any church or any human authority.
Rational Christianity does not mean that we are to reject all beliefs which we do not now see to be reasonable, or to make reason the only source of truth. But it means that we are to test every belief by the light of our reason, and seek to understand clearly what we think and why we think it.
- James Freeman Clarke, Manual of Unitarian Belief, 1884.
Truth without love tends to a hard dogmatism; love without truth to a weak concession of principle. Neither, therefore, is to be sacrificed to the other.
The old creeds sacrificed love to truth . . . The objections brought against such creeds by the Unitarian fathers were specific. They objected, not to creeds in general, but to those which interfered with Christian fellowship and sympathy. Their complaint was:
- That these creeds were made tests of character.
- That they were made conditions of fellowship, obliging Christians to refuse to have communion with those who differed from their purely speculative statements.
- That they were obstacles to progress, preventing free inquiry.
- That they consisted of narrow statements of certain philosophical opinions, and that they omitted the most important and practical realities of religion.
- That they tended to hypocrisy by insisting that, under penalty of opprobrium and loss, men should profess opinions which they did not heartily believe.
…The error of our Western friends (in the Western Unitarian Conference which had adopted an “ethical” bond of union rather than a Christian or Theistic statement), as I think, is that they sacrifice truth to love. For the sake of a wider fellowship, and a larger practical usefulness, they refuse to confess the great religious truths which alone can supply adequate motives to produce the very goodness they desire.
- James Freeman Clarke, “Unitarian Belief and Fellowship,” a sermon preaced in Boston, September 19, 1886, and printed in Unitarian Christianity, Western Unitarian Association, Chicago, Winter, 1886-87.
We owe to God the gift of life and the possibilities it offers for growth and achievement. We owe to Him the spirit of self-denial and dissatisfaction, not for its own sake or because of a radical pessimism, but for the sake of being worthy and capable of future advance.
We owe to Him the creative impulse, the gift to see things not merely as they are but also for what they serve to illustrate, to direct us toward, and the grace to strive for what may be rather than what is.
We owe to Him also those resources, always objectively given which constitute the substance Out of which the ideal may be made real.
Finally, it is the grace of God to us that He enters into our lives, with new influences, new disclosures of qualities and ways of life, new energies by which our spiritual lives are constantly renewed and made more worthy.
- James Luther Adams, et a!, “The Religious Content of Liberalism,” Greenfield Group, September 11, 1934.
The bond of fellowship in the Universalist Church shall be a common purpose to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it, and to cooperate in establishing the Kingdom for which He lived and died.
To that end, we avow our faith in God as Eternal and All-conquering Love,
In the spiritual leadership of Jesus,
In the supreme worth of every human personality,
In the authority of truth known or to be known,
And in the power of men of good-will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God.
- Universalist profession of faith adopted in Washington, D.C., 1935.
We are a group of Unitarians taking part in the general Unitarian Advance, with the intention of becoming more clearly and adequately Unitarian than ever. The genius of our group lies specifically in the cause for which the American Unitarian Association was founded: to “diffuse the knowledge of and promote the interests of pure Christianity.” Our basis of unity is the Unitarian bond which many of our churches have written into their charters: “In the love of truth and in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man”. As a group, our reason for being is neither political nor organizational. We seek ways of living our simple covenant completely.
Contrary to the opinion of some, we are not primarily a theological movement in any new and strange doctrinal sense. Our theology is that which has come down to us as the undeviating mainstream of all great Unitarianism. We have considered that theology with as much critical reason and scholarship as we have at our command, and we find it good. Our hope is to make our theology live, for it seems to us rational, powerful and eternally modern. We believe in God, Jesus Christ, man and the church, terms that are compatible with the point of view held by David, Lindsey, Martineau, Channing and Parker.
Within the framework of our Unitarian fellowship and in accordance with all that is best in our Unitarian faith, we believe. That God, the Father of all men, is to be worshipped with all our hearts and proclaimed to the people as the living God. That Jesus of Nazareth exemplified the mind of God in a manner so full and sufficient that his life is our surest guide and most enduring inspiration. That we are part of the total Christian Church, which, diverse and many-sided, in a multitude of ways has developed the religious movement sprung from the life and teachings of Jesus. This is our intention, these are our convictions. In their spirit, and praying ever for the help of God, we have undertaken our Unitarian Christian task.
- “A Statement of Purpose” adopted in 1946 by the Unitarian Christian Committee (now the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship).
My reality is the Original Jesus:
In the swiftness of his decision, in the finality of his resolution, in the challenging and stinging hyperbole with which he tried to arouse the indolent, the dull, and the conventional — I see a person sure of himself, sure of his universe, sure of his God.
In my weakness, I need that example.
My reality is the Original Command:
Be defined! Do something! Do something utterly real and radically true! No playacting, mumbling by rote, posturing by precept! Commit yourself! Get the once and for all quality in your heart and will! To the utmost be true!
In my weakness, I need that advice.
My reality is the Original Gospel:
The will of God as hunger and thirst and food and drink; the love of the perfect through pain and darkness and joy and light; the supremacy of the soul above churches that will cast me out; the leaving of nothing that is good to insignificance; the watchful eye for human suffering; and the courageous voice against the wrong.
In my weakness, I need that faith.
Such a faith commands and owns me.
It makes the world fit for living —
It gives to history a higher meaning —
It affirms the freedom of the human spirit —
It demands the discipline of obedience and humility —
It requires the attributes of love and deep compassion.
For one poor soul, at least, it is a faith that exalts life and illuminates its purpose. It is my reality.
- David 0. Rankin, “Confessions of a Unitarian Christian,” So Great a Cloud of Witnesses, Strawberry Hill Press, 1978.
1. Christian Understanding of God. Unitarian Universalist Christianity, in faithfulness to the broad tradition of catholic Christianity in which it was nurtured, and in whose behalf it has striven, and which from its first foundation it has served, affirms its free and rational commitment to that revelation of the meaning of God, which is manifested and symbolized in Jesus Christ, His life, work, teachings, passion, and death, as this life has been set forth in the New Testament, and as it was symbolized in that resurrection-experience to which the Church bears witness.
2. Human Dignity. Unitarian Universalist Christianity affirms that Christian understanding of human nature which recognizes human beings as free and sacred personalities, endowed with conscience, reason, and emotions, and capable in the liberty of their wills either of accepting the grace of God and fulfilling themselves in fellowship with God, or destroying themselves in alienation from God. But God, we acknowledge, as the Lord of Life is alone the judge of existence, and in God’s providence alone lies humanity’s ultimate destiny, subject
neither to the decision of the Church nor any other human institution.
3. Freedom of Spirit. Unitarian Universalist Christianity affirms as its prime duty, and its place in the historical development of institutional Christianity, the delicate task of preserving freedom of the spirit within the Christian community, and recognizes the legitimate claims of a plurality of religious interpretations and their expressions within the essential unity and corporate life of the Church.
4. The Congregation in Covenant as the Basis of the Free Church. Unitarian Universalist Christianity affirms the value and the necessity of the Christian congregation, gathered together by voluntary covenant, wherein God is worshipped, and people are united in the bonds of faith, hope, and love: this union being understood as the redeeming presence of the Spirit of Christ in the world through the agency of the Church.
5. Christian Liberty and Intellectual Integrity. Unitarian Universalist Christianity in its defense of Christian liberty seeks to interpret the Christian message in the context of both time and place, and, therefore, refuses to endorse as final and sufficient any particular creed of the historical Church, which being relative to the conditions of an historical situation has been, is now, or may be in times to come, superseded. Thus Unitarian Universalist Christians refuse to bind future ages to a creed expressive of this time, as they through the wisdom of their forbears have been raised in freedom to discover Christian truth anew in this age.
6. Social Action and the Ethic of Love. Unitarian Universalist Christianity affirms through social action the ethical values inherent in the Christian gospel, and ever attempts to relate that gospel to all spheres of human thought and existence.
7. Universal Religious Tolerance. Unitarian Universalist Christianity, while insisting upon the basic value and integrity of the Christian message as a power of redemption, seeks to promote an understanding and appreciation of religious traditions other than those within the Christian heritage, and thus actively espouses all truly ecumenical efforts to draw people together in love, mutual respect, peace, and goodwill.
- “Unitarian Universalist Christian Affirmations,” a publication of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship.
In Massachusetts the denomination displays something of the nature of an established church, having affinities with Anglicanism; outside of New England, it frequently reveals the characteristics of a sect. Unitarianism will do well to preserve both the broad conserving churchmanship of the former and the latter’s intense spirit of prophetic dissent. There is great danger, however, that the denomination, in losing contact with Protestantism at large, will fail to discharge the role to which history and its own distinctive qualifications assign it. For without a sense of relatedness to Christendom, without more than a peripheral participation in the affairs of Protestantism, striving for a new unity and a larger dimension, the would-be Christians among us will perish for want of that spiritual, sacramental, liturgical and covenantal fellowship which is the essential connective tissue of the larger body, the universal Church.
…By reason of our isolation from the main body of Christendom our disputes are largely intramural. Our inflated controversies must often seem to outsiders like a tempest in a teapot. Any real debate must take place on the same platform. This is true not only in the sense that there must be some social proximity, but also in the sense that the debate is idle unless there is some common platform of mutually recognized religious principles.
Walter Nigg, the Swiss historian of European religious liberalism, observes that the first symptoms of ebbing vitality on the part of continental religious liberalism were an indisposition to grapple with new trends and restatements within orthodoxy. It has become liberalism content to rehearse old victories over conservatism, brandishing outmoded weapons. Liberalism, and more particularly Unitarianism, in view of its dual heritage, is most significant, it would seem, as the loyal opposition to the Great Church. And by loyal, I mean no less attached to the Christian tradition than is the Great Church, actively devoted to the goal of the Kingdom, but seriously, at times, differing with the strategy and restatements of faith acceptable to the majority.
- George Huntston Williams, “Rethinking the Unitarian Relationship With Protestantism,” 1949 (reprinted in The Unitarian Universalist Christian, Spring/Summer, 1981.
Whereas the first characteristic of the Christian pilgrimage is a deepening appreciation for the faith stories, the second aspect is a growing allegiance to the God which the stories reveal. The way in which God is apprehended varies in different historical periods. Different aspects of the God/human relationship are emphasized at different times, depending upon the thought patterns and social milieu of an era. But for the Christian, any specific formulation of the
divine/human encounter cannot contradict the God revealed in the Bible -- that is, the God who acts in history, the God who demands justice and righteousness in human affairs, the God who is faithful and compassionate, the God who becomes incarnate in the depths of human service . . . the God who is revealed in the suffering and triumphant Christ.
- Judith L. Hoehler, The 1976 Berry Street Lecture, “On the Boundary -- A Christian Perspective.”