After a rough and somewhat magical transition between domain registrars, this blog is back up. Not sure what to do with it — as opposed to my Boy in the Bands blog — but I’ll give it some thought. Perhaps some sermonizing, but no promises.
Since the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly will be held in Minneapolis this year, I though some choice words from one of the more prominant Universalist ministers to have served in the city would be an appropriate selection. I’m particularly fond of the second Ballou quote, below. I’ll see if I can find the source of his biblical citations, too: an interesting translation. (Well, that was easy: both are from John 16, in the good ol’ King James. I was thinking it might have been one of the early “modern” translations.)
The Arena, vol. 14 (1895), p. 144-154
Progressive Changes in Universalist Thought.
by Rev. Marion D. Shutter, D.D.
As you might tell, I’m interested in Universalism in 1899 — and also back to 1897 — when changes in the Universalist General Convention occasioned great optimism in the denomination. Here is the first set of two featured in the first volume of Who’s Who. Worth a scan. More women than I would have bet, and more temperance activity, too.
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Unitarian and Universalist Federation
The Outlook, December 2, 1899, p. 759-60
In The Outlook for November 18 we called attention to the proposed union of the Universalists and Unitarians in one denomination, and to the objections to such a union expressed by Dr. Edwin C. Sweetser, speaking for the Universalists. We did not express any opinion as to the wisdom of denominational unity between Unitarians and Universalists, simply saying that, if there were serious and fundamental differences, between the two Churches, an attempt to bring about organic unity would be unwise, if not impracticable. We have now received a letter from the Rev. Samuel A. Eliot, Secretary of the American Unitarian Association, who, from his official position, speaks with authority; in this letter he takes issue with Dr. Sweetser and corrects a general misapprehension in which we shared. Mr. Eliot points out that no organic welding of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations into one has been proposed. He states the facts as follows:
On May 30, 1899, the American Unitarian Association, at its annual meeting, passed unanimously the following resolution:
“Resolved, That the interests of pure Christianity can be better served by a recognition of the intellectual agreements and the deep faiths of the heart which, beneath all diversity of gifts, bind together the Unitarian and Universalist fellowships in bonds of peace and mutual good will.
“Resolved, That this Association presents its fraternal greetings to the Universalist General Convention, and invites the Convention to join with the Association in appointing a Conference Committee of five representatives from each body, which shall consider plans of closer co-operation, devise ways and means for more efficient usefulness, and report the results of its deliberations to the Association and the Convention at their next meetings.”
These resolutions were duly submitted to the Universalist General Convention on October 23, the invitation was accepted, and the members of the Conference Committee have since been appointed by the Universalist Convention and the Unitarian Association. It will be the purpose of this Conference Committee to endeavor to upbuild sympathy and unity of spirit in the sister denominations, to prevent waste and duplication of missionary effort, and to provide means of more efficient co-operation in Christian work.
Certainly such co-operation and union as this is desirable. Mr. Eliot also takes issue with Dr. Sweetser’s criticism of the belief of the Unitarian body. “His attempt,” says Mr. Eliot, “to prove that the Unitarian body is non-Christian is a repetition of an ancient prejudice which is unworthy of intelligent observers in these days.” We agree in this with Mr. Eliot, but the very decided difference of opinion and of feeling on these matters existing between him and Dr. Sweetser is an indication, as we said in our former paragraph, of a widespread difference in point of view between the two denominations, which would make organic union impracticable. But this does not, in our opinion, interfere with the closer co-operation and fellowship which, as Mr. Eliot points out, is the purpose of the leaders in the two denominations.
Dr. Sweetser on Unitarian and Univeralist Union
The Outlook, November 18, 1899, p. 664-5
Dr. Edwin C. Sweetser, in the Universalist “Leader” for October 7, presents with great frankness and great vigor the objection entertained by a portion of the Universalist body to the proposed union of the Universalists and Unitarians in one denomination. His statement of the difference between the two denominations, as he understands it, is put clearly and concisely in the following paragraph:
Agreeing as they do in some respects, they nevertheless differ in that vital respect so widely as to make it impossible for them to promote the interests of Christianity by uniting their forces. Not till the Unitarians accept Jesus Christ as the Universalists do will it be advisable for the two bodies to adopt such a plan as the Unitarians have suggested. Nothing but injury could come from it to the Universalist Church or to the cause of pure Christianity. For the Universalist Church is avowedly and unequivocally and positively Christian. It has been so from the beginning. Not accepting the Trinitarian belief in his Deity, it stands firmly on the ground that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the rightful Lord of all mankind. Its first authoritative creed expressed its belief in “one God, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ;” and its latest declaration of principles affirms “the spiritual leadership and authority of His Son, Jesus Christ;” whereas the Unitarian Church expressly disavows belief in either the Lordship, the Christhood, or the Divine Sonship of Jesus. It refuses to call him the Lord, or the Christ, or the Son of God. Some of its members are willing to call him so—especially some of its older members, and of its devout women not a few—but the Unitarian body as a whole has put itself on record in the most positive manner as not believing in this fundamental postulate of Christianity.
It is not for us to determine whether Dr. Sweetser correctly interprets either the Unitarian or the Universalist position, but it appears to us certain that the question which his article raises ought to be frankly met and fully considered before any union between the two denominations is effected. The disadvantages of attempting an organic union where there is no spiritual unity as a basis have been often illustrated. If it is true that the Universalist Church centers its religion about Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the rightful Lord of all mankind, and seeks the secret of its power in the revelation and provision of divine mercy made through him, and further true that the Unitarian Church does not do this, whatever individual Unitarians may do, but regards agreement in ethical law as a sufficient basis for church unity, the difference between the two denominations is real and vital, and any organic union attempted would be unreal and would not add to the real efficiency of either body.
[Note: an interesting work with notes about the Universalist ministerial college, cooperation with Unitarians, and how some saw the development of the 1899 "Five Principles".]
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My intent was to use my long-standing Boy in the Bands blog for short and light things, and start moving to more substantial and theological work here — and to make my own named blog the standard bearer.
Well, Boy in the Bands has the readership and light subjects — and denominational ones, which are often quite heavy — make a more interesting hobby. And I don’t have time to write sermons.
After three months of silence here, I should change or put it on ice. I’ll choose to change first; I can always stop it later (as I’ve done with other blogs.)
So I’ll go back to my web roots: transcribing important Universalist documents, perhaps now with more of a curatorial eye. And if that prompts me to write a sermon, so much the better.
Lent begins today, but the Protestant in me has never been very comfortable in the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. I went along in seminary, and followed local practice in my last pastorate, but since that ended haven’t — to coin a phrase — haven’t been imposed upon.
Still, I’ve been reflecting more deeply and now vocally about two things that have bothered me for some time. First, I’m not eating meat, at least nothing I’ve not already bought. I suspect there’ll be a place for the odd anchovy or oyster in my future, but food with feet are right off the menu. (I suspect the fish will be spared in time.) Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals — and its sideways take-down of Michael Pollen’s macho-neurotic The Omnivore’s Dilemma — is the most proximate cause. Foer makes a good case ethically and philosophically, but my faith is why I listen to him and not others. I hear St. Paul in Romans (8:18-25, here NRSV)
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Behind the groans, I hear the moos and bleets and chirping. Is salvation pushed so far future that it can not be tasted now? And if it is known now, how can it be enjoyed from the suffering of others. It is, at least in my setting, needless. And needless suffering must be rejected. (Just labor and trade are other concerns, and I’ve written about these, at my Boy in the Bands blog. And shall continue the practical pieces of this theme there.)
If not eating animals is an experience of realized eschatology, then my concern about Google is about freedom and consumption. I mention it in tandem with vegetarianism because I feel obese with the amount of data I’m consuming, and such a large part coming from and through Google. Or if I was to cite scripture, Google seems a lot like Mammon. It’s like a cheap, convenient and delicious food — but it’s not the world, and recent mistakes — such as Google Buzz — suggests that the clever kids from Mountain View are either testing the waters or are tone-deaf to the privacy concerns of its users. Bad, bad move. Again, practical details at Boy in the Bands. (In a related note, former office-mate Lizzie is giving up Facebook and Twitter for Lent.)
For most of my quarter-century sojourn with the Unitarian Universalists, I’ve been a Christian and have held some leadership positions. I think I’m in a good position to say that in those years we’ve had better and worse times. We don’t see the full-bore Christian-baiting as once was common, but neither do I hear much from the mellow yet constant “near Christians.” Perhaps both generations have moved on. And there seems to be much less institutional activity even though the Unitarian Universalist Christians are more geographically dispersed, if fewern I sense, than ever.
Thus a chicken-or-egg question. Is the institutional change the cause of the smaller numbers, or a symptom? There are roughly the same number of Christian churches in the UUA as before, with roughly the same number of members. Perhaps the Internet Age, with its focus on self-organization and self-publication, have a role; indeed, I suspect it does. Also, I’ve known more people than I care to count that have drifted to other denominations, or have detached their affiliations. (Far fewer become non-Christian Unitarian Universalists.)
Which makes me think: Unitarian Universalist Christian institutions, other than congregations (and perhaps even them, to a point) have depended on a ministry of identification. That is, the simple fact of their existance shows that Unitarian Universalist Christians exist, and that’s an important point if the majority opinion is that you shouldn’t exist. Other programs come and go, but this persists. Luther said “Here I stand; I can do no other.” I’m inclinded to think, “Here we stand, and it’s time to get to work.”
I took a piece of paper and jotted down what the Unitarian Universalist stakeholders do.
Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship
- Point of identification (“they exist”)
- Point of contact, especially for isolated Christians
- Mailing lists for community and resource-sharing
- Newsletter for inspiration, resources and information
- Website, ditto, with extra resources
- “Revival” series of conferences
- Participation in the ecumenical Consulation on Common Texts, the source of the Revised Common Lectionary
- Public worship at General Assembly
- Publication sales and sharing
- A scholarship journal, though inactive in recent years
Council of Christian Churches in the Unitarian Universalist Association
- Point of identification
- Annual meeting for (limited) business, networking and support
- A (limited) opportunity for study
- Source of opinion, and sometimes theology or other resources
- Sharing news
But these are some programs or functions that would be very helpful in a growing Christian movement among Unitarian Universalists:
- Advocacy among non-Christian Unitarian Universalist decision-makers and opinion-shapers
- Presence among non-Unitarian Universalist Christians, apart from the Consultation on Common Texts and in federated congregations
- Support for Unitarian Universalist Christian ministers seeking placements, including secular work
- Coordination of field trials and feedback for liturgical material
- Publication of religious education resources
- Developing a theological rationale (or rationales) for Christian presence among Unitarian Universalists
- Discerning the distinct, non-fungible Unitarian and Universalist strains of Christianity
- Coordination of ministerial internships
- Creation and idenification of hymn resources
- Recommendation of best licenses and distribution models of intellectual property
- An opt-in service — such a directory — for in-person organizing
- Recasting and publishing classic texts in a contemporary, digestible way
- Assistance in administrating small groups
- Importation, translation and republication of foreign Unitarian and Universalist Christian literature
- Developing ministry models among young adults