I have taken an unannounced hiatus for the last three months while I reflect on the utility of this project, particularly in the context of the long-term loss of Universalist Christian identity within the Unitarian Universalist Association and last year’s institutional jolts that put its future, or at least its utility, in doubt. I was feeling generally pessimistic about the denominational legacy, seeing the focus of activity today heaviest among independent writers and thinkers, none of whom are Universalist in this narrower sense. Yet at the same time, and with no solicitation, people continue to “like” the associate Facebook page. A presence, even a subtle witness, seems to have value. The vital force of Universalism has moved away from the historic denomination, and a good thing too or else it would have died. God would not leave us without hope. This brings me back to a question I was also mulling last fall, “what can the churches offer ‘independent’ Universalism, if anything?” Universalism has appeal as an idea, but an idea can blow away as quickly as it comes. If Universalism is true, and of course I think it is, it needs a visible presence in the Body of Christ, to profess it to the world, to share the sacraments and to develop deeper faith among its believers. In an ideal world, this truth would be widely shared among the churches of the world, speaking out of their contexts, particular languages and charisms. But so long as the larger faith is widely hated or mistrusted — or worse, disregarded and trivialized — it needs a home and fellowship of its own. It may not be among the Unitarian Universalists, but the remaining handful of Universalist Christian churches need encouragement — and company.
If you’ve not seen the January 10 opinion piece by David Bentley Hart in the New York Times (“Why Do People Believe in Hell?”), then be sure to go back and read it. Hart is the author of That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, and it’s on my reading list.
I do not think the opinion piece covers any ground that this newsletter’s readers do not already know. It is, however, helpful in identifying (if not explaining) the mental outlook of those people who feel very invested in an eternal hell, and sometimes it is easier to point to an approachable writen piece in a disinterested outlet like the Times than trying to argue the point. And when it comes to universalism, there’s always someone ready to argue the point.
Please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at universalistchristian.org/join/ and I welcome your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sincerely yours, (The Rev.) Scott Wells