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Unitarian Universalism

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Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a liberal religious faith based in the United States that traces its roots to Universalist and Unitarian congregations. The church's official organization in the USA is the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Unitarian Universalism is a creedless religion. It generally respects all the major religious traditions, and religious services often draw from the various world faiths. About 10% of UU members consider themselves Christian. The vast diversity of views is considered a strength by the UU faith, since its emphasis is on the common search for meaning among its members rather than adherence to any particular doctrine. Many UU congregations have study groups which study the doctrines of Neopaganism, Christianity, Buddhism, and other diverse beliefs. There is also a strong element of humanism in many UU congregations, and some members are atheists or agnostics.

While many people are raised in the UU faith, a great number of members have come from other religious backgrounds. People join the UU faith for a variety of reasons. Unitarian Universalism often draws on adult refugees from other faiths, particularly fundamentalism. Often parents choose to bring up their children in the UU faith as a compromise if the mother and father come from different religious backgrounds. Also, parents who do not subscribe to a particular dogma but who want to give their children some kind of religious background are also drawn to the UU faith. Children who are brought up in the UU faith attend Sunday religious education classes, which are somewhat akin to Sunday School in Protestant churches.

Principles and Purposes

Although they do not have an official creed or dogma, the members of Unitarian Universalism operate from a set of base principles and purposes. This section presents an exact copy of those principles and purposes, as published in church literature and on its website (http://www.uua.org/principles). Official permission was granted by the UUA to include them here:

The Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association

"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote"
  • 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.

"The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:"
  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

"Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support."

The Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association

The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.

The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member societies and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to race, color, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any society unless such is used as a creedal test.

Unitarian Universalism is often referred to by its adherents as a living tradition, and the principles and purpose have been modified over time to reflect changes in spiritual beliefs among the membership. Most recently, the last principle, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part" and the last source, "Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature" were added to explicitly include members with Neopagan and Native American spirituality.

Unitarian Universalist Services

Religious services are held on Sundays and resemble, to a certain extent, the form and format of Protestant worship. There is usually a structured service that includes the singing of hymns and a sermon by the minister of the congregation. However, most UU churches do not perform the traditional Christian rites, such as baptism or communion. Other rituals replace these traditions, including Water Communion, Flower Communion, and blessings of children and babies.

One UU service that was held the week after the September 11 attack is posted online (http://members.aol.com/revpaulbeedle/20010916). While the circumstances of this service were not ordinary, it is an excellent example of a Unitarian Universalist service in many ways. In his sermon Rev. Paul Beedle, minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside[?], discusses the foundations of the faith, quoting a common Unitarian Universalist affirmation:

Love is the Doctrine of this Church
The quest for Truth is its Sacrament
And Service is its Prayer
To dwell together in Peace;
To seek knowledge in Freedom;
And to live in Harmony with all the
Living Creatures and Plants of the Earth;

This do we Affirm.

Politics

Unitarian Universalists are very active in liberal political activism, notably the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the social justice movement[?], and the feminist movement.

UUs were very involved in the fight to end slavery in the US and to end racism. James J. Reeb[?], a minister at All Souls Church, Unitarian[?] in Washington, D.C. and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference[?], was clubbed in Selma, Alabama on March 8, 1965, and died two days later of massive head trauma. He and approximately 20% of UU ministers marched with Martin Luther King in the three marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. The Selma to Montgomery marches[?] for voting rights are best known as Bloody Sunday, although technically that refers only to September 7, the most violent day of the three.

Today it is quite common to see a large segment of a local UU congregation marching in a parade on Martin Luther King Day, where they are often the largest block of (largely) white people present.

The current head of the Unitarian Universalist Association is a black man, Rev. William Sinkford, which makes UU the first traditionally white religion to be headed by an ethnic minority.

Most Unitarian Universalists oppose the death penalty and many are active in political movements to end it in the US.

They were also very active in the women's suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony was a Unitarian Universalist, and was extremely influential in the suffrage movement.

Many UU congregations have undertaken a series of organizational and practical steps to be acknowledged as a "Welcoming Congregation", a congregation which has taken specific steps to welcome and integrate gay and lesbian members. Gays and lesbians are regularly ordained as UU ministers, and services are performed recognizing committed same sex relationships.

History

Traditionally, Unitarianism was a heretical doctrine emerging out of Christianity that rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Although this belief was rejected by orthodox Christians, it did have a following in Transylvania in the sixteenth century. Michael Servetus (http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/michaelservetus), a Spanish Unitarian, was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland in 1553 on the orders of John Calvin. In the United States, Unitarian churches were formed after a split in the Congregationalist church in New England. Each small town in the region typically had a congregationalist church at the town square. After the split, some of those churches remained congregationalist, while others became Unitarian.

Universalism was traditionally a doctrine emerging out of Christianity that rejected the doctrine of hell; instead, it believed that salvation was universal.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism evolved over time into inclusive, tolerant religions, without strict dogmas. In 1961, American Unitarian Association (AUA) merged with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), thus forming the Unitarian Universalist Association.

A comprehensive discussion of Unitarian Universalism can be found in the book Challenge of a Liberal Faith, by George N. Marshall.

See also: List of Unitarian Universalists

External Link UUA.ORG (http://www.uua.org/main) (official)



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