Read an Excerpt
Copyright © 1998 by Alan W. Gomes
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gomes, Alan W., 1955 -
Unitarian Universalism / Alan W. Gomes.
p. cm. -- (Zondervan guide to cults and religious movements)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 0-310-48891-5 (softcover)
1. Unitarian Universalist churches -- Controversial literature. 2. Unitarian
Universalist Association -- Controversial literature. I. Title. II. Series: Zondervan
guide to cults & religious movements.
289.1 -- dc21 97-33441
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New
International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted in any form or by any means--electronic, mechanical, photocopy,
recording, or any other--except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior
permission of the publisher.
Interior design by Art Jacobs
Printed in the United States of America
98 99 00 01 02 03 04 05 /?DP/ 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my wife, Diane:
Encourager, fellow traveler on the way
I. What the Unitarian Universalist Association Is
A. The Unitarian Universalist Association is an association of fellowships,
churches, or societies1 that subscribe to certain broad principles andpurposes
and affiliate themselves organizationally with the UUA denomination,
headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.
B. The names Unitarian and Universalist reflect the historical roots of the
a. The Unitarians are so named because they denied the Trinity.
b. The Unitarian movement with which we are concerned arose during
the sixteenth-century Reformation.
c. It spread from continental Europe (particularly Poland) to England
and then to America.
a. The term Universalist refers to the salvation of all human beings.
b. The Universalists opposed the doctrine of eternal punishment,
teaching instead that God would save each and every human being.
c. In the eighteenth century, Universalist teachings spread from England
3. Merger of the Two Groups
a. In America the Unitarians and Universalists developed cordial relationships,
due to their similar beliefs and attitudes.
b. The two groups merged officially in 1961, forming the Unitarian
Universalist Association (UUA).
c. Members of the Unitarian Universalist Association are often simply
4. The Unitarian Universalists should not be confused with the Unity
School of Christianity or the Unification Church.
C. The UUA is pluralistic, meaning that the group tolerates and even encourages
within its ranks a wide diversity of belief.
1. For example, the UUA embraces theists, Neo-pagans, liberal "Christians,"
4 religious humanists, atheists, and more.
2. Because of this wide variation in belief, a simple statement of UUA
theology and practice is not possible. Nevertheless, this book presents
and critiques the main forms of belief and practice found in today's
UUA. See especially Part II, Section I.B.
II. The Problem of Analyzing UUA Beliefs
A. Factors Contributing to the Problem of Ascertaining UUA Beliefs
1. The pluralism of the UUA makes it difficult to define their beliefs.
a. Some UUs favor a particular faith stance (e.g., liberal "Christianity"),
though not to the exclusion of other faith stances. Other UUs
mix and match different belief systems into one of their own.
b. UUA pluralism makes classification and exposition of UU belief
challenging. (See Part II, Section I.B.)
2. Because the Unitarian Universalists are noncreedal--even anticreedal--
one cannot point to a specific statement of faith or systematic
theology that speaks for the entire group.
B. Procedure Followed in this Book for Analyzing UUA Beliefs
1. This book identifies the unity within the diversity of UUA beliefs.
a. As one peruses UU writings, certain principles and beliefs often
emerge, which can--at least generally--be taken as normative
representations of current UUA belief and practice.
b. I have consulted the most prominent and influential UUA authors.
Because UU belief is a moving target, I have emphasized their most
recent writings offered by their primary spokespersons (e.g., their
president, denominational officials, influential clergy et al.).
Unitarian Universalism • PART I: INTRODUCTION
c. I have paid close attention to UU works published by official UUA
presses (e.g., Beacon Press, Skinner Books, the UUA itself).
d. Wherever possible, I have relied on UUs' own self-descriptions and
analyses of their beliefs.
2. Even though positive UU belief is quite diverse, one finds considerable
unanimity in their denial of historic Christian orthodoxy.
a. Although UUs frequently disagree among themselves as to what
they do believe, there is little doubt about what they do not profess.
UUs completely reject the historic, biblical Christian teaching
on such issues as the unique deity of Jesus Christ, his literal bodily
resurrection, his role as the only Savior, atonement (satisfaction
of God's wrath) through his blood, and other orthodox
b. In their denials one often finds similar arguments. Thus, even
though there is wide latitude in their beliefs, their arguments
against historic, biblical Christianity are much less diverse.
III. Historical Background
A. General Observations
1. The UUA traces its roots to the radical wing of the Reformation, which
considered itself the true heirs of New Testament Christianity.9
2. Although never viewed as genuinely Christian by its orthodox foes,
the UUA has seen itself as such until this century. Generally speaking,
today's UUA does not claim Christian allegiance even though individual
UUs and certain UU congregations do.
3. Historian Earl Morse Wilbur pointed out that as Unitarianism spread
from Poland and Transylvania through Germany and Holland to England
and America, the various manifestations of Unitarianism all
claimed Christian allegiance.
4. George Marshall notes that around the time of the Revolutionary War,
"Unitarianism emerged first and most conspicuously from the Calvinistic
First Parishes of the Congregational order, whereas Universalism
emerged from the Methodist and Baptist churches."
B. Early Unitarianism in Continental Europe
1. Michael Servetus (1511-1553)
a. Many UUs consider Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician, the
founder of their movement.
b. Among his most influential--and highly controversial--writings
were his De Trinitatis erroribus libri vii of 1531 (On the Errors of
the Trinity in Seven Books) and his Christianismi Restitutio of
1546 (The Reconstitution of Christianity).
c. After escaping from the Catholics, Servetus made his way to
Geneva to propagate his views, in spite of being warned sternly by
Calvin not to set foot there.
d. After a trial lasting some three months, he was burned alive at
Champel on October 27, 1553.
e. Servetus's execution generated sympathy for his cause and raised
him to the stature of a martyr for his anti-Trinitarian faith.
2. Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), Socinianism, and the "Minor Reformed
Church" in Poland
a. The anti-Trinitarian party grew and was organized under the able
leadership of Faustus Socinus, an Italian who migrated to Poland.
b. Socinus became the de facto leader of the so-called Polish
Brethren, known officially as the Minor Reformed Church.
c. He championed their cause in writing and in oral debate, entering
into disputes with the orthodox over cardinal doctrines such as the
Trinity and the Atonement.
d. Under Jesuit persecution, the Unitarians largely were forced out of
Poland. Some merged with Unitarians in nearby Transylvania.
Others migrated to the Netherlands, where Remonstrant (Arminian)
and Mennonite congregations often received them hospitably.
e. The Unitarian movement took firm root in Transylvania and Hungary
and is still active there today.
C. Early Unitarianism in England
1. John Biddle (1615-1662) and English Unitarianism
a. John Biddle is known as the father of English Unitarianism.
b. The authorities arrested Biddle numerous times for spreading
heretical views about the Trinity.
c. Biddle's Twelve Arguments Drawn out of Holy Scripture and A
Confession of Faith Touching the Holy Trinity According to the
Scripture attempt to prove both from reason and from Scripture
that the doctrine of the Trinity is illogical and unbiblical.
d. In 1654 Oliver Cromwell sent him into exile on the Scilly Islands.
He eventually died in prison (1662).
2. Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808)
a. Lindsey was an Anglican clergyman who left the Church of England
over theological differences. He objected to the Book of Common
Prayer's requiring him to worship Christ and the Holy Spirit.
b. Lindsey became friends with Joseph Priestley, with whom he cooperated
in spreading the Unitarian cause.
c. With Priestley's support, Lindsey established the Essex Street
Chapel on April 17, 1774. Wilbur describes this as "the first place
in England that came to anything, which was avowedly intended
for the worship of God on Unitarian principles."
d. Benjamin Franklin frequented Lindsey's church while he stayed in
England on business on behalf of the colonies.
e. Lindsey wrote two books that set forth his view of the person of
Christ, "the prevalent worship of whom he boldly attacked as no
better than 'Christian idolatry.'"
3. English Unitarianism in the Nineteenth Century
a. Laws persecuting Unitarians were rescinded in the nineteenth century,
enabling Unitarians to function and grow as a denomination.
b. In 1825 the Unitarians formed the British and Foreign Unitarian
Association, which made them more effective.