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American Univeralist History. American Universalist History. John Murray, Father of Univeralism. “Give them not hell but hope”

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american universalist history
American Universalist History

John Murray, Father of Univeralism

“Give them not hell but hope”

1741-1815, founder of the Universalist denomination in America, b. England. He was excommunicated by the Methodists after he had openly accepted Universalism as taught by James Relly. Murray emigrated to America in 1770 where, after traveling as a Universalist preacher for four years in New Jersey, New York, and New England, he settled in Gloucester, Mass. He continued his preaching there and in nearby centers. In 1775, General Washington announced Murray's appointment as chaplain to the Rhode Island troops. He served as pastor of the newly organized Independent Church of Christ (1779) at Gloucester until he was called to the pastorate of the Universalist Society of Boston in 1793.

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American Universalist History

Theology of John Murray

From his activity in disseminating his opinions he is styled the "father of Universalism in America," but his doctrines differed essentially from those that are now recognized by that denomination. He accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, and believed in God as one "indivisible first cause," in a personal devil, and orders of angels. His fundamental doctrine as a Universalist was that Christ literally put away the sin of the whole world, but he distinguished between universal salvation and universal redemption by fixing degrees of punishment that were to be inflicted before the final judgment, after which all the world, he believed, would be saved.

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American Universalist History

Judith Sargent Murray

Judith Sargent Murray was remarkable woman, socially ambitious yet at the same time an ardent advocate of women’s rights. She was a prolific writer of poetry, drama, and essays, some of the written under pseudonyms to allow her greater freedom of expression. Her essays on the equality of the sexes anticipated most of the arguments put forth by the nascent women’s movement half century later. She would be pleased to know that she was to find her place in history as America’s first leading feminist.

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American Universalist History

Other Early Universalist Leaders

  • George de Benneville had come to America from Europe (England) in 1741 to escape persecution, once having almost been beheaded for his universalist convictions. On arriving in America, he settled near Philadelphia, in an area where many of the inhabitants already believed in universal salvation, convinced that a loving God would never condemn any of his children to eternal damnation.
  • Elhanan Winchester came to Universalism from the Baptist ranks. Winchester shared his pulpit in Philadelphia with Dr. Joseph Priestley. Among the supporters of Winchester was Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Liberal New England Congregationalists:

  • Jonathan Mayhew whose brilliant career and revolutionary agitator was cut short by an untimely death, attempted to persuade his congregation at West Church in Boston that God, being an eminently reasonable being, could not act in a manner less ethical and fair than a leading citizen of Boston by condemning men to everlasting woe.
  • Charles Chauncy made large contributions to Universalist thought within Congregationalism. He was the persistent champion of the role of reason in religion.



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American Universalist History

The Winchester Profession, 1803

  • Article the First. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
  • Article the Second. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in on Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
  • Article the Third. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order, and practice good works; for those things are good and profitable to men.
  • The following was appended to the Profession:

Yet while we … adopt a general Profession of Belief … we leave it to the several Churches and Societies, or to smaller associations of churches … to continue or adopt within themselves, such more particular articles of faith … as may appear to them best under their particular circumstances, provide they do not disagree with our general Profession ….

The last statement was know as the Liberty Clause.

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American Universalist History

Hosea Ballou, theologian of Universalism

  • Ordained in an unusual way: At a Universalist convention in 1794, Elhanan Winchester on reaching the climax of his sermon at the concluding service, suddenly pressed a Bible against the surprised Ballou’s chest and ordered him charged on the spot! (Later, in 1803, to make sure that the legality of the weddings at which he officiated would not be challenged, Ballou was reordained by the New England Convention in a more formal manner.
  • In 1805 Hosea Ballou published A Treatise on Atonement. It was the most original and influential statement of nineteenth-century Universalist theology.
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American Universalist History

The Treatise on Atonement

  • The treatise is divided into three parts: (1) “Sin”, (2) “the Atonement for Sin”, (3) “the consequences of Atonement for Mankind”
  • The treatise states, “Sin, in its nature, ought to be considered finite and limited, rather than infinite and unlimited, as has, by many been supposed.”
  • God, argues Ballou, is in a sense “the author of sin”, since, being almighty, God would not allow it to exist unless it served some useful purpose.
  • “Man’s main object, “ he writes, “in all he does, is happiness…. What would induce men to form societies; to be at the expense of supporting governments; to acquire knowledge; to learn the sciences, or till the earth, if they believed the could be as happy without as with?” The problem, then, is deciding what actions do in fact lead to true happiness rather than to sinfulness.
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American Universalist History

The Treatise on Atonement (continued)

  • Ballou openly ridicules the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • Ballou affirms the Unitarian (or Arian) position that Christ is not part of the Godhead but rather a lesser created being.
  • Rather than coming to appease God’s anger, Christ came to the world to demonstrate the power of love through which men and women can turn away from sin and be reconciled to God.
  • As for the meaning of the crucifixion, Ballou has this to say: “The literal death of the man, Christ Jesus, is figurative…. The literal body of Jesus represented the whole letter of the law…. The death of Jesus represented the death and destruction of the letter, when the spirit comes forth, bursting the veil thereof, which is represented by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”
  • Near the end of his treatise, Ballou pleads with his fellow Universalists for tolerance and open-mindedness. “Be cautious of any system of divinity”, he warns. “The moment we fancy ourselves infallible, every one must come to our peculiarities or we cast them away.”
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American Universalist History

Women Begin Preaching

  • The first Universalist woman to brave public opinion and preach her faith was Marian Cook, who delivered a sermon to a meeting of the Western Association in Bainbridge, New York, in 1811.
  • It wasn’t until the national women’s rights movement began to gain strength that the Univeralist pulpits really opened up to women. Lydia A. Jenkins, wife of a Universalist clergyman commenced preaching to good acceptance. However, whether Jenkins actually ever received ordination is not clear, but she served with her husband in what can best be described as a successful parish co-ministry.
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American Universalist History

Women Become Ordained Ministers

In 1863, Olympia Brown was the first woman minister in America to ordained with full denominational authority. Olympia Brown dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school at St. Lawrence University. She was ordained a Universalist minister, the first woman to achieve full ministerial standing recognized by a denomination. As a young minister, she took an active role in the women's suffrage movement and was one of the few original suffragists who lived to vote in the 1920 presidential election.

Entering divinity school in 1861, she completed her course of study in 1863. She had to convince those opposed to women in the ministry that they could complete the required course of study as commendably as she had. Then she had to convince the reluctant ministers to ordain her and allow her to be called to the parish ministry. Despite considerable opposition, Brown prevailed in both goals. This determination characterized her throughout her long and fruitful life.

Olympia Brown

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American Universalist History

Women Become Ordained Ministers

Augusta Jane Chapin, Universalist minister and educator, was one of the earliest women to be ordained in ministry. She was the first woman to sit on the Council of the General Convention of Universalists. She was also a groundbreaker for women seeking higher education and advanced degrees.

In 1859 Chapin preached her first sermon at Portland, Michigan. She preached for three years instead of the customary one year before applying for a Letter of Fellowship. This was granted in 1862 by the Michigan Convention of Universalists. In December 1863 she was ordained to the Universalist ministry at Lansing, Michigan. She joined a very small group of American women in ministry which included Lucretia Mott (Quaker), Antoinette Brown (Congregational, later Unitarian), Lydia Jenkins (Universalist) and Olympia Brown (Universalist, ordained earlier that year).

In 1868 Lombard University (later College) of Galesburg, Illinois, a co-educational Universalist school, granted Chapin an honorary Master of Arts degree. She served Lombard as non-resident lecturer in English literature, 1885-97, and as non-resident lecturer on art, 1892-1897. In 1893 Lombard conferred on her the first Doctor of Divinity degree ever awarded to a woman in America.

Augusta Jane Chapin

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American Universalist History

Joseph Jordan, the first African American to be ordained as a minister by the Universalist denomination, founded the First Universalist Church of Norfolk, Virginia in 1887 and initiated an educational effort for African American children in Norfolk and vicinity. The missions and schools that were his legacy served thousands of children and families in eastern Virginia over the period of a century.

Jordan several times changed occupations—becoming a laborer, a grocer, and finally a carpenter. As a carpenter he earned enough money to buy or build several houses in the Norfolk suburb of Huntersville. He was then able to live off the rent. Literate, skilled, and a property owner, Jordan was among the elite of his race and poised to become a leader in his community.

He established the Suffolk (VA) mission and stayed there until his death. After his death, the church ceased to function, but the school continued under the leadership of his daughter Annie B. Willis.

Joseph Jordan

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American Universalist History

Education: Graduated from the theological school, St. Lawrence University, 1870. In 1891 he took upon himself the role of independent Universalist missionary, raising his own financial support as he went until designated general missionary by the Universalist Convention in 1895. Shinn was remarkable in his ability to sow the seeds of Universalist congregations. He traveled twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand miles a year and preached in every state, reporting that by 1895 he had started :1 "about fifty" churches and the same number of Sunday schools. He would typically come to a town where there were few or no Universalists, hire a hall, leaflet the town, and begin to preach, encouraging each of his hearers to bring others the next day. He tried to leave the town with some organization -- a church, youth group, Sunday school, or Ladies' Aid Society. Although some of these groups were short-lived, others were not, and Shinn's efforts helped to spread Universalism beyond its New England roots

Shinn loved his difficult and strenuous work, and it could indeed be said that he took the whole nation for his parish.

Quillen Shinn

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American Universalist History

Clarence R. Skinner (1881-1949), minister, teacher, writer and social activist, is widely regarded as the most influential Universalist of the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in Brooklyn into a thoroughly Universalist family-his parents and brothers were Universalists; a grandfather, great grandfather and great uncle were Universalist ministers. He attended St. Lawrence, a Universalist university, where he met and later married a Universalist classmate and fellow Phi Beta Kappa, Clara Louise Ayres.

Skinner became Dean of Tufts University’s Crane Theological School and co-founder of the non-denominational Community Church of Boston. Services throughout Skinner's leadership were held in a series of rented halls, with attendance rising to over 1,200. The church was deeply involved in many social causes, aid to the Republican government of Spain, and the right of Margaret Sanger to publicly advocate birth control. Clarence Russell Skinner was a prophet of the social gospel.