Unitarian Universalism is a church, often referred to short-hand as “The Universal Church”, was founded on a search for truth and meaning. Formed in 1961 by a merger between the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association, Unitarian Universalism is somewhat unique. Followers of Universal Unitarianism are united not by a single creed, as in most religions, but instead a quest for spiritual growth. Members believe that this growth is the end goal, rather than obedience to a religious code. Due to the open nature of Universal Unitarianism, the religion incorporates ideas from many different religions and philosophies.
The word “Unitarian” in the title of the religion refers to an early core belief in the singular personhood of God. This was a rejection of the Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity- the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost- postulating instead the existence of a single God figure. The second word in the name, Universalism, refers to a belief that all souls are essentially saved. That is, Universalism rejects any belief in an everlasting Hell. Modern Unitarian Universalists, meanwhile, do not necessarily hold the beliefs historically associated with the religion. Followers are free to believe whatever they choose spiritually, and so even atheists are accepted into the fold.
Though the church of Unitarian Universalism was founded in the United States, churches have sprung up in many nations. In fact, similar religions existed in many countries prior to the official founding of Unitarian Universalism in 1962. However, these churches lacked any kind of unifying principles or leadership. To this end, the Internation Council of Unitarians and Universalists, abbreviated ICUU, was founded in 1995. This council provides guidance to Unitarian and Universalist churches all over the world. Today, Unitarian Universalist churches exist in many countries, such as the UK, Hungary, India, the Philippines, several African nations, and Canada.
Because of the Unitarian Universalist belief in freedom of thought, the religion does not have any one official creed. Instead, the Universalist Unitarian Association suggests several Thoughts and Principles, with which most UUs concur. These guidelines were suggested by a committee and confirmed by UU congregations worldwide. There are seven Principles, which are paraphrased as follows.
Members of Universal Unitarianism agree to:
- Respect for the value and dignity of every individual
- Fairness, empathy, and justness in human interaction
- Acceptance of all beliefs and encouragement towards personal spiritual growth
- Liberty to conduct a personal search for spiritual meaning
- The right to a democratic method in each congregation and in the world at large
- Pursuit of a peaceful world, with justice and freedom for every human
- Respect the interconnected web of the Universe
These guiding principles are not eternal, and the church may add or remove Principles at any time. In fact, the seventh principle was added in 1985.
Some controversies have arisen due to Universal Unitarianism’s unique structure. In 2004, a UU church in Texas lost its tax-exempt status after a government official decided that the church’s lack of a unifying creed precluded it from consideration as a religion. This decision was later overturned.
Univeral Unitarianism is a unique church in the world, one based not on creed or dogma but on principles. These principles guide followers on their own spiritual search. It is this personal odyssey, rather than any holy text, that Unitarian Universalism holds sacred.