What would it take to see a revival of Universalism? As much as I would like it to return to center stage in the public consciousness, I fully expect “the hope in God’s complete gospel” to appeal to a small number of people, be indulged by a few more and ignored by the everyone else. To be fair, it was like this in at its height, too. It is our perception of growth and decline that misleads us.
So, if we ask the old question, “if Universalism is true, what is the value of preaching it?” we should pause and ask a different question, “What does God have us to do with the faith?”
One of the things that keeps me going is the fact that Universalists appear from different backgrounds. We see a common witness, and so the same spirit. Two weeks ago, a Primitive Baptist Universalist elder (check) left a comment on my blog, leading me to discover they had a new page on Facebook to facilitate fellowship. This lead me back to In the Hands of a Happy God, the 1997 book that’s the definitive work on the Primitive Baptist Universalists. There I read about how a “our kind” of Universalism got a convert in Tennessee in the 1880s though a found tract. (The same story that Daniel Bragg Clayton told, and similar to the story of the girls who found a water-logged copy of The Life of Murray on the beach, leading to the creation of a Universalist church at Provincetown.) I also think about the “bible student” who use their own biblical translation and dispensational lens to harbor a universalist hope. I recall the little Catholic Universalist Church parish in Queens I visited.
You may have heard of the Netflix drama Come Sunday, the story of Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal clergyman who became a convinced universalist, and paid a price for it. (His later affiliation with All Souls Church, Unitarian, Tulsa, Oklahoma certainly has made him better known among Unitarian Universalists.)
These “outside” appearances confirm my hope. Our faith has a future, even if it’s not in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Remember the conference in April 27-29 in Providence, Rhode Island at First Universalist Church. A Door Standing Open: Christian Universalism Reconsidered has featured speakers include Thomas Talbott (The Inescapable Love of God) and the Rev. W. Scott Axford, the church’s pastor, who has long explored these issues in a high-level ecumenical setting. See more at doorstandingopen.com.
Please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at universalistchristian.org/join/.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells