On Thursday, January 31, Amy, the senior minister at our church, and I are going give a class on theological unity within Unitarian Universalism. We’re starting our class with an online conversation about the topic. And I’m going to begin my side of the conversation by listing five areas where I think Unitarian Universalists already have some degree of theological unity:
(1) Women and girls are as good as men and boys: During the 1970s and 1980s, Unitarian Universalism, like many liberal religious groups in the U.S., went through the feminist revolution in theology. We came out of those decades with a very clear theological consensus: when it comes to religion, women and girls are just as good as men and boys.
(2) Human beings must take responsibility for the state of the world: The Unitarian Universalist theologian William R. Jones has argued that humanists and liberal theists have come to resemble each other in that both affirm the radical freedom and autonomy of human beings (“Theism and Religious Humanism: The Chasm Narrows,” Christian Century, May 21, 1975, pp. 520-525). Today, we have a wide consensus that, whether or not we believe in God, none of us believes some larger power is going to come fix up our problems for us — if humans made the mess, it’s up to us to fix it.
(3) Maintaining the sanctity of the Web of Life is a moral ideal: Bernard Loomer, a theologian who was a member of the UU Church of Berkeley, was the person who brought the concept of “the Web of Life” to Unitarian Universalists. For Loomer, the Web of Life was what Jesus meant when he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven — a web of relationships between humans, as well as between humans and non-human beings and inanimate objects. While many Unitarian Universalists would no longer make the connection to Jesus, we do have a wide consensus that maintaining the sanctity or integrity of the Web of Life is a moral ideal, even a moral imperative, for us.
(4) Healthy sexuality is something to enjoy, not something to be ashamed of: Beginning in the 1940s, Unitarians began offering sexuality education for young adults, and in the 1950s extended that to adolescents. Our sexuality education has always emphasized that sex is something to be enjoyed; we also have a broad consensus that we are called to refrain from using sexuality to exploit or hurt others (or ourselves).
(5) Love is the most powerful force in the universe: For centuries, Universalists affirmed that all humans would be saved and united with God; put another way, Universalists have always affirmed that love is the most powerful force in the universe. We continue to draw on this central theological concept today, e.g., in the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign. We have a broad consensus that the power of love is a central part of our religious identity.
The five theological affirmations above distinguish us from many other theological groups (e.g., conservative Christians, secular humanists, fundamentalist Muslims). A member of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church would not agree with any of the five theological affirmations above; secular humanists might balk at any implication of spirituality, especially in the fifth point; fundamentalist Muslims would probably disagree with several of the affirmations. At the same time, let’s be clear that there are other liberal religious groups that would be quite comfortable with these affirmations (e.g., Quakers, religious humanists, Reconstructionist Jews). While these five affirmations don’t completely define who we are as a religious movement, nevertheless they do represent five areas in which we have developed a broad and solid theological consensus.