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Unitarian Universalism

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Two short You Tube videos: personal messages of "Why I am Unitarian Universalist:"

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Comparison of conservative Christianity and Unitarian Universalism:

We do few comparisons of faith traditions on this website beyond describing their range of beliefs in deity and their shared beliefs in the "Golden Rule." We will do so here, because the UU movement is so dissimilar from other religions, and because Christianity is such a dominant religion in the U.S. and Canada.

We compare conservative Christianity and the UU movement below:

Beliefs of Conservative Christians In common with most other religions, Evangelical faith groups expect their members to adhere to a list of beliefs concerning the nature of God, of mankind, and of the rest of the universe. This usually includes the following theological beliefs, derived largely from the literal interpretation of biblical passages:

  1. The original authors' writings in the Bible, were inerrant (without error).
  2. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin.
  3. Atonement: that through Jesus' death, the relationship between God and a person can be restored.
  4. Resurrection: that after Jesus Christ's death and burial, he arose again.
  5. Second coming: that Jesus' return to earth is imminent.
  6. Incarnation: that God appeared on earth in human form as Jesus Christ.
  7. Justification: an act of God in which any person who accepts that he/she has sinned and who believes that Jesus is their personal Lord and savior is forgiven of his/her sins and brought into a close relationship with God.
  8. Regeneration of the spirit: that a new believer undergoes a spiritual rebirth.
  9. Inspiration: that the authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
  10. The Trinity: the belief God is a single entity consisting of three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  11. Satan is a created being. He was once an angel but is now an all-evil tormentor of humanity.
  12. Salvation is attained by repentance of past sins, and trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
  13. Heaven and Hell exist as places of eternal reward and punishment after death.

Beliefs of Unitarian Universalists: Many people think that UUs are required to believe that God is a unity and to reject the concept of the Trinity. This is not true. Members are not required to hold any specific belief concerning God, Jesus, heaven, hell, etc. As a result, UUs hold diverse beliefs about deity. Within a single congregation, there will be some individuals who are unsure of the existence of god(s) and goddess(es). Others believe in no deity, a single deity or many deities. They hold various views on life after death, including complete annihilation of the person, some form of afterlife removed from earth, or reincarnation. They are free to have beliefs that parallel those of conservative Christians; but few do so. Approximately 10% of UUs consider themselves to be Christians. These people typically share many beliefs about Jesus with members of liberal Christian denominations.

Practices of Conservative Christians A main responsibility of all members is to follow the "Great Commission" and attempt to win as many souls to Jesus Christ as possible. Many are heavily motivated to do this, because they believe that anyone who does not repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will remain lost for all eternity in the torture chambers of Hell, and never attain heaven.  Some faith groups teach that men and women must function within specific roles in the family and in church. Generally, women are restricted from exercising power and authority. Some faith groups actively promote laws or practices that discriminate against persons with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity, against same-sex committed couples, etc., and which limit people's choice in abortion, euthanasia, etc. Some believe that all non-Christian faith groups worship demons, and that their organizations are either influenced by Satan or actually led by Satan. They tend to be politically conservative. They are urged to avoid being "unequally yoked," by being married to spouses who are not fellow conservative Christians.

Practices of Unitarian Universalists: UUs do little proselytizing. They generally make few attempts to convert others to their religion. They believe that other religions have value; they cherish religious diversity and freedom. UUs are generally motivated by the principle of "liberty and justice for all" and believe in the inherent dignity of each human, regardless of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, nationality, degree of ability, etc. Starting in the 1950s, UUs were influential beyond what their numbers would suggest, in the battles to end racial segregation. They have been actively involved in programs to promote equal rights for women, as well as gays, lesbians and other oppressed minorities. They value their local congregation as a place where they can help each other in their individual quests for spiritual knowledge. They have a larger percentage of women clergy than any other religion (other than Neopaganism). They were the first large faith group to have an office to promote equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry. Most of their congregations have solemnized unions of gays and lesbians. They tend to be politically liberal. Many couples who were raised in different religions find that membership in a UU congregation is an excellent environment in which they can share spiritual and religious experiences, while maintaining their individual beliefs.

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Recent developments:

bullet 2001: USA: New president: On 2001-JUN-23, Unitarian Universalists installed the Rev. William G. Sinkford, as president. According to the UUA website:

In his benediction as President, Sinkford said, in part: "We have gathered here in Cleveland once again. We have gathered here in mystery, with the spirit of life moving within us and through us and among us. We have gathered here to listen for the still small voice of our calling, waiting to be heard. Gathered here in struggle, and in the transformative power of religious community. Gathered here to hear our history once again, and to know again the great hope that this liberal faith we love offers us and our hurting world. … Let us leave committed to respond to Your calling, to heal and not to harm, to help, and not to hinder, to bless, and not to curse. Let us leave here committed to respond to Your calling, and answer as the prophet did, here we are Lord. Send us.

President Sinkford is the first African American to lead the UUA or any historically white denomination.

bullet 2002: USA: Renewal group: In a break with UU tradition, a small group of two dozen Unitarian Universalists met in Virginia on 2001-APR-22, to discuss the founding of a new Unitarian denomination. Their goal is to create a renewal organization for those Unitarian Universalists who regard themselves as theists. They appear to have much less concern with social justice issues than does the general UUA membership. David Burton, attorney, Deist, and a co-founder of the new group is quoted as saying: "The Unitarian tradition...draws inspiration and sustenance from the divine. But Unitarian Universalism as it's practiced today is almost devoid of religious content." He then made a statement that is most unusual for a Unitarian: "Atheists and theists can't be in the same religion." He added that most attendees at the Virginia meeting were Unitarian Christians. He said: "Jesus is central to their religion. In most UU congregations, if you got up and started talking about Jesus, you'd be run out on a rail...The UUA is extremely intolerant." [Author's note: This comment sounds strange. I have been a UU for almost five decades. From my experience, the UUA is among the most tolerant of religious groups towards the beliefs of others. When they are intolerant, it tends to be directed to actions -- not beliefs -- of others which harm people.]

The renewal group unfortunately chose "American Unitarian Association" (AUA) to be their group's name. The AUA was the name of the original Unitarian group from 1825 to 1961. At that time, it consolidated with the Universalist Church of America to form the UUA. "...the Unitarian Universalist Association was legally designated as the continuation of both organizations. The UUA continues to receive trust income and bequests under the names of its predecessor organizations. It uses both names in literature, at headquarters, and on its own website." The UUA filed a lawsuit in order to continue exclusive use of its name. The matter was settled out of court on 2001-SEP-19. The reform group will be known as the American Unitarian Conference. 1,2

The Christian Century magazine reported:

"Leaders of the AUA concluded that fighting a lawsuit would be too expensive for their small, Virginia-based group and agreed to rename themselves the American Unitarian Conference, but they have not dropped their campaign. 'Our goal is to promote traditional Unitarianism,' said David Burton, president of the group. 'That tradition holds that faith in God, freedom, reason and tolerance should be central to the religious experience'."

"William G. Sinkford, the new president of the Boston-based church, was pleased. 'It was never our intention to oppose the right of the American Unitarian Conference group to exist, only to protect ... our name,' he said." 3

bullet 2003: Canada: Canadian UUs: The UUA had always operated as a combined American and Canadian organization. When the UUA was formed in 1961, so was the Canadian Unitarian Council. The CUC remained, at first, "a filing box in the bedroom of the secretary." Now it has grown to the point where there is "a need to develop their own destiny and to...[give] voice to their own religious community rather than having it lost in the overwhelming presence of the American one." Rev. Kiely, a UU minister from Edmonton, AB, was asked what he hoped for the CUC within Canadian culture. He replied: "This is a Canadian body. Both the Lutherans and the Bah'ai experienced significant growth after separating. We hope this will happen to us, too." Canadian UU membership had stagnated for the previous three decades at about 5,000. See:

bullet 2004: MA: Same-sex marriage: Same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts on 2004-MAY-20. Unitarian Universalist churches in the state took a major role in solemnizing same-sex marriages, and celebrating the availability of marriage to same-sex couples.

bullet 2004: TX: Unitarian Congregation denied tax exempt status: Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has denied tax exempt status to a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Denison, TX. The Star-Telegram of Dallas states that the " isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization 'does not have one system of belief'." Jesse Ancira, the comptroller's chief lawyer, said that the government has applied a consistent standard. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have "simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power. We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards. We're not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don't like them." Apparently, another reason for denying tax exempt status is the lack of meetings open to the public. The Comptroller denied certification for a New Age group and a Wiccan group because their services were closed to the public. It appears that the government is refusing to recognize religious groups which differ from the traditional pattern. They must have a single system of belief; they must teach that one or more deities exist; they must hold public services. Thus, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic, Ethical Culture, Buddhist, Mormon, Unitarian Universalist, and similar organizations may not considered religious groups by the state.

Church officials believe that this is the first case in the U.S. where a Unitarian Universalist church has been denied tax exempt status because of its religious philosophy. Dan Althoff, church board president said: "I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history." He noted that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians. So was Thomas Jefferson. Other Unitarian Universalist congregations in the state were concerned that their tax exempt status might be revoked at any time. 4

The Comptroller's decision triggered an outpouring of protest from Unitarian Universalists and civil libertarians. It was overturned on appeal.

bullet 2004: Two UU ministers cleared of criminal charges for marrying couples: On 2004-MAR-6, two Unitarian Universalist ministers in their 60s, Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey, married thirteen same-sex couples in New Paltz, NY. The town is located about 75 miles north of New York City. They were charged with solemnizing marriages in which the couples did not have a valid license. If found guilty, the clergy could have be fined up to $500 and/or sentenced to one year in jail. On 2004-JUN-13, Town Justice Judith Reichler dismissed all charges against the ministers. She declared that the state had displayed an anti-gay bias. She wrote in her decision: "There can be no constitutional rationale for denying same-sex couples the right to receive the benefits that are so lavishly bestowed on mixed-sex couples." She called the Federal Marriage Amendment which was intended to ban same-sex marriage "shameful and alarming." (The FMA was defeated multiple times in Congress). The state based its case for restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples on tradition and procreation. The Town Justice demolished the former by ruling that: "Tradition does not justify unconstitutional treatment. Slavery was also a traditional institution." She also noted that since infertile and elderly couples are allowed to marry, that procreation is an invalid ground to stop same-sex marriages. 5 More details

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Other stuff:

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A book for parents who don't want to religiously indoctrinate their children:

This book is directed at:

bullet Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, and similar parents;
bullet Parents who don't want to indoctrinate their children in rigid religious beliefs.
bullet Parents in inter-faith marriages

book cover image Dale McGowan, Ed., "Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion," American Management Association (2007). Read reviews or order this book

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References used:

  1. Julia Lieblich, "Unitarian group splits, wants God in its religion.", 2001-APR-21, Chicago Tribune. This can be seen, for a fee, at the Tribune's website at:
  2. J.A. Buehrens, "UUA counters attempted identity theft," at:
  3. "Unitarian group changes name, settles lawsuit," Christian Century, 2001-NOV-07.
  4. R.A. Dyer, "Unitarian group denied tax status," Star-Telegram, Dallas, TX, 2004-MAY-18, at:
  5. "Charges Tossed Vs. Gay-Marriage Ministers," Associated Press, 2004-JUL-13, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Unitarian Universalism > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-FEB-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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