For anyone who might find it useful, this is a (non-exhaustive) list of Unitarian and Universalist statements of belief and principle, affirmed over the centuries by the two branches of our tradition. This should serve as a resource for a more accurate, honest discussion of proposed changes in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Bylaws.
1790—Philadelphia Universalist Convention—Dr. Benjamin Rush drafted the theological statement affirmed by Universalist delegates at that time. It is too lengthy to produce here, but laid out Universalist belief on: 1. The Holy Scriptures; 2. The Supreme Being; 3. The Mediator (Jesus Christ); 4. The Holy Ghost; and 5. Good Works.
From those earliest days, however, there were theological tensions within Universalism. One was between Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian Universalists (regarding belief in the “Father, Son, and Holy Sprit” construction of the orthodox Christian Godhead.) Another was between Restorationist Universalists and so-called ultra-Universalists. Restorationists believed the souls of wrongdoers did receive a time of punishment in the afterlife, before being received into heaven. Ultra-Universalists believed that everyone went to heaven immediately upon death.
1803—Universalist General Convention in Winchester, New Hampshire— produced what became known as the Winchester Profession of Faith. Partly to reconcile tensions within Universalism, it simplified their belief statement to three sentences:
I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
II. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.[sic.]
1825—Berry Street Conference of Ministers: the American Unitarian Association
Congregationalist Churches, particularly in New England, had an increasing number of Unitarian members in the late 1700’s and into early 1800’s. Unitarian ministers finally formed an organized American Unitarian Association at the Berry Street Conference of Ministers, in Boston, in 1825. Since Unitarians were technically still members of Congregationalist churches, it was an association of individuals, not congregations. In the process, they voted to adopt a statement written by Henry Ware, the Hollis Divinity Chair at Harvard Divinity School. The three purposes of the new AUA were:
To provide “knowledge [about their take on] pure and undefiled religion,” to “unite Unitarian Christians” across the United States, and to “publish and distribute tracts” and “support missionaries.”
1844—Unitarian abolitionist James Russell Lowell expressed the aspiration of his time in an influential poem, “The Present Crisis.” It includes the lines:
New occasions teach new duties.
Time makes ancient good uncouth.
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.
1852—Western Unitarian Conference founded
It is safe to say that Unitarians west of the Allegheny Mountains have, from their earliest days, tended to be more theologically liberal than New England Unitarians. Many of the Western Unitarian Conference’s founders favored a religion of ethical living, as opposed to a religion founded around creedal belief.
1865—National Conference of Unitarian Churches founded
With the development of intentional Unitarian congregations across the country, came the founding of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches. At their first convention, in New York in 1866, they voted on the following statement:
[We affirm] Belief in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and His specially appointed Messenger and Representative to our race; gifted with supernatural power, approved of God by miracles and signs and wonders, which God did by him, and thus, by Divine authority, commanding the devout and reverential faith of all who claim the Christian name.
Representing only the views of Unitarian Christians, the National Conference’s creed was sure to touch off controversy, and it did. A hot floor fight ensued. Unitarian freethinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Unitarian ministers Francis Ellingwood Abbott, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Moncure Conway among others, walked out. They formed what they called The Free Religious Association in 1867.
The Free Religious Association was mostly, but not completely, American Unitarian. (One exception was English biologist Charles Darwin, who corresponded with them. He could share religious views with them which he dared not voice in his own land.)
1870, the Free Religious Association publishes Fifty Affirmations. The first four were:
I. Religion is the effort of man to perfect himself.
II. The root of religion is universal human nature.
III. Historical religions are all one, in virtue of this common root.
IV. The fellowship of Christianity is limited by the Christian Confession. . . . The fellowship of Free Religion is universal and free; it proclaims the great brotherhood of man without limit or bound.[sic.]
1880—Charles Gordon Ames, of Philadelphia’s Spring Garden Unitarian Society, wrote:
In the freedom of the truth,
And in the spirit of Jesus,
We unite for the worship of God
And the service of man.[sic.]
1887—Rev. William Channing Gannett, a leader in the Western Unitarian Conference, published “Things Most Commonly Believed Today Among Us”:
We believe that to love the Good and to live the Good is the supreme thing in religion’
We hold reason and conscience to be final authorities in matters of religious belief;
We honor the Bible and all inspiring scripture, old and new;
We revere Jesus, and all holy souls that have taught men truth and righteousness and love, as prophets of religion;
We believe in the growing nobility of Man; We trust the unfolding Universe as beautiful, beneficent, unchanging Order; to know this order is truth; to obey it is right and liberty and stronger life;
We believe that good and evil invariably carry their own recompense, no good thing being failure and no evil thing success; that heaven and hell are states of being; that no evil can befall the good man in either life or death; that all things work together for the victory of the Good;
We believe that we ought to join hands and work to make the good things better and the worst good, counting nothing good for self that is not good for all;
We believe that this self-forgetting, loyal life awakes in man the sense of union here and now with things eternal—the sense of deathlessness; and this sense is to us an earnest of the life to come;
We worship One-in-All—that life whence suns and stars derive their orbits and the soul of man its Ought,—that Light which eightieth every man that cometh into the world, giving us the power to become the sons of God,—that Love with which our souls commune.[sic.]
1889—Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke preached “Five Points” of Unitarianism. Though never an official statement by the AUA, they were displayed in many Unitarian congregations across the country, in a manner similar to the way we post the Seven Principles today.
The Fatherhood of God
The Brotherhood of Man
The Leadership of Jesus
Salvation by Character
The Progress of Mankind, onward and upward forever.[sic.]
1894—James Vila Blake, Church of All Souls in Evanston, Illinois
This verse also became an affirmation shared and beloved in many Unitarian, and later Unitarian Universalist congregations:
Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law.
This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth of love, and to help one another.
1894—The National Conference, meeting in Saratoga, New York, affirmed this
These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding, in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man. The Conference recognizes that its constituency is Congregational in tradition and polity. Therefore it declares that nothing in this constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and our practical aims.
This was, in part, an olive branch extended to the Free Religious Association and non-theistic members of the Western Unitarian Conference. While some did accept the invitation, others did not. The Free Religious Association continued in operation for another 20 years.
1899—Universalist Assembly, Boston—issued an updated version of the Winchester Profession of Faith. They titled it the “Universalist Declaration of Principles”:
The Universal Fatherhood of God.
The Spiritual Authority and Leadership of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from god.
The certainty of just retribution for sin.
The final harmony of all souls with God.[sic.]
1915—W. Hansen Pulsiford, First Unitarian Society of Chicago—
Pulsiford’s statement was first published in “Four Services for Congregational Use.” Later, in 1937, it was included in Hymns of the Spirit, which was a joint Unitarian/Universalist publication:
We believe in God, Father of our spirits, life of all that is; infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness, and working everywhere for righteousness, peace and love.
We believe in the ideal of human life which reveals itself in Jesus as love to God and love to man.
We believe that we should ever be growing in knowledge and ever aiming at a higher standard of character.
We believe in the growth of the kingdom of God on earth, and that our loyalty to truth, to righteousness, and to our fellow men, is the measure of our desire for its coming.
We believe that the living and the dead are both in the hands of God; that underneath both are his everlasting arms.[sic.]
1930—The Free Religious Association was long gone by this time, and the American Unitarian Association and National Conference had merged. But theistic and non-theistic Unitarians were a stronger presence within the Association than ever. The tension was becoming known as the “theist-humanist controversy.” Partly to reconcile growing theological difference, New York Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes adapted a 60-year-old statement by Christian-influenced Hindu, Keshub Chunder Sen. His statement of belief and practice statement is still a reading in our gray Hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition:
Unto the Church Universal, which is the depository of all ancient wisdom and the school of all modern thought;
Which recognizes in all prophets a harmony, in all scriptures a unity, and through all dispensations of continuity;
Which abjures all that separates and divides, and always magnifies brotherhood and peace;
Which seeks truth in freedom, justice in love, and individual discipline in social duty;
And which shall make of all sects, classes, nations and races, one fellowship of men—
Unto this church and all its members, known and unknown throughout the world, we pledge the allegiance of our hands and hearts.[sic.]
1933—influenced by James Vila Blake’s verse, L. Griswald Williams created “A Universalist Covenant”:
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve mankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine,
Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.[sic.]
1935—Universalist Declaration of Faith (Revised in 1953)
1. God as eternal and all-conquering love;
2. The spiritual leadership of Jesus;
3. The supreme worth of every human personality;
4. The authority of truth, known or to be known; and
5. The power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God.
6. Neither this nor any other statement shall be imposed as a credal test.[sic.]
1936—AUA Commission on Appraisal publishes Unitarians Face a New Age
As a summary, the Commission on Appraisal reported:
In affirming the primacy of the free exercise of intelligence in religion, believing that in the long run the safest guide to truth is human intelligence.
In affirming the paramount importance for the individual of his own moral convictions and purpose.
In affirming that the social implications of religion are indispensable to its vitality and validity, as expressed in terms of concern for social conditions and the struggle to create a just social order.
In affirming the importance of the church as the organized expression of religion.
In affirming the necessity for worship as a deliberate effort to strengthen the individual’s grasp of the highest spiritual values of which he is aware.
In affirming the rational nature of the universe.
As to the expediency of using the traditional vocabulary of religion, within a fellowship which includes many who have rejected the ideas commonly associated with such words as “God”, “prayer”, “communion”, “salvation”, “immortality”.
As to the wisdom of maintaining the definitely Christian tradition, and the traditional forms of Christian worship.
As to the religious value of a purely naturalistic philosophy.
As to the adequacy and competency of man to solve his own problems, both individual and social.
As to the advisability of direct action by churches in the field of social and political problems.[sic.]
(This list is included as evidence that today’s tensions within Unitarian Universalism are nothing new. They are similar to tensions among us a hundred years ago.)
1944—Rev. A. Powell Davies, Commission on Unitarian Advance
This list of principles was widely used in Unitarian churches and fellowships up until the Unitarian/Universalist merger in 1961:
1. Individual Freedom of belief.
2. Discipleship to advancing truth.
3. The democratic method in human relations.
4. Universal brotherhood, undivided by nation, race or creed.
5. Allegiance to the cause of a united world community.
1961—Unitarian Universalist Principles
When the American Unitarian Association united with the Universalist Church of America, they wrote a set of common Principles into their first set of Bylaws. These Six Principles were:
In accordance with [our] corporate purposes, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Association, dedicated to the principles of a free faith, unite in seeking:
1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;
2. To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to man;
3. To affirm, defend, and promote the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships;
4. To implement our vision of one world by striving for a world community based on ideals of brotherhood, justice, and peace;
5. To serve the needs of member churches and fellowships, to organize new churches and fellowships, and to extend and strengthen liberation;
6. To encourage cooperation with men of good will in every land.[sic.]