The roots of the Unitarian Universalist Association are somewhat varied. Early in the history of the Reformation there arose a move toward heretical teachings about the nature of Jesus Christ, especially regarding his deity. Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) was an Italian who moved to Poland and there became the spokesman for a Unitarian view of God. That is to say, he rejected the idea of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Socinus and his “Polish Brethren” considered themselves the defenders of the true Christian faith.
The influence of Unitarianism gradually spread to England and America. In America the doctrine of the absolute unity of the Godhead, and the idea that Christ was a great moral teacher and prophet of God but not divine, began to permeate traditional reformed churches. This was especially true in churches which were descended from the Puritans of New England. Congregationalists with a liberal bent began to deny Christ’s deity, while defending their position as being true Christians. A watershed event in the history of the movement occurred in 1819 when William Ellery Channing preached a sermon which clearly delineated Unitarian doctrine.
Several religious and philosophical movements of the 19th century greatly influenced the growing movement. Chief among these was the Transcendentalism of the early 19th century and the growth of Humanism in the latter part of the 19th and into the 20th century. As the years progressed, the Unitarians began to question more and more of historic Christianity. Many of the most liberal scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries came from their ranks. They not only rejected the biblical view of the Deity, but also the authority and significance of the Bible itself.
During this same period there grew another movement, similar in many ways. It was known as Universalism. The main focus of Universalist teaching was that all men would be saved, i.e., there is no eternal damnation. The two groups, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, finally merged in 1961 into the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
Through the last part of the 20th century the UUA gradually declined in numbers. Many cult watchers virtually ignored the group, believing that it would eventually dwindle away. However, another trend began to occur within the movement which must be noted. Increasingly abandoning their Christian roots, Unitarian-Universalists developed a philosophy of being open to all religious belief systems. They moved from a focus on Humanism to one of complete religious pluralism. This is most readily seen in their acceptance of Wicca and neo-paganism in the late 20th century. Indeed, UUA churches became safe havens for Wiccan worship, ceremonial practices and the ordination of pagan “ministers.” Along with this new found openness to all religions came an increased effort to do outreach and strive for purposeful church growth.
In a culture where all religions are viewed as being of equal merit, as is the case in America today, it is no wonder that there is a renewed interest in Unitarianism. Their emphasis on tolerance, acceptance, and pluralism makes them very attractive in the religious marketplace of the 21st century. And this should put them back on the radar of all defenders of the true Christian faith. We cannot ignore them any longer!
God: Any belief in God is acceptable. Many UUA members are even atheists.
Christ: Traditional views of Christ’s deity, resurrection, miracles, virgin birth, etc. are rejected. To some Christ is viewed as great moral teacher. To others, he is irrelevant.
Man: Man is basically good. Evolution is strongly emphasized. Man has limitless potential.
Sin: Original sin is denied.
Salvation: Salvation is achieved through human effort and moral responsibility. For most UU’s salvation is more about making this world a better place, rather than anticipating an afterlife.
Afterlife: Some believe in heaven, some do not. Most UU’s would stress the importance of what we do in this world, rather than the next.
Authority: Some would affirm the importance of the Bible, but not as an inspired, infallible word of God. Scriptures from other religions are also valued. Many UU’s would not give weight to any religious writings.