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Monday, April 4, 2005

The future of Unitarian Christianity.

Earl Holt, the minister of King's Chapel in Boston, is presenting a pair of lectures the next two Sundays about the historic church's theological tradition. The April 10 lecture is "Whatever Happened to Unitarian Christianity?" The April 17 lecture is "King's Chapel and the Future of Unitarian Christianity." Both lectures will be held at 9:30 a.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr Room at the Parker House Hotel next door to the church.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 4 April 2005 at 10:18 PM

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April 4, 2005 10:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I've been a Presbyterian Christian, a Mormon Christian, and UU nonchristian, and I'm wondering if I might be shedding my nonChristian bias. Have I thrown out the babe with the bathwater. When I taught Mormon adult Sunday School, I would minimized the literal; emphasize the principle. I was accused of never quoting latter-day prophets. C.S. Lewis didn't count.

My question is what is the connection between King's Chapel, UU Christianity, American Unitarian Conference, and the Christian Fellowship.



April 5, 2005 09:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

Great questions, Nancy! King's Chapel is one of the pillars of the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA; its ministers have been champions of liberal Christianity within the Unitarian Universalist movement for ages. (There's also an organization called the Magi Network, which helps support the formation of new Christian churches in the UUA, which King's Chapel did much to support when it was founded a decade ago. Epiphany Church in Michigan and Epiphany Church in Oklahoma are the two new-start churches sponsored by the Magi Network.) Although both Carl Scovel and Earl Holt — King's Chapel's most recent ministers — have been invited to speak to gatherings of the American Unitarian Conference, I have never heard anyone at the church talk about any sort of formal involvement. After all, the AUC isn't Christian!

The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship embraces a wide variety of UU Christian perspectives and isn't rooted in the traditionalist UU Christian churches: Its members are scattered throughout the UUA.

Books worth picking up: Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith. Carl Scovel's Never Far from Home: Stories from the Radio Pulpit is my favorite expression of UU Christianity.

David Dulin:

April 5, 2005 09:54 AM | Permalink for this comment

King's Chapel: practices an Anglican form of worship, teaches unitarian Christian theology;

UU Christianity: merger of Unitarian Christianity and Universalist Christianity; an ideology containing various theological viewpoints and perspectives on God, Jesus, etc; recognizes the imortance of historical Unitarian and Universalist theology and practice, but is not limited to those traditions and/or re-interprets them for modern times;

American Unitarian Conference: a non-UUA organization created to foster the classical Americaan Unitarian tradition, which is a Christian tradition, while still allowing theological and doctrinal freedom;

UU Christian Fellowship: the UUA-affiliated group that corporately fosters UU Christianity (see above);

What is the connection?
...They all foster liberal/progressive views on God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. In effect, to use your words, Nancy, they all "emphasize the principle."

David Dulin:

April 5, 2005 10:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites said: "After all, the AUC isn't Christian!"

I don't mean to be critical of the AUC (I used to be a member and I still value their website), but that has always troubled me. The AUC claims to be about the "classical" Unitarian faith. Well...wasn't the classical Unitarian faith..."Christian"? Yet, the AUC doesn't go that far back, it doesn't go so far to call itself Christian. It's website is heavy with Unitarian Christian material, but they do not coroprately call themselves "Christian" even though the original AUA did. ??


April 5, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

I am a Unitarian and i stand by my faith. :)


April 5, 2005 11:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

My impression of the AUC is that they are an expression of protest against the humanism and atheism that dominated many Unitarian churches for much of the 20th century. They seem to want to return to an imaginary "golden age" of theist Unitarianism as it existed prior to the Humanist Manifesto. The problem is that no such "golden age" aver existed, except perhaps for a few decades in the early 1800's when Unitarianism indeed was strictly Christian. Ever since the Transcendentalist movement of the 1830's and 40's, which emphasized pantheism and monism over theism, Unitarian churches and clergy have been riven by theological arguments and factions. I think the AUC envisions a harmonious synthesis of "Unitarian" Christianity, theism, pantheism, and monism, with a purely devotional/pietistic emphasis that rejects social or political engagement, that has never really existed.


April 5, 2005 02:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yea, what Fausto said. Of course the roots of Unitarianism were theologically Christian, but the AUA got only a few decades of solid Christian-identity in before the Tran's blowed it all up real good, or at least shook it to the rafters.

The AU Conference, as I recall from my early dabblings with them, wanted to be broadly Theist to draw in the maximum number of members/supporters and figured they didn't need to do what the UUCF was already doing.

That said, I wish the Reverend Early Whirly Holt would have picked a more clergy-friendly time to give his lectures. I am POUTING to have to miss them.


April 5, 2005 03:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Peacebang, the lectures are the first in a series for members of the church, but obviously they are of interest to many other people. Knowing Earl, I suspect they'll be in print and available for the rest of us to mull over. I have to miss them, too, alas!

David Dulin:

April 5, 2005 03:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

"...they didn't need to do what the UUCF was already doing."

See, that's why eventually I left, because I figured the people who launched the AUC (Mr. Burton and Mr. Fisher, both being great guys) would have been better off and least criticized had they opted to create a UUA-affiliate catering to theists (after all, they were part of the Conservative Forum for UUs, so in the beginning they were willing to work with the UUA).

Technically, I was only a dues-paying member of the AUC for one year, and for about 2 years I was the "sleep-over guest." But I would honestly like to see the AUC become a UUA affiliate like the UUCF. But then, would that just be redundant? Because as I understand it, even the UUCF has their share of deists and non-christian theists.

But anyway, I'm taking this thread in directions it doesn't need to go (sorry, Philocrites). But I will say there is something remarkable about King's Chapel being sort of a last-pillar of Unitarian Christianity, yet still it remains a happy UUA-affiliated church.

Joseph Santos-Lyons:

April 5, 2005 10:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

David, from what I understand King's Chapel may have been the first Unitarian Christian congregation. Plus, I was told that periodically after the American Revolution they repeatedly tried to re-affiliate with the Anglican church of England. Does anyone know more about this? King's Chapel I am guessing was not originally Unitarian?


April 6, 2005 09:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

King's was originally an Anglican congregation, whose rector was called back to England during the Revolution. They called a young Harvard grad, James Freeman, to be the new pastor, but he objected to the Trinitarianism of the liturgy and with the congregation's consent revised the Book of Common Prayer to remove the Trinitarian references. As far as I know, they remained independent after the Revolution and did not try to return to the Anglican/Episcopal fold. (If they had, presumably they would have been rejected on the grounds of their dissenting Christology.)

For a time they were the only overtly unitarian church in the US, though I believe there were others in Britain. Around 1800, some of the liberal Congregational churches also began to adopt unitarian theology, but not the name. King's eventually affiliated with the liberal Congregational churches in the AUA. They, along with a suburban daughter church in Chestnut Hill, Mass., still use a version of that original Anglican prayer book and follow a high-church (for UUs, anyway) liturgy.


April 6, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

Right now there is a discussion on the UUHS-Chat mailing list on which was the first Unitarian church in the States, King's Chapel or Philadelphia. Please check its archives for details, there are lots of interesting information there for history geeks like me!


April 6, 2005 12:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jaume points to the UUHS-Chat e-mail list, which you'll need to join in order to read the archives. The conversations about King's Chapel and other "first" Unitarian and Universalist congregations go back at least a week under several headings including "First," "King's Chapel," and various other subjects.

Dan Harper:

April 6, 2005 07:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ah, yes, the sticky question -- whatever happened to Unitarian Christianity? Fausto and Peacebang offer the usual Unitarian Universalist interpretation -- the Transcendentalists put an end to Christianity amongst Unitarians.

While this may be our usual UU interpretation, other interpretations of the same historical data are possible. James Turner (not a Unitarian Universalist), in his book "Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America" offers a broader and far more nuanced account of this issue. Turner contends that atheism and agnosticism arose in the mid-19th C. as a result of social historical forces, across broad segments of American society. Other writers point to the religious ferment that happened along the American frontier, again as a result of social and economic forces. So a social-historical interpretation is possible where Transcendentalism is the effect, not the cause.

In terms of intellectual history, one could offer another interpretation: the rise of historical criticism of the Bible through the 19th C., growing out of advances in history, archaeology, linguistics, and hermeneutics, had as much or more influence on American Unitarianism than specifically Transcendentalist theology. Again, which is cause and which effect? Add the influence of Kant and Hegel, the emergence of theology as a separate intellectual discipline, the translation of sacred Asian texts into English for the first time, and the continuing acceptance of scientific method -- and you can easily come up with an interpretation which holds that a new generation (who may or may not have been Transcendentalists) combined an existing very low Christology with new intellectual trends. In this telling of the story, W. E. Channing couldn't/wouldn't keep up with cutting edge scholarship, and I believe there is even some biographical evidence to support this claim.

Finally, I question whether or not Unitarian Universalists have really gotten as far from Christianity as Carl Scovel and others like to say. Every UU congregation that I know of has a weekly worship service on Sunday with a liturgy that can easily be traced back to John Calvin, or in a few cases back to other Protestant liturgies (Lutheran and Anglican liturgies come immediately to mind). Yes, we have our little doctrinal tussles. But from a sociological point of view, we sure *look* Christian. To an Asian Buddhist, I'll bet we look Christian! As Paul Rasor has said, we may be post-Christian, but we're post-*Christian.*

Paul Wilczynski:

April 10, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

I posted notes on Earl Holt's lecture here.

Paul Wilczynski:

April 10, 2005 04:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

I posted notes on Earl Holt's lecture here.

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