UU Minute #76

Most Favorable to Piety

Founded in 1825 as essentially a publishing clearinghouse, the AUA slowly expanded its mission. In 1827, the AUA took on a ministry with the poor, hiring Dr. Joseph Tuckerman as minister-at-large to work with Boston’s impoverished. Also in 1827 the Unitarian Sunday School Society was founded by teachers connected with Unitarian congregations in the Boston area – an early step in the development of our Religious Education.

The AUA even turned toward direct fostering of congregations as it extended financial aid to churches in Pennsylvania and Georgia and began to explore the possibility of Unitarian churches west of the 13 original colonies.

Meanwhile, New England’s orthodox congregationalists opened up a new front in their attacks on Unitarianism. Whereas the focus had been on falsehood of the doctrines the liberals taught, the new attacks were that Unitarians didn’t really care about religious truth, morality or piety. Unitarian theology was a way to ignore those things and simply cater to fashionable society – and it was true that the fashionable society of Boston had mostly gone Unitarian. Vice and crime in Boston were up and moral values were in decline, the critics charged, and it was all because of Unitarianism.

Once again, Unitarian eyes looked to their leader William Ellery Channing, and he did not disappoint. Traveling to New York in 1826 for the dedication of Second Unitarian Church, Channing preached a sermon called “Unitarian Christianity Most Favorable to Piety.” Channing argued forcefully that Unitarianism was not only more rational, but also more moral. He pointed out that the conservative’s doctrine of atonement meant that human salvation required the public execution of an innocent man – and he outraged the orthodox by arguing that such a doctrine had no moral authority.

NEXT: Likeness to God

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