About Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist History

Unitarianism has roots that stretch back to the beginning of Christianity. At the time basic creeds were being developed, some people dissented from the idea that Christ and God were the same being. These philosophers and clergymen thought that such a doctrine did not make sense on reasonable grounds.

This belief eventually became a heresy. People who did not believe in the Trinity, including Michael Servetus, were punished for it. In 1553, he was burned at the stake by John Calvin for his work, On the Errors of the Trinity. Clergyman Francis David was imprisoned, while theologian Faustus Socinus was exiled.

Despite persecution, Unitarianism spread throughout Europe, gaining significant followings in Poland, Transylvania, and England. It also began to develop in America. Signers of the Declaration of Independence—such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin—expressed Unitarian sympathies. This movement continued to grow, and the American Unitarian Association was formed in 1825.

Many persons were drawn to Unitarianism because it held a positive view of human nature. Rather than maintaining that human beings are inherently sinful, Unitarianism affirms the ability of people to make themselves and their world better. These two assertions of reason and human goodness remain at the heart of our living tradition today.

Universalism also arose as a heresy. Some people throughout Christian history rejected the idea that God would damn anyone to eternal punishment. Instead, they believed that God is love, and that all people would eventually be saved. These beliefs attracted a significant following in America, and in 1790 the Universalist Church of America was born.

To paraphrase one Universalist: “We do not have to worry about heaven and hell after death, we have to worry about the heaven and hell we create before we die.” Universalists were heavily involved in social reform and passionate about undoing oppression of all kinds. This legacy remains at the core of Unitarian Universalism today.

In 1961, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. There are over 1,000 congregations in North America as a result of this merger, and about 250 Unitarian and Universalist congregations around the world.

For nearly four hundred years, our congregations have been self-governing. They elect their own officers, call their own ministers, and agree to share a common search for meaning and purpose. These congregations pursue similar aspirations with other churches in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Unitarian Universalism draws deeply from its history. It affirms that religion has to be weighed against reason and experience. It states that people have the capacity for good, and that love calls us to a greater common purpose. And it holds that being a moral force in the wider world is the deepest witness of our faith.