Unitarians

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Unitarianism is an evolving and shifting system of beliefs, many aspects of which have been characterized by their heretical and liberal opposition to various points of religious doctrine. In its modern form in North America, it consolidated in 1961 with the Universalism to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Unitarianism began as the Christian belief in a single, united identity of God, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity, which has been the official dogma of the Roman Catholic church since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Most Christian churches still profess the concept of God as the tripartate manifestation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Universalism began in the first two centuries of the Christian movement as a rejection of the prevalent Christian notion of selective or exclusive salvation, holding instead to a belief in the ultimate restoration of all souls with God, universal salvation if you will. Deemed heretical by the evolving Church, Universalism led an underground, populist life for a milennium.

The modern phase of Unitarianism began in the period of the Protestant Reformation, when translations of the Bible became available in the vernacular languages of the day. Astute readers, for the first time able to interpret the language of the Holy Script for themselves, noticed that the doctrine of the Trinity was conspicuously absent from the Bible.

Those who preached Unitarianism did so at their peril, for there were threats from both Catholic and Reformation powers that be. A particularly gruesome story of this period is the trial of Michael Servetus, who had written a book, "On the Errors of the Trinity," in 1546. Servetus was imprisoned and put on trial by John Calvin in Geneva, and, after refusing to recant his beliefs, was slowly burned to death over a fire made of green wood and his own books. Servetus is considered the first Unitarian martyr.

The principle of Unitarianism continued to spread, however, and the first edict of religious toleration in history was declared in 1568 during the reign of the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund. Sigismund's court preacher, Frances David, had successively converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism to Calvinism and finally to Unitarianism because he could find no biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. Arguing that people should be allowed to choose among these faiths, he said, “We need not think alike to love alike.”

Unitarianism spread to the New World in different guises and under different circumstances, but has always stood as a religious force in favor of a progressive social vision, and opposed to fundamentalism and the imposition of strict codes of belief.


Universalism emerged from its silence in 18th century England, but found a flourishing new home in the works of John Murray in the English Colonies of North America. Following the creation of the United States of America, Universalism spread quickly and widely throughout the states as a religion of new hope and human affirmation akin to the abundant possibilities found in the "new" world. In 1863, a Universalist congragation was the first to ordain women to the ministry.

As noted above, in the United States the Unitarian Church combined with the Universalist Church in 1961 to become the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA has adopted as its central covenant:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

In 1996, the UUA affirmed the rights of Gay and Lesbian couples to marry, and many UUA ministers in Massachusetts were very busy in the week of May 17, 2004.

UUA congregations include members who would identify themselves as Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Pagan, Deist, Bhuddist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, spiritualist, or any possible combination thereof. The desire to enter into a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" is what forms the UUA community.

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