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The New Massachusetts Universalist Convention


What Universalism Has to Offer

We think Universalism has four things to offer the UU movement:

  1. healing for individual UUs;
  2. healing for the movement as a whole;
  3. help in attracting the never-churched; and
  4. help in attracting people from less privileged social classes.


Let me (Richard Trudeau) tell my own story. I was raised in a mainstream Christian denomination in which--I say in retrospect--I was religiously violated. When I discovered UUism it was with a tremendous sense of relief and homecoming.

Over the better part of a decade I fashioned a new UU faith for myself out of bits and pieces drawn from many sources, including humanism, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, and the study of nature. But one day I started asking myself, "Richard, if your new faith is so inclusive, why does it include nothing of Christianity? Richard, if you’re so tolerant, why are you so intolerant of Christianity? Richard, why are you so angry?" Logic told me that Christianity couldn’t be all bad. And so I embarked on the delicate and exasperating process of taking my childhood religion apart--of separating all the toxic things from the few things that still felt good, of separating all the things I thought were silly from the few that still made good theological sense.

The midwife of this process was Universalism. Its use of Biblical language and traditional symbolism challenged me to make new distinctions--

  • between the religious right’s understanding of the Bible as a single book expressing a single point of view, and modern scholarship’s understanding of the Bible as a library of many books expressing different points of view;
  • between the Christ of mainstream Christianity and the Jesus of history; and
  • between the cross as a symbol of a myth about a god dying for our sins, and the cross as a warning that defending the oppressed is risky business.

The process of taking my childhood religion apart was hard work, and took a long time. But when it was complete and my childhood religion lay before me disassembled, I noticed that it had lost the power to hurt me. I felt healed. And I was free for the first time to incorporate elements of my childhood religion into my new adult faith--elements that I treasure because they come from so far back in my personal past.

Universalism led me to see my UU church not as a "decontamination chamber" where I should try to forget my former religion, but as a workshop where I could confront it.

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Many members of UU congregations are intolerant of Christianity. Some of these people are Jews. Most of them are traumatized former Christians. What they have in common is that they are angry at Christianity, and they are angry at Christianity because they have been hurt by it.

This widespread intolerance makes our movement look silly. We loudly preach tolerance, while regularly appearing to be intolerant of North America’s principal religion. We brag about our openness to world religions, but often give the impression that we don’t recognize Christianity as a world religion.

Widespread UU intolerance of Christianity is a wound at the heart of our movement. We are failing to live up to our own principles.

Universalism challenges this intolerance. Its symbol, the off-center cross, makes denial of the UU movement’s Christian heritage impossible. At the same time, though, the off-center cross expresses our desire to keep our Christian heritage at arm’s length. It says: just as we pick and choose from other religions, we will pick and choose from Christianity.

Universalism helps Jews in our congregations to see that what the UU movement chooses to keep from Christianity is mostly of Jewish origin. And Universalism helps angry former Christians to take their childhood religion apart so that it will lose its power to hurt them, enabling them to incorporate elements of Christianity that they still value into their adult faith. The result for both groups is greater spiritual depth, and healing for the UU movement as a whole.

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In recent years another group of people have been visiting UU churches in significant numbers, people we might call the "never-churched." These people are not refugees from other religions, but come to us with no formal religious background at all. They are looking for something beyond what the secular world has to offer, and are unencumbered by old religious traumas.

To these visitors, the UUA logo--a flaming chalice off-center in a pair of circles--is not recognizable as a religious symbol. And when they read the Seven Principles, though they agree with every one, they don’t recognize them as religious. The Seven Principles could have been written by a secular organization--for example, an agency of the United Nations; they don’t feel religious.

The off-center cross, in contrast to the UUA logo, is immediately identifiable as a religious symbol because it incorporates the widely-recognized symbol of the cross. And the Universalist Declaration of Faith feels like a religious statement because of its use of Biblical language; though it expresses the same values as the Seven Principles, it does so in a way that is recognizably religious.

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We say we want to be everybody’s church. We speak of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We say we want our congregations to be welcoming. We are heartbroken that our movement includes so few people of color. We say we wish there were more people in our congregations who work with their hands or are paid by the hour.

We say we want to be everybody’s church, yet our language is wrong. Mainstream UUism--the UUism of General Assembly resolutions and mailings from 25 Beacon Street--doesn't speak the language of the majority of religious people in North America. To the average person, UUism is too "weird."

Universalism, on the other hand, speaks to the average person. Despite differences in ethnicity and social class, most North Americans who are brought up to be religious are brought up in religions that involve the Bible. Universalism speaks the language of this majority--though in a challenging, new way.

Just by speaking the language, Universalism says: if you come to a UU church, you don’t have to give up everything. UU values are compatible with much of your tradition. But by using the language in a new way, Universalism also says: if you come to a UU church, you do have to re-evaluate everything. We are not religion as usual!



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This page was last updated on 09/02/2013.
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