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Unitarian Universalist History. Unitarian Universalist History. Merger versus Consolidation.

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Unitarian Universalist History

Merger versus Consolidation

In 1961, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated. There never was a merger. Why? This was a legal issue. If the two denominations merged, any two or three churches or intermediate organizations that refused to go along could go to court and say they were the true successors of the AUA or the UCA and claim all their respective assets. The change in terminology also pleased many Universalists who had feared that to be “merged” suggested being “submerged.” Consolidation, they felt, had more of a ring of marriage of equals.

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Unitarian Universalist History

One Hundred Years of Courtship

  • Hosea Ballou joined the Unitarians in rejecting the Trinity, while the Unitarians shed concerns about eternal damnation in favor of moral striving in this life, often described as “right conduct.”
  • Both groups made freedom of belief and conscience central to their religious convictions. Remember the “liberty clause” that we discussed in Universalist’s 1803 “Winchester Profession.” For the Unitarians the principle that every congregation was independent and self-governing was retained from their Puritan founders’ insistence on “congregational polity.” In comparing the Universalists and the Unitarians, Thomas Starr King made the statement that “the one thinks that God is too good to damn them forever, the other thinks they are too good to be damned forever.”
  • In 1937 the two denominations cooperated in the publication of a new hymnal.
  • In 1947, the two governing boards appointed a joint committee to explore union. Instead of union, both groups adopted a plan to set up the Council of Liberal Churches.
  • In 1954, the two youth groups, the American Unitarian Youth and the Universalist Youth Fellowship formed a common organization called Liberal Religious Youth.
  • In 1956, Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association established a Joint Merger Commission – an acknowledgement by both parties that it was time to form a united denomination.
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Unitarian Universalist History

What Took So Long?

  • Given their convergence of beliefs, it wasn’t so much theological as socioeconomic and organizational factors that were the major stumbling blocks to achieving the desired union. The Universalists had long felt that the Unitarians looked down on them since Universalism, with a few notable exceptions, developed as a more rural than urban, more working-class than elite movement.
  • The Univeralists were little inclined to institution building.
  • The Universalists didn’t have a pool of well-trained ministers to provide leadership. Many Universalists were Baptist renegades, and “like the Baptists, many boasted of the uneducated condition of their clergy. In their view, the Holy Spirit operated freely among men and needed not the trappings of schools.” The Unitarians represented the “Boston establishment.”
  • The two denominations differed in social status, in the role of the clergy, and in temperament.
  • Unitarianism remained a self-consciously intellectual and elitist movement, proud of the academic credentials of its ministers and disdaining (with notable exceptions) the missionary zeal of their Universalist contemporaries.
  • The Unitarians felt that the Universalists were too theologically conservative, too emotional, and essentially “not like us.”
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Unitarian Universalist History

Dana McLean Greeley

  • First President of the UUA
  • Groomed by the New England Unitarianism of Channing, Emerson and Parker, he became an internationally respected advocate for world peace and interfaith understanding.
  • He was a fifth-generation Unitarian. He graduated from Harvard College in 1931 and from the Harvard Divinity School in 1933.
  • He was called to the Arlington Street Church in Boston in 1935. Dr. Samuel A. Eliot had served as minister there for eight years following his service as president of the American Unitarian Association for twenty-five years.
  • He had a twenty-three year ministry at Arlington Street Church.
  • Befriending Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and involvement in the civil rights movement were of paramount importance to Greeley. His efforts in trying to help the association accept its own institutional racism were less successful.
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Unitarian Universalist History

The Syracuse Conference

  • Held in 1959 in Syracuse, New York to approve the “Plan to Consolidate” – a forty-four page document that became known as the “Blue Book.”
  • Among other matters, the name of the organization had to be decided upon. We almost became known as the United Liberal Church of America. The people who favored that name thought that it would attract the Quakers and the Ethical Culture Societies.
  • There were 600 Unitarians and 400 Universalists gathered in a joint meeting to adopt rules of procedure. Many participants called this meeting the Unitarian Council of Nicea.
  • There were essentially three factions: the traditional theists, who wanted a reference not only to God but to our Christian heritage; the “universalist” theists, who preferred acknowledging the “great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition”; and the humanists, who would just as soon do without reference to any deity.
  • Here was a paragraph that caused considerable concern:

“To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in their essence as love to God and love to man.”

  • Those who valued the Christian tradition wanted “which Jesus taught as love to God and love to man.” That group was appalled when the humanists and those fearful of a “creed” succeeded in passing an amendment to delete the paragraph altogether.
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Unitarian Universalist History

Draft Cards, Sanctuary, and Civil Unrest

  • While Greeley was working for peace at the highest level, a grass-roots anti-war movement was disturbing the peace in many UU congregations.
  • Arlington Street Church in Boston became the focus for this movement, certainly as far as national media were concerned. Jack Mendelsohn, its minister at the time, recalls that the church was the scene of many anti-war demonstrations and rallies. There would be hordes of people outside opposing us and plastering the building with eggs. It required the Boston mounted police to maintain order.
  • The most dramatic event took place in October of 1967. Students in the various universities around Boston who had formed an anti-war coalition received permission to hold a service at the church. The church was absolutely packed with students and TV camera teams. Sixty or so young men burned their draft cards. That was shown on TV all over the country.
  • Even more divisive was the sanctuary movement, which offered shelter to draft evaders and in some instances to AWOL servicemen. Arlington Street Church again led the way.
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Unitarian Universalist History

A Bitter Battle about Race, Background

  • When people who have joined the Unitarian Universalist movement since 1969 hear that there was a major walkout at General Assembly they find it hard to believe. What? Among Unitarian Universalists? People seized microphones? Called each other unforgivable names? Spat in each other’s face? How could that be?
  • A little background about that year is helpful. It was the year of the Woodstock Festival. It was the year of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, triggering the gay pride movement. It was the year of the largest ever anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Washington, D.C. It was the year of the trial of the anti-war demonstrators who had battled the police at the Chicago Democratic convention the year before. In the 1968 presidential election following that convention, Richard Nixon and George Wallace between them won almost 60 percent of the vote.
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Unitarian Universalist History

A Bitter Battle about Race

  • Another challenge came from those who pointed out that while we were indeed well represented in the struggle for civil rights, our congregations remained overwhelmingly white, and that only a handful of African Americans had ever been ordained as either Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist ministers.
  • Starting in Los Angeles, some black Unitarian Universalists were losing patience with the UU’s.
  • In response to the turmoil, the Unitarian Universalist Commission on Religion and Race called an Emergency Conference on Unitarian Universalist Response to the Black Rebellion.
  • In October of 1967, some 135 participants including thirty-seven African Americans gathered at New York’s Biltmore Hotel. District executives had picked seventy-six of them; twenty-six were UUA staff or committee members; the rest were ecumenical observers or black theological students. Whether or not they fairly represented the denomination was hotly debated and still a matter of contention.
  • Homer Jack was director of the conference.
  • Almost immediately, however, at the call of black people from Los Angeles, thirty of the thirty-seven African American delegates withdrew to form a caucus closed to whites. There they developed a list of what they called “non-negotiable demands” that would have to be accepted or rejected by the conference in entirely for submission to the UUA Board of Trustees. The core demand was that the Board establish a Black Affairs Council (BAC), to be appointed by the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC), and to be funded for four years at $250,000 per year.
  • Two separate hostile factions developed – BAC and the Black and White Action (BAWA). For some ten years, the factions signified the most heated and irreconcilable division in the denomination’s history. Which group was to lead (and get the money) the UU programs to improve race relations.
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Unitarian Universalist History

Call to Selma, 1965

  • Black demonstrators were stopped by police using clubs and tear gas they tried to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to petition for voting rights.
  • Martin Luther King sent a telegram to religious leaders asking for support.
  • Homer Jack, having just recently joined the UUA staff, immediately urged UU ministers to join him in Alabama.
  • Roughly 100 UU ministers heeded King’s call, including Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb. They were joined by some 100 lay Unitarian Universalists and 350 clergy and religious from other denominations.
  • As a group of UU ministers were leaving a restaurant, they were attacked by a group of segregationist bigots. James Reeb was killed by a blow to his head by a club.
  • A few days earlier, a local black demonstrator, Jimmy Lee Jackson had been killed.
  • Also, Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a Unitarian Universalist from Detroit, was also killed.
  • For a very good account of the day to day miseries of “the march”, read Richard Leonard’s book “Call to Selma, Eighteen Days of Witness”
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Unitarian Universalist History

Robert West becomes UUA President

  • Second UUA President (1969-1977)
  • Robert West was not naïve about the financial situation of the UUA when he ran for president. West had spelled out in his platform his belief that “our movement today is in severe crisis affecting programs, finances, attitudes, and identity.
  • Key points of his platform:
    • To fund the Black Affairs Council not through the denominational budget, but through special voluntary campaigns.
    • To improve communications by starting a newspaper to be sent to every UU member family.
    • To strengthen district operations
    • To address the financial crisis by asking, “What are the essential functions of our continental organization? What does the UUA have to do? What are our priorities? Let us identify three or four and proceed to perform them well.”

Robert West, left,


Gobin Stair former

Director of Beacon Press

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Unitarian Universalist History

Publication of the “Pentagon Papers”

  • The UUA and Beacon Press played a remarkable role in publishing "The Pentagon Papers" in 1971. This was done despite government pressure, harassment, threats, and invasion of privacy which threatened to bankrupt the UUA and Beacon Press.
  • The seven thousand page collection of documents and analyses had been released by Daniel Ellsberg and given to then-Sen. Mike Gravel, a UU member of Congress from Alaska.
  • On October 10, 1971, the Pentagon rushed its own heavily censored version into print, stealing Beacon’s thunder by twelve days. So sudden was their effort that they produced raw, even illegible documents, skipping such editorial niceties as page numbers.
  • On October 27, 1971, FBI agents appeared at the UUA’s bank asking to see the Association’s records. No one would have known about this snooping expedition if a bank vice president, acting on his own initiative, had not called the UUA treasurer. The government got a grand jury to order the bank to turn over all checks drawn and deposited in UUA accounts between June 1 and October 1. The next day, the FBI agents came to “assist” bank employees in responding to the subpoena.
  • Relating to the publication of the “Pentagon Papers”, Gobin Stair states, “It was a watershed event in the denomination’s history and high point in Beacon’s fulfilling its role as a public pulpit for proclaiming Unitarian Universalist principles.”

Daniel Ellsberg,

author of

Papers on the War

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Unitarian Universalist History

Veatch to the Rescue

  • When Carrie Veatch was suffering from spinal arthritis and confined to a wheelchair, Reverend Gerald F. Weary called on her regularly from 1945 to the year of her death in 1953. It is well that people know the story of her growing interest in The North Shore Unitarian Society, including the story of Carrie's life and that of her husband, Dr. Arthur C. Veatch, the noted geologist who left a legacy of royalty rights by which the Shelter Rock Society receives a percentage of the proceeds from the production of oil and natural gas in the North German Plain. I had asked Carrie Veatch whether she should be willing to leave her royalty rights to the church upon her death, and on receiving her agreement, got her notarized signature to a legal instrument that embodied the agreement.
  • Over the next twenty years, the church had been receiving millions and millions of dollars in royalties. The church had granted millions of dollars to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • Specifically, by the middle 1960's the royalty income was well over six figures after the imposition of a West Germany income tax of approximately fifty percent. It was my good fortune to be able to enhance Caroline Veatch's gift by persuading the United States Treasury Department to get the West German government to agree to change their Treaty on Taxation so as to exempt the church's royalty income from the onerous German tax scheme. When this was accomplished in the late 1960's, the royalty income began to exceed seven figures and eventually reach eight figures annually.
  • As former UUA President John Buehrens has written, “You have literally saved the UUA as an organization, revitalized our social witness, dramatically strengthened our efforts in ministerial training, made possible creative new programs, and funded much of what we have accomplished in recent years to grow and extend Unitarian Universalism.”

Caroline Veatch

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Unitarian Universalist History

Introduction to the UU Principles and Purposes

  • One thing we do agree on: we refuse to accept a creed, defining creed as a statement we must accept to be members in good standing.
  • However, we seem to be forever searching for some verbal formula to which we can all (or at least most of us) say, “Yes, that’s what I (more or less) believe.”
  • The original Principles and Purposes were adopted at the time of consolidation in 1960 after all-day, all-night negotiation and debate, the wording had come close to blowing up the whole consolidation process.
  • The new version replaced them in 1984 has but for a single addition, had remained the same for almost 20 years. The single addition was the amendment to the sources section to include “spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
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Unitarian Universalist History



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Unitarian Universalist History



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Unitarian Universalist History





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Unitarian Universalist History



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Unitarian Universalist History





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Unitarian Universalist History




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Unitarian Universalist History




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Unitarian Universalist History

The living tradition we share draws from many sources

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life
  • Jewish and Christian teaching which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.