Dear friends,

I’d like to answer a couple of the questions I have been asked about the Universalist Christian Initiative in email.

One stood out from last year, pushing back on my suggestion that we build mutual-aid networks, as opposed to society-wide institutions. This led me to think if there was an normative Universalist approach to social reform. (Not that we would have to be beholden to it, but to show what we’ve done and what from custom we’re likely to do.)

In short, I can’t identify a particular approach that distinguished the Universalists from the society they were in, apart perhaps (drawing on the work of Ann Lee Bressler in her Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880) from an increased role for women than was usual. As Bressler put it, Universalism had abandoned its earlier radicalism for mature Victorian moralism. There were efforts, like the outreach to girls working in mills, but I don’t how much of this was the initiative of individuals or small groups. Housing for the elderly and sectarian high schools should be classified as self-service, or only coincidentally Universalist. (Did you know a Universalist founded a military academy, for instance? It still exists.)

If I had to make one general claim, it was that Universalists focused on the theological preconditions that would lead to moral behavior, and testify to God’s care and eventual salvation of all. The church’s role was cultivating deep moral courage and a God-honoring orientation. Whether we accept that today is another matter, but it’s a perspective worth investigating, since another option (adopted by Unitarian Universalists more generally today) is sectarianism. At their greatest strength, there’s little incentive among Universalists to support sectarian effort, as testified the century-ago participation of leading Universalist minister John van Schaick in Red Cross-led relief work in Belgium after the First World War. Univeralist general reform organivations had a rallying rather than a programatic role. (The Universalist Service Committee, I think, being an outlier, formed in the last generation of Universalism as a distinct body, and in a time of profoud humanitarian need.)

Another writer, some time back, asked if I knew of a big Universalist event being organized in the summer of 2020. I didn’t. Might someone here know?

Also, I am canvassing for interest in commemorative activities for the 250th anniversary of John Murray’s landing at Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, whether there or elsewhere. That would be September 30, 2020, and I suspect anything worth doing might take two years to organize.

Thanks to those who have reached out with leads, introductions and suggestions. The best way to reach me is at wells@universalistchurch.org.


Audio recordings from the A Door Standing Open conference held at First Universalist Church, Providence in April are now online for a small fee at the conference site: https://www.doorstandingopen.com/downloads

Please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at universalistchristian.org/join/.

Sincerely yours,

(The Rev.) Scott Wells