UU Minute #111

The Year-Book Controversy

The third National Unitarian Conference, in 1868, and the fourth, in 1870, were both held in Manhattan, and the controversy around the Christian creedal statement continued.

The third Conference passed an amendment that said the statement of belief reflected the majority viewpoint, but it was nonbinding. This failed to satisfy the radicals and served only to irk the conservatives. Conservatives talked of splitting off to form their own organization -- the “Evangelical Unitarian Association” – though nothing came of it.

Then the fourth Conference voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm allegiance to Jesus Christ. The radicals fumed. For the next 12 years the issue did not come to the conference floor, but folks were fussing. There was, for instance, the big year-book controversy.

Every year the AUA issued a year-book that listed all the Unitarian congregations and ministers. Rev. Octavius Brooks Frothingham, minister to New York City’s Third Unitarian Church, sided with the radicals, joined the Free Religious Association, and was elected F.R.A. President. Frothingham wrote to the editor of the year-book and said he doesn’t accept Jesus as his leader, and since the National Conference just voted to reaffirm allegiance to Jesus Christ, he guesses he isn’t a Unitarian, so please remove his name from the list.

Then Rev. William James Potter, minister of the Unitarian First Congregational Society in New Bedford, Massachusetts – the secretary of the F.R.A. – wrote to say he DOES think of himself as Unitarian, but not Christian, so he’ll leave it up to the editor to decide what to do about that. The editor decided to delete all the ministers who had publicly said they weren’t Christian.

The ministers and lay members who identified as both Unitarian and non-Christian were outraged to be de-listed. And, as Unitarianism expanded Westward, the tide shifted in their favor.

NEXT: Those Radical Westerners!

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