AM talk radio does a show on Unitarian Universalism

Did I scare you with that headline? Don’t worry, the talk radio station in question is KGO in San Francisco, and since it’s a San Francisco radio station, we’re not talking about Rush Limbaugh and other right wing commentators. If there’s such a thing as left-of-center AM talk radio, KGO is it.

On Sundays, KGO has a weekly radio show called “God Talk,” hosted by Brent Walters, who actually has a post-grad degree in religious studies. Yesterday, Walters did a three-hour show on Unitarian Universalism, which you can find online here. Thanks to Richard, a member of the Palo Alto church, who found this online. However, as Richard points out, “be aware that this is a rolling weekly archive, and if you wait a week it will be gone.” [Update: Victor has now put an audio file of this radio program up on his Web site (with commercials and news edited out) at: Thank you, Victor!]

Brent Walters had posted an advance summary of the show online, and I’ll include it below the fold…

God Talk, October 25, 2009: Redefining Eternity

6:00 Hour—Our conversation on early Christian views about Jesus expanded from one to three hours last week. Listeners had much to contribute, and the exchange was lively. Since we did not discuss Unitarianism, a movement that opposed traditional theology on the topic, we cover it this Sunday. Beginning in the sixteenth century, we trace the development of this church to the present day. Even though most scholars identify it as “nontrinitarian,” since members reject all forms of the Nicene and subsequent creeds, its original belief system was far more comprehensive.

The first Unitarian congregation in England was formed in 1774 and in the States in 1782. They emphasized free will and responsibility and believed that human nature is neither inherently corrupt nor depraved. While not a unified denomination, most asserted that reason, science, and philosophy could coexist with faith. Labeled “liberal,” they reveled in pluralism while remaining committed to their core principles and beliefs. As the movement developed over the next century and a theological platform emerged, many members lost interest in its original intent and membership declined.

7:00 Hour—At the same time, another group formed around the notion that all people will be reconciled to God regardless of religious affiliation. The concept was called “universalism,” and while this designation is modern the point of view is ancient. A movement resulted that over time had several features in common with the Unitarian Church. In 1961 the two groups merged to create the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This new alliance developed seven principles that most congregations respect today and includes issues such as: dignity, justice, compassion, spiritual growth, truth, and world peace.

They represent .03% of the U.S. population, but this does not reflect the impact both groups make on our society. Most members are active in political causes and promote civil rights as well as feminist, social justice, and gay rights movements around the world. Today the UUA is comprised of individuals from various traditions and points of view, and the number who identify with the designation “Christian” comprises only a bit more than ten percent. True to its original intent, universalism is still at the core of the belief system, and the origin of this perspective is found in a few early church writers.

8:00 Hour—We continue our discussion by taking a look at Unitarianism today, which has adjusted its message over the past century to accommodate the shifting currents of society. Many of these changes were the result of its merger with the Universalist movement, as gradually religious causes were transformed into political and social endeavors. As a result, a theological tempest brewed and a reform group broke from the main church a decade ago to establish the American Unitarian Conference. The reasons for the split and its present state are addressed.

Our conversation ends with the assertion that Paul the Apostle taught universalism, that is, he believed that all people regardless of creed or tradition are ultimately saved. We turn to the original text of his Romans letter to examine its contents. Paul wrote several statements that suggest he was persuaded, at least to some degree, that the death of Christ provided universal salvation for all humanity. If true, modern theology is out of step with one of its primary founders. I suspect that this discussion will provoke several objections and raise countless questions, and I look forward to the challenge. — Brent

11 thoughts on “AM talk radio does a show on Unitarian Universalism

  1. andrea lerner

    the link list that comes up seems to be only news. I’d love to find out where to direct folks who might want to listen.

  2. Jeremiah

    Brent keeps hinting at the “conflict” within UU’ism between various groups of believers as well as those who wish to promulgate the denomination as a progressive social action organization. It would have been interesting had he documented this with some sort of hard information.

    I don’t disagree with the statement on some level, but how much conflict does this pose right now within the existing UU ranks? Or is this really an issue about trying to project ourselves to the outside world and evangelizing? I suspect it’s more the latter; a lot of the “old believers” left long ago (hence the almost complete collapse of Universalism even before the merger).

  3. Jeremiah

    My bad – the issue of the formation of the AUC was cited as part of this “conflict.” I was never even aware of this until years after the fact. Does it comprise a lot of members? Did it have much impact on the UUA?

    This being said, I have spent much time in the past two years wondering about the “origins” of each movement, and wondering why we have moved so far from them that most UU’s cannot really even cite or reference half the people and events that got us to today.

  4. Victor

    Because it was irritating to listen to the commercial breaks and news, I edited them out, and you can listen to the edited version of the broadcast at:

    I think his point is that all religions evolve over time, and that there is always a tendancy to go back to the roots of the religion. All of that being said, I would have liked him to explain in greater detail the conflict that currently exists in the UU church which resulted in the formation of the AUC.

    Jeremiah @3: I would also like to know more about the AUC.

  5. Dan

    Jeremiah @ 3 — The AUC took only a couple of ministers and some pretty small congregations. There are a few Unitarian Universalist congregations that also affiliate with the AUC. The only real impact on the UUA was that there was some legal squabbling early on — the AUC originally wanted to call itself the American Unitarian Association, adopting the old name of the denomination from 1825 — but the UUA said they could not, since the UUA is actually a consolidation of the old American Unitarian Association, meaning that the UUA still has all legal rights to the old name (there are arcane legal points that I did not understand, but anyway).

    You also write that you are “wondering why we have moved so far from them that most UU’s cannot really even cite or reference half the people and events that got us to today.” I don’t feel that we are all that far from our early roots, and really the main problem is that we don’t value our traditions. There’s also something in there about how when you don’t value your traditions, you tend to lose track of who you are and tend to repeat the same old problems over and over again….

    Victow @ 4 — Thank you for putting this online!

  6. Jeremiah

    Interesting point about traditions, Dan. We’ve been talking about that with Maine-based youth programming, trying to get traditions and ceremony back into what we do. It’s an excellent subject to discuss, because for many in various religions, this can be more important than dogma. It lends the practitioner a sense of permanence and a connection with those who came before.

    Of course, when some churches balk at even doing much for Christmas, you do have to ask the question (although my current church goes all out and it’s our most-attended service).

  7. Victor

    Personally, I feel the AUC (“Promoting the American Unitarian Tradition” on their website) has value and has put the spotlight on a problem with UUism in the 21st century. In our quest for religious plurality and our heavy emphasis on social justice activism, we seem to have lost something. – namely that which ties us all together as a faith I’m only speaking for myself of course, but I suspect others feel that way, but are afraid to speak up in congregations.

    The problem is: how do you reconcile religious plurality with adherence to a faith’s traditions? (The social justice piece is another issue). And if we are to honor the Unitarian faith traditon, then how about the Universalist faith tradition. Finally, doesn’t “valuing our traditions” mean acknowledging and celebrating our Christian roots, rather than hiding them in a morass of religious plurality?

  8. Dan

    Victor and Jeremiah — I check in with the AUC Web site periodically, and find it valuable.

    What’s interesting to me is that there are several groups who are maintaining the Universalist traditions, and remaining within Unitarian Universalism. Richard Trudeau’s New Massachusetts Universalist Convention, the group working to preserve the site where the Winchester Profession was written, Ferry Beach and Murray Grove, the New York Universalist Convention, etc. etc. Personally, I got to Ferry Beach conference center every year so I can go sit in the outdoor chapel where Rev. Quillen Shinn preached, and where I can look at the altar table that has “God is love” carved in it. I may be post-Christian myself, but I value that old Universalist tradition.

    I think the Universalists are providing us with a good model of how to hold on to traditions while still valuing pluralism.

  9. Jeremiah

    Dan – I want to thank you for this blog and the ideas and discussions that take place within it. I truly look forward to your updates and the other insightful people who comment!

  10. Susan

    Thank you so much for the pointer to this broadcast. It was an amazing program. I’ve just finished listening to all three hours and feel more like I’ve been in church than I have in many months.

    Borrowing from Jeremiah above, “trying to get traditions and ceremony back into what we do. [… For me] this can be more important than dogma. It lends the practitioner a sense of permanence and a connection with those who came before.” This is a lot of what I’ve been missing; there’s so little permanence in the rest of the world that I look for an anchor on Sunday mornings.

    As for the schism, even if small, it’s mortifying that someone who’s been a UU for 30 years, reading UU World, attending services, etc., didn’t even know about the AUC. A “free and open search for meaning” needs some hints about what’s going on. Looking at the AUC web site, I can’t say I’d fit there, but to not even know about it?

  11. Victor

    Dan – Thanks for the tip on the New Massachusetts Religious Convention. Concur that their approach is laudable, and their website expresses my feelings to a T. Hope to attend the Universalist Convocation in 2010 in Rochester, NY, where I also have relatives I’d like to visit.

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