What do Unitarian Universalsits believe? Within very wide boundaries, Unitarian Universalists (UUs) hold a variety of different theological beliefs. UUs think it is natural to be interested in ideas from many faith traditions and encourage people to develop their own theology without fear of censure or reprisal. Most of us started out as Jewish, Catholic or Protestant. Many of us continue to maintain some degree or another of the beliefs of our original faith tradition and yet find comfort and acceptance here. Some of us are Buddhists, humanists, agnostics, or atheists. Others find inspiration in an Earth-based spirituality. Many of us develop a personal theology that combines those parts of different traditions that speak most to us.
Asking what UUs believe may be the wrong question, because we understand religion to be a way of life, rather than agreement to a set of doctrines. We believe that no single religion has a monopoly on all wisdom, and that ultimate truth about God and Creation cannot be captured in a narrow statement of faith. At the same time, we affirm that the blessings of life are available to everyone, not just the “chosen” or the “saved;” that the Sacred or Holy is made evident in the simple and everyday; that human beings, enriched by the grace of the world, are responsible for our planet and its future; that everyone is part of the interdependent web of existence — hence strangers need not be enemies — and that the paradox of life is to love it all the more even though we will ultimately lose it.
Rev. John Dietrich (1878-1957) a Unitarian humanist, said the task of religion is “to put beauty in place of ugliness, good in place of evil, laughter in place of tears; to dispel error with knowledge and hatred with love.” A worthwhile religion is most clearly demonstrated in how you live your life and how you treat your neighbor, rather than doctrinal statements.
Are Unitarian Universalists Christian? Yes and no. The Unitarians, and the Universalists, began centuries ago as Protestant Christian denominations. Unitarians, however, said that Jesus was human, not divine, and that God was a Unity (one) not a Trinity (three-persons-in-one). Universalists believed in “universal salvation,” the idea that all people would eventually go to heaven, even if some might face some temporary punishment after death. A loving God would not create a torture chamber called Hell and then create us so flawed that we needed to be sent there.
Our opponents said that if we did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, the Doctrine of the Trinity, or eternal punishment in Hell, we were not Christians. Today, while some of our members do consider themselves to be Christian, the majority of us do not. Being the best person you can be, living an ethical and moral life, is more important than using the label, “Christian.” Whether or not we call ourselves Christian, we respect the teachings of Jesus to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. We tend to view Jesus as a great teacher rather than a divine “savior.”
What do we teach our children? We teach about Judaism and Christianity and the many religious beliefs and cultures around the world. We teach about Unitarian Universalist principles. We teach about living in harmony with our planet Earth and all of the living creatures on it. We teach about ethics and morals, and good decision-making. And we teach the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.”
What about the Bible? In most UU churches we teach Bible stories as part of our Religious Education program. We say the Bible is “the Good Book,” yet not a perfect book. The various books of the Bible were written by humans — the Bible was written by many different people, in three different ancient languages, over hundreds of years. Other humans decided which books to include in the biblical “canon” (list of authorized books) and which books to leave out. Even today, not everyone agrees on exactly which books are in the Bible (Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics have somewhat different lists of Biblical books, Mormons add the Book of Mormon, and Jews use only the books of the Hebrew Bible or “Old Testament”). We must use our reason when reading the Bible. It is a conversation about God, a great religious classic, not a divine instruction manual. While not “inerrant,” the Bible, like other holy books, is valuable, important, complex, and worthwhile.
How can an agnostic or atheist go to church? People who identify as agnostics or atheists are just as likely to be searching for meaning in life or interested in spiritual issues as people self-identified as religious. Many Unitarian Universalists believe the journey to find meaning is a spiritual quest with multiple possibilities and outcomes. Whatever your definition of “church” or “religion”, you are welcome at UUCSW.
How do Unitarian Universalists worship together, but believe many different things? Unitarian Universalists desire worship services each Sunday as a way to nourish our minds and our hearts. Taking time and creating a space each week for reflection and connection with one another is a joy. We also appreciate that the service elements hold different meanings and satisfy different needs for each individual. For example, a minute of silence can mean prayer, meditation, or reflection. Lighting a candle can be ritual expression of gratitude, a request for help, an earth-based tradition of calling to fire, or remembering a person or event.
We don’t expect anyone to accept or believe in everything said in reading, in sermons, in personal reflections. In fact we know that UU congregants will disagree. However, we do have foundational Principles and a shared Covenant for guidance in right relations with others that allows to share our diverse beliefs, learn from them, and grow both individually and together.
Is there a Unitarian Universalist head organization that endorses a specific creed or set of beliefs churches must follow? There is a national organization — the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, or UUA, located in Boston, Mass., — that provides resources for programs, curricula, and other activities to UU churches and fellowships. Rather than having bishops, the UUA is led by an elected president who can serve two four-year terms, and by an elected Board of Trustees. The UUA was formed in 1961 by the consolidation of two older denominations, the American Unitarian Association (established in 1825) and the Universalist Church in America (established in 1793).
The UUA does not require a creed or doctrine as is typically found in other churches. The UUA prints hymnals and other materials; it provides advice and expertise, and makes recommendations, but it does not tell individual congregations or individual members what to do. The local congregation, while affiliated with the UUA, remains independent.
Unitarian Universalist clergy are allowed to marry; they do not take a vow of poverty; they may be female or male; they may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — sexual orientation and/or gender identity are not bars to ordination or fellowship. Our clergy generally have a Master of Divinity degree or its equivalent (and some have doctorates), and they go through a long and rigorous training process for the ministry. Ordination is done by local congregations, but fellowship (credentialing) is done by the national UUA.
Visit more than once ~ To get a sense of our congregation it is helpful to visit several times. Each week’s sermon may explore different faith traditions, contains readings from religious leaders throughout history, and provides an opportunity for thoughtful exploration of how the message matches or does not match your personal spiritual journey and search for truth. Though Unitarian Universalists encourage each member to find their own personal theology, all congregations affirm and promote the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism:
- 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.
Links to learn more: If you are interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalism please visit the following topics on the Unitarian Universalist Association website:
And the site(s) below about some famous Unitarians and Universalists: