UU Minute #114

Noncreedalism Victorious

Unitarianism started out as noncreedal – and for many of us in the early 1800s, being noncreedal was fine as long being Christian could safely be assumed. Sixty or so years later, around the end of the Civil War, when a few Unitarians began to identify as nonChristian, that assumption was no longer safe. The Conservatives among us then felt that an official declaration positioning Unitarianism within Christianity was necessary after all.

So, starting in 1865 at the first Unitarian national conference, the conservatives, who wanted Unitarianism to declare itself Christian, and the radicals, who didn’t, were at odds. Finally, after almost 30 years, at the 1894 General Conference in Saratoga, New York, a compromise was reached that was acceptable both to Henry Bellows’ “Broad Church” conservatives and to the Free Religious Association radicals. The new statement made reference to the religion of Jesus, but asserted that this religion reduced to “love of God and love to man.” It emphasized our congregational polity, and cordially invited to “our fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and practical aims.”

Two years later, in 1896, the conservative Western Unitarian Association folded – just ten years after it had begun and despite having initially had all the backing of the national body. The radical Western Unitarian Conference had prevailed.

We had come back to the noncreedal principles from which we began, and the Free Religious Association had played a key role in bringing about the shift. The F.R.A. included some nonUnitarians, but its main function was to keep the Unitarians true to noncreedalism. That function now fulfilled, the F.R.A. began to fade – though it continued 20 more years before dissolving in 1914.

The ground was laid for the emergence of Unitarian Humanism.

NEXT: Origins of Unitarian Humanism

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