UU Minute #112

Those Radical Westerners!

As European settler-colonists moved westward, Unitarian churches sprung up west of the Appalachians. In 1852, theses churches formed the Western Unitarian Conference. In 1875, the Western Unitarian Conference hired a missionary secretary: the liberal Jenkin Lloyd Jones.

With Jones’ support, the Western Unitarian Conference adopted a statement that it “conditions its fellowship on no dogmatic tests but welcomes all thereto who wish to work with it in advancing the Kingdom of God.” And Jones set out to encourage the spread of all varieties of liberalism and a scientifically respectable faith they called scientific theism.

It was just what the Free Religious Association was advocating for – but failing to advance – among our Eastern congregations. At the national level, the 1882 National Conference took a small liberalizing step, adopting a new article saying, again, that the statements of belief did reflect the majority view – however, those statements "are no authoritarian test of Unitarianism and are not intended to exclude from our fellowship any in general sympathy with our purposes and practical aims." All the radicals were admitted back into the year-book.

The liberal movement of the Western Conference was not without conservative backlash. By the 1886 Western Unitarian Conference Annual Meeting, Jenkin Lloyd Jones had been succeeded by conservative Jabez Sunderland. Sunderland addressed that 1886 conference:
“Is Western Unitarianism ready to give up its Christian theistic character? A united, purposive, determined group of men want to remove Unitarianism off its historic base to Free or Ethical Religion. This Western Unitarian Conference has been dangerously slipping from Unitarianism's age-old commitment to 'God and worship, to the idea of divine humanity that shines in Christ Jesus.”
But in the West, the liberals had the votes. Instead of following Sunderland, the Western Conference moved toward even greater inclusion of diverse beliefs.

NEXT: Things Most Commonly Believed Among Us

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