Unitarian Universalism is a religion centered on an open-ended quest for meaning in life and shared effort to put our best values into practice every day. It has its roots in two distinct liberal religious movements that shared a philosophy of religious tolerance and questioning. Unitarian Universalists search for truth along many paths. Instead of centering our religion on specific beliefs, we gather around shared values that include the inherent worth and dignity of every person. The most succinct yet comprehensive statement of our common beliefs is contained in the Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
The UU Seven Principles
There are seven principles that member congregations of the UUA 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.
Unitarian Universalism draws from many sources: Direct experience of the transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, that moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life; words and deeds of prophetic women and men that challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love; wisdom from the world’s religions that inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life; Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves; humanist teachings that counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit; and spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions that celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.
A definition of liberal religion
“What does it mean to be a religious liberal? To be a liberal according to my favorite scripture, Merriam-Webster, is be open minded, is to be free from the constraints of dogmatism and authority, is to be generous and to believe in the basic goodness of humankind. Religion is defined as that which binds us back or reconnects us to that which is ultimately important. Thus religious liberals are those that are connected, through generosity and openness, to the most important aspects of life.”
– Rev. Kimi Riegel, Minister, Northwest UU Church, Southfield, MI
The Unitarian faith is a product of the Reformation, and it was introduced into Transylvania by Francis David (Dávid Ferenc in Hungarian). Upon studying the writings of the religious scholars Faustus Socinius and Michael Servetus, both of whom had challenged the theological concept of the Trinity, Dávid began to spread the Unitarian “heresy” in Transylvania – with so much success that even the Prince, John Sigismund, became a Unitarian.
Transylvanian Unitarianism underwent a significant evolution in England and was transplanted to the United States at the end of the 18th Century by liberal dissenters from the Church of England, most notably Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen. Universalism developed in the United States in at least three distinct geographical locations.
The earliest preachers of the gospel of universal salvation appeared in what were later the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. By 1781, Elhanan Winchester had organized a Philadelphia congregation of Universal Baptists. Among its members was Benjamin Rush, the famous physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. At about the same time, in the rural, interior sections of New England, a small number of itinerant preachers, among them Caleb Rich, began to disbelieve the strict Calvinist doctrines of eternal punishment. They discovered from their biblical studies the new revelation of God’s loving redemption of all. John Murray, an English preacher who immigrated in 1770, helped lead the first Universalist church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the battle to separate church and state.
The two movements were merged and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations was formed in 1961 through the consolidation of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. Today the UUA is a faith community of more than 1,000 congregations that support each other and bring to the world a vision of religious freedom, tolerance and social justice.