Universalist Christians who have experience of institutional Unitarian Universalism sometimes wonder, “How did I end up here?” There is little support for Christian proclamation, and explaining one’s place – as a Christian or a Unitarian Universalist – usually takes on a defensive tone. You begin to wonder what connections remain. Are there any left?
This is a challenge, and one option might be to strike off to another church or a group of independent universalists. But there are continuing connections, apart from the financial and institutional; for one, there’s a perceptible and continuous thread affirming Universalism in public professions. Let’s start with the 1935 Washington Avowal, the last standard of fellowship before the Universalists consolidated with the Unitarians. The 1935 avowal is an interpretation of the 1899 Five Principles statement, which is itself an interpretation of the 1803 Winchester Profession. They stand together, accenting but not actually replacing one another. (This viewpoint towards continuity might also encourage you.)
The “working end” of the Washington Avowal appeared liturgically for many years, so may be familiar to many of you. It reads:
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 evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God.
The same highlighted phrase appears in the original (1961) Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association; a direct link!
To affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships
It reappears in 1985, with the current Principles and Purposes: The inherent worth and dignity of every person
The Washington Avowal is the anthropological flipside of a core Universalist theological assertion: that God is concerned for the welfare of humanity, made in earlier professions: that the Bible contains “a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind” (1803) and “the final harmony of all souls with God” (1899). These should be read with a sense of nobility. As Universalist custom places a value in debate, tolerance of diversity of opinion and the exercise of intelligence. God’s concern for us, it follows, is not the concern for a mindless object, or something mass-produced and interchangeable. We are valuable because we are human beings, and not because dignity is otherwise bestowed upon us. Supreme worth is both universal and particular, and this is a theological value the Universalists championed when few if any others would.
And as for our status among Unitarian Universalists today: one way of looking to the current Principles and Purposes – and recall they were developed in a political process that vexed Christians and others – is to see its theological statements about human beings as one facet of a larger theological discourse that can also include God, the natural world and the future. Just because it doesn’t spell it out doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If that is reassuring.
In case you missed it last Sunday, recall the emphasis Universalists place on All Souls Sunday: the first Sunday of November, commended by the Universalist General Convention “for a special celebration of our distinguishing doctrine, the Scriptural truth that all souls are God’s children, and that finally, by His grace attending them, they will all be saved from the power of sin, and will live and reign with Him forever in holiness and happiness.”
Also please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at http://universalistchristian.org/join/.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells