UU Minute #116

How John Dietrich and Curtis Reese Met

The great collaborative friendships in Unitarian history include:
Ferenc David and Giorgio Biandrata,
Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestly,
Eleanor Gordon and Mary Safford.

To that list must be added John Dietrich and Curtis Reese. It began like this.

In 1911, John Dietrich, a Reformed Church minister facing defrocking, resigned from that denomination, became a Unitarian, and began serving the First Unitarian Society of Spokane, Washington. Through long and meticulous sermons, he developed an approach to religion without Jesus, God, hell, heaven, or even souls. By 1915, he was calling this approach, “humanism.”

In 1916, after 5 years in Spokane, Dietrich accepted a call to serve the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis where he continued to develop and build his case for humanism.

Meanwhile, Curtis Williford Reese had encountered biblical criticism in seminary, and it planted seeds of doubt. His first pastorate had been at a relatively liberal Baptist church in Ohio where he could and did say what he believed – but couldn't and didn't say what he didn't believe. He didn't believe the infallibility of the Bible, nor the virgin birth, nor redemption through Christ, nor eternal damnation. Eventually, Curtis Reese switched over to the Unitarians, because they accepted his nonbeliefs as well as his beliefs and because they embraced the social gospel movement, which saw social justice as an imperative. Reese accepted a call to serve the Des Moines, Iowa, Unitarian Church.

In 1917, the annual meeting of the Western Unitarian Conference was held in Des Moines, with the Des Moines minister, Rev. Curtis Reese, serving as host and Rev. John Dietrich, down from Minneapolis, attending. So that is where John Dietrich and Curtis Reese met.

And that meeting was the beginning of a friendship, and the beginning of the movement called American Religious Humanism.

NEXT: Reese Shocks the East

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