There are about 153,000 members of the UUA (UUA Membership Statistics, 1961-2020, uua.org). The top three states by number are: (1) California; (2) New York; (3) Texas (Demographic and Statistical Information, uua.org).
The UUA was formed in 1961 when the Unitarian Church and the Universalist Church merged. Let’s consider each.
1. Unitarian Church
Unitarianism is a belief in one God which rejects the trinity. They believe that Jesus was strictly human and not deity (Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 232). The “Holy Spirit” is understood to be used two ways in scripture. One is another name for the one God. Another refers to God’s nature which He gives man (What is the Holy Spirit? biblicalunitarianism.com). Unitarian beliefs are found in early Christianity. However, the origin of the Unitarian Church seems to be found in Protestant Reformation and later. (a) It has a European connection. “The movement spread from the independent thinkers and Anabaptist in Switzerland, Hungary, Transylvania, Holland, Poland, and Italy to England. There it found champions in such leaders as Newton, Locke, and Milton, but no attempt was made to organize the movement until the late eighteenth century” (Mead, p. 231). (b) It has an American connection. “American Unitarianism, however, developed independently, when members of the liberal wing of the Congregational Church in eastern Massachusetts, who asked that they not be required to subscribe to a creed, were branded as Unitarian.” (ibid).
The first organized church to turn Unitarian as a body was the Episcopal King’s Chapel in Boston in 1785 (ibid). A split occurred within Congregationalism in the nineteenth century. The American Unitarian Association was formed in 1825. It was a missionary society and publishing society. A national conference was established in 1865 (ibid).
2. Universalist Church
A Universalist is one who believes universal salvation. “American Universalism has its direct origin in the work of George de Benneville… John Murray… and Hosea Ballou” (Mead, p. 233). (a) George de Benneville (1703-1793) was a physician and Universalist preacher in Europe and in America, preaching in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (George de Benneville, uudb.org). He believed that the fire of hell would purify and lead to universal salvation (The Universalists: George de Benneville, reddit.com). (b) John Murray (1741-1815). He was once a Calvinist Methodist. He did some preaching in Ireland and England. He was sent to bring back a young woman who had come under the influence of James Relly, a Welsh Methodist preacher who was teaching Universalism. Murray, himself, was converted to Universalism (John Murray, uudb.org). He moved to America. His Independent Christian Church of Gloucester (Massachusetts) became organized in 1779 (Mead, p. 233). (c) Hosea Ballou (1791-1852). He was a schoolteacher and a Universalist preacher in Vermont. He too started out as a Calvinist but became convinced that Romans 5:18 taught Universalism. He published, “A Treatise on Atonement” in 1805. He also began to publish a weekly, The Universalist Magazine, in 1819. These works greatly influenced Universalists. He wrote against capital punishment and slavery (Hosea Ballou, uudb.org).
1. Sacred Texts
“While Unitarianism and Universalism both have roots in the Protestant Christian tradition, where the Bible is the sacred text, we now look to additional sources for religious and moral inspiration… we celebrate the spiritual insights of the world’s religions, recognizing wisdom in many scriptures” (Sacred Texts in Unitarian Universalism, uua.org). They do not view the Bible as inerrant (Unitarian Universalist Views of the Bible, uua.org).
2. Six Sources:
(1) 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;
(2) Words and deed of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
(3) Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life;
(4) Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
(5) 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.
(6) 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 (Sources of Our Living Tradition, uua.org).
Beliefs and Practices
1. Seven Principles
(1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
(2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
(3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
(4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
(5) The right of conscience and the use of the demographic process within our congregations and in
society at large;
(6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
(7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
(The Seven Principles,uua.org)
2. Jesus’ Role
They do not believe that Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God (God is viewed as too loving to be wrathful against man). Instead, Jesus is our Savior in the sense he showed us how to live (Hosea, Ballou, A Treatise on Atonement, archive.org; Tony Larsen, The Problem with Atonement, uufdc.org). Jesus lived to call us to our better selves rather than dying to save us from our fallen selves. They believe that it was Paul who changed Jesus’ role to saving man from the wrath of God (Steve Edington, Atonement and Forgiveness, fculittle.org).
3. Diverse and Inclusive
“Our beliefs are diverse and inclusive… Unitarian Universalists believe more than one thing. We think for ourselves, and reflect together about important questions” (Beliefs & Practices, uua.org).
“People with atheist and agnostic beliefs find a supportive community in our congregations… since the early 20th century, Humanism has been an influential part of our continually evolving religious traditions. Many Unitarian Universalists who are Atheist or Agnostic also identify as Humanists” (Atheist and Agnostic Unitarian Universalist, uua.org).
“Each UU congregation is autonomous” (About the Unitarian Universalist Association, uua.org). However, they do have a headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts (Headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association, uua.org).