Todd Eklof — a former Unitarian Universalist minister who was removed from fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) over disagreements on approaches to anti-racism and other matters — is the new president pro tem of the recently-organized North American Unitarian Association (NAUA).
The NAUA joins the American Unitarian Conference (AUC) as a group that has broken away from the UUA over political and theological disagreements. Here’s an introduction to a few U.S. Unitarian groups, including the NAUA and the AUC…
North American Unitarian Association
The North American Unitarian Association (NAUA) website states that the group is “dedicated to courageously fostering and protecting the principles and practices of liberal religion: reason, tolerance, democratic process, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and expression, and the inherent worth and dignity of all people.” Membership is open to congregations and to individuals. They provide the following services: monthly online worship; an online newsletter; online courses; monthly support sessions for NAUA-affiliated ministers; a “ministerial clearinghouse”; and a few other odds and ends. Congregations may affiliate with the NAUA while retaining their membership with the UUA.
The NAUA program strikes me as quite ambitious for a new organization. They do seem to have a fairly full leadership roster, mostly drawn from Todd Eklof’s hometown of Spokane, Wash. So they might be able to keep up all these new initiatives.
American Unitarian Conference
The American Unitarian Conference (AUC) formed in 2000. The founders decided to break away from the UUA for reasons I can no longer remember, nor can I remember the people who were involved in the founding of the group. The Wikipedia article on the AUC says it “was founded in 2000 by several Unitarian Universalists who felt that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) had become too theologically liberal and too political.”
The AUC seems to have morphed into the Unitarian Christian Church of America (see below), or has been absorbed by them. The old URL, americanunitarian.org, now returns an error message saying the hosting account has expired. I checked the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and the last version of the AUC website they have is from August 20, 2022.
Unitarian Christian Church of America
The Unitarian Christian Church of America (UCCA) appears to be a small group, based on their website. It may be that they’re the successor group to the American Unitarian Conference (AUC; see above). In any case, Shannon Rogers, head of the UCCA, is now the admin of the AUC Facebook page.
Assuming the UCCA and the old AUC are somehow linked, we might look at the the AUC Facebook page to get a sense of both organizations. This Facebook page has gotten recent comments critical of the UUA — “Unfortunately, my experiences with the UUs seemed to always have a thread of Progressivism in them” — and supportive of political conservative positions — “You can NOT be protected if guns are banned!” At the same time, the UCCA now provides children’s Christian education curriculums from ProgressiveChristianity.org. Some of their materials sound cautiously supportive of Black Lives Matter.
In short, it sounds like the UCCA is trying to become a “purple” denomination, welcoming to all political persuasions. Given that the UUA has pretty much given up trying to welcome Republicans (except for a few individual congregations), and is fairly unwelcoming to Christian Unitarians, I’m glad the UCCA provides a spiritual home for Christian Unitarians across the political spectrum.
Unitarian Christian Alliance
The Unitarian Christian Alliance (UCA) is a group of Biblical Unitarian Christians. On their website, they describe themselves as follows: “While holding to various beliefs in other areas, UCA members all agree that the God of the Bible is the Father alone, and that Jesus is his human Messiah. The mission of the UCA and its growing membership is two-fold: to promote unitarian theology and to connect like-minded believers across the globe.
The UCA claims both individual members, and nearly a hundred affiliated churches and groups. While most of the affiliated groups are in the U.S., they have affiliated groups on nearly every continent, including the countries of Brazil, Greece, Singapore, Kenya, and Australia. Interestingly, looking at the web page showing their Board of Directors, their leadership team consists of four middle-aged white men and one woman who does not have a photo.
As far as I can tell, the UCA has never had any connection to the UUA.
Spirit and Truth Fellowship International
Spirit and Truth Fellowship International (STFI) is a “non-denominational ministry” that engages in many activities. STFI issued a Unitarian version of the Revised English Version translation of the Bible. They have an active Youtube channel where they post recordings of their Sunday Morning Gatherings and their Tuesday Night Fellowship. They have a STFI app for iPhones. They also maintain a website called “Biblical Unitarian.”
As far as I can tell, STFI has never had any connection to the UUA.
Other Unitarian (Small “U”) groups
There are other denominations and groups that reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity on various grounds. These include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Oneness Pentecostals, Christadelphians, etc. Note that these denominations do not have “Unitarian” as part of their name, and they might not identify as Unitarian per se.
Historical American Unitarian Groups
1. The most notable American Unitarian group from the past is, of course, the Free Religious Association (FRA). Though the FRA is sometimes classified as a “freethought” group, most of its members were either former Unitarians, or people who maintained dual membership with the FRA and the American Unitarian Association (the predecessor to the UUA). For most of its history, the guiding spirit behind the FRA was William Potter, the minister of the Unitarian church of New Bedford. When Potter left the FRA, it quickly died, which makes me wonder if the FRA was really just a one-man project.
(I have to admit my bias against the FRA. I’m a former minister of the New Bedford church, and while there I did some research into Potter. I felt that Potter got too wrapped up in the FRA, and perhaps neglected his own congregation. On the other hand, I was so put off by his writing that I didn’t want to spend much time researching him. After learning something about Potter, I lost all interest in the FRA.)
2. In the early nineteenth century, the Christian Connexion (variously spelled) was unitarian in theology, and even cooperated with the American Unitarian Association. A few Unitarian ministers served Christian Connexion churches. But by the second half of the century, the two groups had gone their separate ways.
3. The Swedenborgians were vaguely unitarian (small “u”) in theology. However, as I understand it, their unitarianism made Jesus Christ into a god, with God-the-Father and the Holy Spirit as aspects of Jesus Christ. There are still Swedenborgians around (with at least one Unitarian minister serving a Swedenborgian congregation) but I know nothing about their theology in the twenty-first century, so can’t comment on whether they still can be considered theologically unitarian.