Files from my presentation at Revival

Find here the resources I used and references for “Women, the Image of God and the Universalist Hope”, the workshop I presented at Revival. (PDF)

The presentation deck:

Hymn text found at this excellent blog.

Bits and pieces I ran across in my reading.

Creative Commons License
Women, the Image of God and the Universalist Hope by Scott Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

Lent for Universalists?

A friend asked me: did Universalists observe Lent?

In my reading, they did not observe in the “giving up” sense but did, in the twentieth century anyway, have meditation manuals and special devotional services — say, by the Women’s Association. And of course Maundy Thursday, important also as a day for welcoming new members.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost preparation

September 25, 2011 is the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The collects, though similar, have very different meanings. Interesting. An intended key to Universalism, perhaps.

Also, today (September 19) is the twelfth anniversary of my ordination.

Free Church Book of Common Prayer (1929)


Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle: Gal. v. 16-24.
Gospel: Luke xvii, 11-19.

A book of prayer for the church and the home (Universalist, 1866)


Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and may we not only obtain that which thou dost promise, but also love that which thou dost command, though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle: 1 Cor. iii. 16.
Gospel: St. Luke xvii. 11

Statements of faith Universalists have professed

So what do Universalist Christians believe, today and historically?

The Rob Bell controversy has brought out some affirmations of universal salvation on the ‘net, both within and (largely) outside the Unitarian Universalist Association. And with it — as if we returned to antebellum America — sharp and untrue denunciations of Universalism, and claims about what universalist do or don’t believe, and whether universalism is a fundamental heresy.

You, constant readers, know where I stand. But since we’ve returned rhetorically to 1835 or 1870, it makes sense to list some of the important statements of faith.

So, for the record, here are key documents. Links will take you to the full enacting resolution or supporting documents:

The 1790 Philadelphia Articles of Faith

Section 1. OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain a revelation of the perfections and will of God, and the rule of faith and practice.

Section 2. OF THE SUPREME BEING We believe in One God, infinite in all his perfections; and that these perfections are all modifications of infinite, adorable, incomprehensible and unchangeable Love.

Section 3. OF THE MEDIATOR We believe that there is One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; who, by giving himself a ransom for all, hath redeemed them to God by his blood; and who, by the merit of his death, and the efficacy of his Spirit, will finally restore the whole human race to happiness.

Section 4. OF THE HOLY GHOST We believe in the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to make known to sinners the truth of their [this] salvation, through the medium of the Holy Scriptures, and to reconcile the hearts of the children of men to God, and thereby dispose them to genuine holiness.

Section 5. OF GOOD WORK We believe in the obligation of the moral law, as to the rule of life; and we hold that the love of God manifest to man in a Redeemer, is the best means of producing obedience to that law, and promoting a holy, active and useful life.

The 1803 Winchester Profession, the standard profession of American Universalism

Article I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

Article 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.

Article 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.

The 1899 “Five Principles” (“Essential principles of the Universalist faith”)

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.

The 1935 Washington Declaration, the theological portion of the bond of fellowship

… we avow our faith in God as Eternal and All-conquering Love, in the spiritual leadership of Jesus, in the supreme worth of every human personality, in the authority of truth known or to be known, and in the power of men of good-will and sacrificial spirit to overcome evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God….

There are also local adaptations — almost always interpreted as an interpretation of the Winchester Profession — from the nineteenth centuries and later. (The newest of these was adopted by the Universalist National Memorial Church.)

Two worth particular note are:

1865 Rhode Island Convention Catechism

We believe in one God, the Creator of all things, and the Father of Mankind; in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the true Teacher, Example, and Savior of men; in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; in the certainty of retribution; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of all men from the dead; and their final holiness and happiness in the immortal life.

An 1903 unofficial Universalist Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty and Universal; and in Jesus Christ his Son, the true teacher, example, and Savior of the world. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the quickener and comforter of men. I believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as a revelation of righteousness, truth and love. I believe in the Holy Church Universal; in the communion of saints; in the certainty of punishment for transgression; in the forgiveness of sins; in the life immortal; in the final triumph of goodness and mercy; and in the union and harmony, at last, of all souls with God.

Concerns, vindicated

I’m not much of a fan for the Stand Up for Universalism day held today. I debated whether I should write or not, and yes, I know that other people feel warmly towards it.

For one, I don’t drum up support for a book launch uninvited and without an advance copy. The book launch is, at root, a commercial effort and the whole affair has been good for sales. How it benefits the truth remains to be seen. Which brings us to . . .

Two, oops — seems the author denies being a universalist. To which I add: I told you so.

Three, the kind of universalism that people identified with him — the one I know and love — has been run roughshod in the UUA for as long as I can remember. No fair trying to get (back) on the wagon now. And it’s positively unfair to suggest that people drawn to Rob Bell will find a welcoming home in any but perhaps a dozen churches in the UUA.

My diagnosis: Stand Up for Universalism looks like a whistful lament about has been lost in Unitarian Universalism, and the recognition that it has at least as much, if not more, theological weight and emotional resonance than what is considered mainline within the UUA. But that argues more for Universalism independent of the UUA than within it.

And how, at last, can I celebrate that?

Bleg: old Universalist rules of fellowship

For the uninitiated, a bleg is a blog beg. And so I’m begging.

I’m on the look out for Universalist church rules of fellowship and other organic governing documents, roughly for the period from 1910 to 1959. Documents from the immediate post-WWII era are especially desirable. Hard as the devil — so to speak — to find.

An earlier version of the kind of thing I mean can be seen here.


Mirroring a Universalist site; a test of Amazon S3 etc.

I’ve mentioned before how I want to learn how to use the cloud-based Amazon S3 service to host static websites (that is, those whose content doesn’t change based on user interaction.)

Well, I’ve done it, and in the process have put a domain I’ve had long reserved into use and have mirrored content from to a new place. Before I take the time to document what I did, I’ll see if there’s any interest, but be sure to see the resources linked from the earlier blogpost first.

OK — one thing, about mirroring. I used

$ wget -mk -E

to back up the site.


Fresh crop of universalists?

There’s some buzz, buzz, buzz because evangelical darling Rob Bell may (or may not) be a universalist.

That tickles me, not because “our” number might be increased by one, but because this kind of proclamation is so common in Universalist history and was vital in its self-defense. (Style point: I use universalist to describe the theology and Universalist to denote the denominational affiliation or customs.)

“We” were happy when Partialists — a particular and sectarian term coined by, and used exclusively by, Universalists; it means “everyone else” — gave up their ways, even if they didn’t formally affiliate with us. Do you note a hint of scepticism, even sarcasm?

It’s because if the anti-Universalists have any case it is that universalism is something of a gateway doctrine to more eccentric and esoteric modes of belief. Think about Universalist minister Abner Kneeland‘s early and celebrated exit to blasphemy (and Iowa.) Or William Vidler’s early slide to Unitarianism. Or the fact that many well-established New England Swedenborgians came out of Universalist churches.  Or the fascination of Universalists with Spiritualism. (I wonder if Unitarianism cultivated the same trajectories, conditioning the pair to identify with one another?) And latter-day universalists will sometimes compromise and land in the more palatable (but morally horrifying) halfway-house of annihilationism. Others will make their faith into a fan dance and never quite answer “do you so believe?”

So, in short, I’ll believe in a celebrity conversion if it sticks. Call me in five years.

Most constant Universalists — speaking historically — are largely unknown, but it’s easy to read between the lines of the newspapers and reports imagine them as institutionalists: the hymn-writers and committee-members, many of whom only have a living legacy in the mind of God. Those who threw themselves into world-changing work, and those who adopted a lower-case-c catholic approach to their faith. The hope that by re-grounding Christianity on a historic, reasonable and well-balanced footing many of the old conflicts and errors that Christians made might be overcome. And above all, that God was better, more just and more loving that what we imagine ourselves to be. It was lived, at its best, as a cultivation of Christian character in communities — not always particular congregations — and in solidarity: a challenge to the Unitarian cultivation of Self.

But it was not a successful campaign in the larger sense, or it would be more a part of our denominational consciousness today, and this is why Unitarian Universalism seems more like a busy airport with many airlines offering endless arrivals and departures and no comfortable place to rest. Again, this is not new.

At least one Universalist — Orestes Brownson, a writer who, if he lived today, would almost certainly be a professional blogger — was drawn to something more capital-C Catholic . . .  and crossed to Rome.

Of course, today’s celebrity universalists have no need to cross to anywhere. Like Judith Sargent and her ministering second husband John Murray, this new generation is more likely to be independent of denominational connections. This weighs on me, because — perversely — there is really no more liberty or support to be a Universalist Christian in the UUA than there is to be a universalist Christian in other denominations. And if it takes a fight of self-assertion, what does one win if successful? Where will Bell — or Carlton Pearson or Jim Mulholland — be because of their stands.

Constant, catholic Universalists lost the larger fight, but oh! to know the inner lives, the congregations and the families so many must have built. That’s worth something, and sometimes small successes need celebration. I have to tell myself that as I ponder this new church start. Ask me if I feel the same five years hence.