I had always wondered how the Unitarian Universalists got to where they are. I've been writing an introductory apologetics for high schooler and UUA is one of the cults I am covering, so I had to do a wee bit of study in my books to put together their history. So I'm now posting most of the section for my course.
Unitarian Universalism is actually the merging of two movements, the Universalists and the Unitarians, in 1959. Universalism teaches that all people are saved and that there is no such thing as eternal punishment because no one is lost. Unitarianism teaches that God is only a unity and not a triune God.
Both these belief systems are contradictory to our non-negotiable doctrines.
Unitarianism has long been a belief, virtually from the first century, but as a movement it can be traced to anti-Trinitarians in 16th century Europe. From there it moved into England in the 17th century, and then to the American colonies in the 18th century. Apparently, except for the anti-Trinitarian belief (including the lack of divinity in Christ), the rest of their theology was fairly orthodox and they considered the Bible as authoritative. But once the doctrine of the Trinity was left behind, it didn’t take long to leave all other doctrines in the dust.
American Unitarianism developed from New England Congregationalism when a liberal wing of the Congregational Church in Massachusetts requested to never subscribe to a creed. However, while the movement was primarily a split of the Congregationalist churches, the first body of Unitarianism was the Episcopal King’s Chapel in Boston in 1785.
When Unitarian philosophy met with early 19th century Transcendentalism, “Unitarianism passed from the status of a heresy to that of a clearly non-Christian philosophy.” (Lloyd F. Dean, The Withering of Unitarianism, p.16-17, as cited in Kingdom of the Cults, p.340)
The “apostle of American Unitarianism” was William E. Channing, who preached a famous sermon in 1819 outlining the Unitarian view. In 1825 the American Unitarian Association was formed and a national conference was established 40 years later. Unitarians have no creed, rather their constitution of the general conference stated that, “these churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding in accordance with his teaching that practical religion is summed up in the love to God and love to man.” (Handbook of Denominations, by Frank S. Mead, p.240)
Universalism has its base in many cultural streams, and is found in many religious systems throughout the world. Christian Universalists claim their heritage in the early Christian Gnostics, and down through numerous teachers over the centuries. Its formation as a religious denomination seems to have started in 1759 by James Relly of England, when he wrote Union, opposing Calvinism’s doctrine of the election of few. His teachings of universal salvation influenced Wesleyan evangelist John Murray, who came to New Jersey in 1770.
Murray discovered numerous groups of like-minded people in New England and then became the minister of one in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1779, the Independent Christian Church of Gloucester became the first organized Universalist church in America. Eleven years later the Universalists met in Philadelphia and drafted their first declaration of faith and established their church government.
“Government was established as strictly congregational; doctrinally, they proclaimed their belief in the Scriptures as containing a revelation of the perfections and will of God and the rule of faith and practice, faith in God, faith in Christ as a mediator who had redeemed all people by his blood, in the Holy Ghost, and in the obligation of the moral law as the rule of life.” (Handbook of Denominations, p.242).
According to Handbook of Denominations, this Philadelphia declaration was adopted by New England Universalists in 1793, about the time Hosea Ballou was ordained in the Universalist ministry. Ballou broke with the teaching of the New England group and, in 1805, published his Treatise on Atonement, which gave the movement “its first consistent philosophy.” “Ballou rejected the theories of total depravity, endless punishment in hell, the Trinity, and the miracles. Humankind, said Ballou, was potentially good and capable of perfectibility; God, being a God of infinite love, recognized humanity’s heavenly nature and extraction and love the human race as his own offspring. The meaning of the Atonement was found not in the bloody sacrifice to appease diving wrath, but in the heroic sacrifice of Jesus, who was not God but a Son of the eternal and universal God, revealing the love of God and anxious to win all persons to that love.” (p.242)
As the belief systems of the Unitarians and Universalists came to become more and more similar, the two organizations merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. As an organization, they have abandoned all historic Christian doctrines and continue to become more and more radical in their liberal views.
Unitarian Universalists have no creed and permit all followers to believe in God as their own consciences dictate. Secular humanism is the primary philosophy, and half the signers of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto were Unitarian Universalist ministers, as were the first four presidents of the American Humanist Association and many AHA leaders.
Unitarian Universalists are known for supporting homosexual unions, abortion, redistribution of wealth, the feminist movement, sexual immorality, and virtually every politically-liberal philosophy. Additionally, as the 20th century progressed, the UUA accepted many New Age/Eastern religious practices such as yoga and Eastern forms of meditation.
Doctrines: Members of UUA hold to many beliefs within each doctrine.
1. No religious belief is exclusive; all religions have truth. Claiming one above any other is intolerant.
2. The Bible is not absolute or infallible; it is a human book with moral, scientific and historical errors. “Reason, conscience, and experience are the final test of all religious truth claims.” (KofC, p. 349)
3. God. One may or may not believe in God, but He will never be triune. God may be a “higher power” or a divine part of the individual. God may also just be a name for the ordering principle in nature.
4. Jesus. Strictly human, a good moral teacher (some may dispute whether he was a good moral teacher). His miracles, virgin birth, and resurrection are all denied.
5. Man originated through evolution. Man has the natural ability to do good and has no original sin nature.
6. There is no sin to be saved from. Salvation is by making this world a better place to live. We save ourselves through developing our moral character.
7. Heaven is not a place, rather it is a state. Hell and eternal punishment are inconsistent with a loving God and therefore do not exist. People experience “hell” as a consequence of bad deeds.
8. Bodily resurrection is unscientific and impossible.
I hope this introductory information on UUA was helpful in understanding them. I have actually posted some other sections from my course, which you can read in the entries on RLDS/Community of Christ, Word of Faith and Christian Science.