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Mary Fairchild

Unitarian Universalism: Christian or Not?

By May 14, 2010

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Flaming Chalice
A flame within a chalice is the symbol representing the Unitarian Universalist faith.
Today in our exploration of Christian denominations, we'll turn our focus to Unitarian Universalism. Without a doubt one of the most liberal faith movements, the official Unitarian Universalist Association website states, "Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion that embraces theological diversity; we welcome different beliefs." Because the religion does not require a belief in God, Christ's divinity, or the trinity doctrine, most traditional Christian faith groups would classify them as a non-Christian cult.

The Unitarian Universalist faith willingly receives people of diverse beliefs (atheists, humanists, Christians, and pagans, to name a few) and promotes broad-minded acceptance of each individual's search for spiritual growth, truth, and meaning. Unitarian Universalist seekers are encouraged to "find their own spiritual path." While the Bible is an important text for some Unitarian Universalists, many seek guidance from other sacred books and religious traditions. According to the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), Unitarian Universalists generally agree that "human reason and experience should be the final authority in determining spiritual truth."

Social justice and serving humanity are two important interests of Unitarian Universalists. You will encounter them fighting for the rights and freedoms of women, working to end slavery, advocating for equality among people of all sexual orientations, and supporting same-sex marriages. In spite of their relatively small numbers, they have managed to be quite influential in waging a number of cultural causes. Most adherents are also comfortable merging the findings of science into their belief system.

If you'd like to learn more about Unitarian Universalism, Jack Zavada has done an excellent job unpacking some of the tenets of this theologically controversial faith group:

Image Courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

Comments
May 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm
(1) Paul Kent Oakley says:

Mary wrote: “…most traditional Christian faith groups would classify then as a non-Christian cult. ”

And probably most Unitarian Universalists would refer to the denomination as “post-Christian” – that is, coming out of a fully Christian heritage (both the Unitarians and the Universalists were Christians, though not quite “orthodox” ones) but no longer as a group identifying with any particular Christian message about Jesus or God or salvation.

Unitarian Universalists take such labels as Christian and Buddhist as identifiers of PERSONAL belief, philosophy, theology, practice, or committment – rather than as identifiers of the denomination, which can include many different personal identifiers.

The problem with Mary’s statement is the assumption that because a religious group does not adhere to orthodox Christian thought, belief, practice, and identity it is somehow a “cult.” The normal negative meaning of “cult” includes such things as mind control or personality cult, not mere unorthodox/ heterodox/ heretical teachings. Unitarian Universalism is no cult. It is just a non- or post-Christian religious movement/ denomination/ religion.

May 18, 2010 at 7:29 am
(2) LRogers13 says:

While I am staunchly Christian, believing whole-heartedly in the resurrection of Christ as the only way to salvation, I do agree that the Unitarian Universalist movement is most likely not a cult by today’s modern understanding of the word – as Mr. Oakley pointed out.

However, it should be noted that Merriam Webster’s first definition of “cult” is: formal religious veneration: worship. According to such a broad definition, any organized religion (including Unitarian Universalist) would be a cult.

May 18, 2010 at 8:42 am
(3) Matty says:

“Post-Christian???”

June 21, 2010 at 9:01 am
(4) David Dalrymple says:

To be Christian is to follow Christ. “Which Christ” you might ask. Well, the only one well know is the Jesus Christ of the bible. The Unitarian Universalists certainly don’t believe in this Jesus. Jesus believed in a God who was creator of all that was and only he was to be worshipped (not the earth or our femininity). Jesus believed in Hell. Jesus believed he was the only way to the Father. Jesus believed we are sinful and in need of a savior. Jesus believed he and the Father were one and he readily accepted worship. The direct followers of Jesus including Paul said that if anyone preached a Gospel other than the one they preached they would be eternally cursed. So, maybe not a cult but CERTAINLY not Christian. If you want to make up your own religion from your own experience and desire then worship yourself and leave Christ out of it.

June 21, 2010 at 9:10 am
(5) Mary says:

To be fair and clear, Unitarian Universalists (as an organization) do not identify themselves as a specifically Christian religion.

August 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm
(6) Anthony says:

I am a Unitarian Universalist. We are in no way a “Christian” organization, though this is not necessarily a bad thing (sorry!). However, the use of the term “cult” would be what is considered a “loaded word”. A loaded word is one in which people reading the word may assume a meaning different than the actual meaning. An author using such a word often intends for people to take the word to mean something intensely negative, and then defends the word with “But you see! In the dictionary, it only means this!” It is a dishonest way to do things.

However, despite the gaff over the word “cult”, this article gives a fairly accurate depiction of our beliefs, which I appreciate. We do, indeed, fight for justice wherever we can…and I think we all know that the world is in need of more of that!

September 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm
(7) Michael says:

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am appalled by your lack of understanding.

“The Unitarian Universalist faith willingly receives people of diverse beliefs (atheists, humanists, Christians, and pagans, to name a few)”
We leave out the atheists (They reject God, and are on the way to being humanist, another no-no) and seeing as though there aren’t any pagans left, we can’t embrace them (The Roman Catholic Church killed them all off a few centuries ago, only after setting Christmas and Easter on pagan holidays).

“Because the religion does not require a belief in God, Christ’s divinity, or the trinity doctrine”
We don’t just believe in God, we know He’s there. You Christians believe Jesus was the son of God, right? Now, show me where in the Bible (our main holy book) Jesus says that he is the son of God. He refers to the Lord as Father, but don’t you give thanks to our Heavenly Father? Also, find where it says anything about the “trinity”. Oh wait, you can do that because Constantin’s minions re-wrote the Bible in the 4th century. Next, I have to say the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry is a load of inappropriate words all piled into one.

The rest of the main article is pretty much true, but I don’t have time to go through all the comments. I know the Lord will guide you through all your troubled times and walk with you through the good. I bid you farewell and goodnight.

September 29, 2011 at 7:53 am
(8) Mary says:

Michael –

Check out this page titled “Are My Beliefs Welcome in Unitarian Universalism?” on the official Unitarian Universalist website:
http://www.uua.org/beliefs/welcome/index.shtml. It says:

“In addition to holding different beliefs on spiritual topics, individual Unitarian Universalists may also identify with and draw inspiration from Atheism and Agnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, Humanism, Judaism, Paganism, and other religious or philosophical traditions.”

December 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm
(9) Jason says:

It is extreme to call Unitarian Universalism (UU) a cult, and it reflects a misunderstanding of what UU is about. Cults have an aberrant dogma. Unitarian Universalism replaces dogma with a dialectic method — a set of guidelines that define what ways are appropriate to discuss individual, personal faith.

Some UU congregations are explicitly Christian, while others draw liberally from other faiths. All individual UUs must respect the teachings of Jesus, whether they believe he was Christ Son of God, or simply one of the great moral philosophers.

While belief in a traditional incarnate God — the “big bearded man in the sky” — is not insisted upon, belief in some kind of “higher power” is, which is what makes it a “faith.” A UU sermon does mention God, but the congregation understands that the person on the pew beside you may have a different conception of exactly what God constitutes — it may even mean “the divine,” or “the gods.”

When I was a UU teen, I was dating a Jewish girl who went to Hebrew school at the temple across the street. She asked if it was OK to attend my church on Sundays. Not only did the rabbi approve, but he encouraged her!

In conclusion, some Unitarian Universalists are Christian, some technically aren’t, though all observe the teachings of Jesus as each understands them. But Unitarian Universalism is NOT a cult, in any sense of the term. Extremists would be more successful arguing that UU isn’t a religion.

January 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm
(10) Becky says:

Unfortunately , my experiences with the Unitarians have been negative. The congregations are warm and open but once they have an opportunity to talk about their beliefs they criticize me for believing in Jesus as the Christ and challenge me to read books that “prove” he is not the Son . I was ridiculed for my belief in heaven! Felt very “antichrist” to me and that says it all.

January 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm
(11) Thomas says:

I am a UU ,and i highly doubt the comment above me. That said i am a theist, and do not believe in the trinity, jesus as god, or many traditions of the “orthodox” church per say. I do believe in god. The creation of the universe by god. I believe god is everywhere, and in all of us. I believe in science. , and appreciate the way my faith and science co-exist. The word cult used by the author of this peice was badly choosen, but i dont feel she was being underhanded in any way. God bless you all.

February 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm
(12) Kevin says:

Why call yourself a Church? That is what confuses people. It seems Unitarian Universalism is like-minded liberals with common goals. It appears to be more of a club, not a Church.

April 6, 2012 at 10:35 am
(13) Tracey says:

I am not an expert on “religion” and cannot quote or refer to historical tenets or dogmas. I do not propose that one way to worship or believe is superior to another. For that reason I chose the Unitarian Church. I do not agree that I joined a cult. No one insisted that I join, and no one holds me to my decision save myself. In short, the arguments here are the same as they have been in all time…what way to believe is “right”? When will we allow beliefs other than our own to be just?

April 12, 2012 at 9:35 am
(14) Chris says:

The author’s characterization as a “cult” is off-base. Kevin’s observation is fairly accurate, though the word “club” connotes membership or exclusivity, and I’m not sure that’s exactly correct, considering the characteristic openness and inclusiveness of many UU congregations. My wife and I, both members of a UU church, often jokingly refer to it as “un-church”, a double entendre that not only represents an abbreviation of “Unitarian church” but also signifies its differences from mainstream Protestant denominations; as Kevin notes, in many ways it’s “not church”–at least not like the churches in which we grew up.

I would also add that there are many believers and non-believers alike in our congregation, and that they all seem to have found a happy home in which to practice religion and explore questions of faith and spirituality.

July 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm
(15) Calvin says:

I’m a Unitarian Universalist..and yet, I’m also a Christian Universalist
To say that UU is christian, I won’t say that. To say that UU is a cult, it’s definitely not that. To say that UU is a religion, I don’t quite understand, there is no religious doctrine. There is only one common belief, Universal God. And as a Christian Universalist myself, I stand on the grounds of Judeo Christian to believe Jesus is Adam, He’s the Son of God, and that God is universal, wants everyone to believe via Jesus Christ, but also setup many other belief systems for others to come to him. Eventually, through Christian Reincarnation (Origenist), everyone will believe in him.
Other UUs have their own belief system, they may come from other religions, UU has only the 7 principles and defines itself only by harmony and respect in everyone’s beliefs. To me, it’s a congregation of different believers, not a cult definitely, not a religion and also not a christian denomination, it’s an organization.

July 24, 2012 at 9:42 am
(16) kevin says:

So the Unitarians mocked you for believing in the resurrection, that’s sad, but try an experiment, go to a fundamentalist church and tell them you don’t be in the bible as the literal word of God.
They won’t mock you, because they’ll too busy kicking you out the door.

September 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm
(17) Darren says:

My “Agnostic” step mother took me to a Unitarian church when I was 18 years old telling me that Unitarians were accepting of all religions and faiths, I steped through the doors of the church and felt (not knowing until years later) the immediate lack of God. (Where he is not welcomed, he will not be) The “sermon” that Sunday was how to HATE a Christian. I was filled with so much rage that Sunday, that I was ready to kill someone. It wasn’t until I left the front doors of the Unitarian church that the rage left. The Unitarian church undeniably is a Cult, and an unaccepting group to boot.

October 13, 2012 at 10:01 pm
(18) Brad says:

I came from a conservative Christian up-bringing where we were taught we were the one true christian faith and everyone else just didn’t get it. Now in my late 40′s I have lived in various places in the country, and gradually worked my way through different Christian denominations,ending with a liberal United Church and finally to UU church. I stayed for 7 years working on several committees and taking on some leadership responsibilities.

Not unlike what others had mentioned, I also experienced some persecution there for those, like me, who wanted to maintain some of their christian beliefs. Of course, because it is a very mixed group – there were many angry christians (many lapsed roman catholics), who were angry with their base faith and left to find a religious place of acceptance, including jews, humanists, atheists, wickens, and other spiritual groups.

Religions other than christianity were always welcome, and open for discussion. In fact many services were dedicated to discussing other religions, but rarely Christianity.

I

November 2, 2012 at 5:09 am
(19) Harimau says:

I read through all of the comments and found them enlightening in trying to understand what Unitarians believed in and whether whatever that was could be fairly called Christianity. I’ve come to the conclusion that at one point it was, but the drift over the years to openness and inclusion over faith and core spiritual beliefs means that it no longer is. Some members may have Christian beliefs, but that’s a facet of that individual, not a tenet of the UU church. To use an analogy, the members all have saddles but only a few have horses. That’s of little consequence since the religion revolves around the commonality of interest in saddles, not in horses. For myself, I’m not sure I see the value of the saddle without underlying value of the horse. But that’s just me.

H

November 10, 2012 at 10:46 pm
(20) Julie says:

I am a Christian that attends a UU church. A consideration that has been omitted here is that UUs’ focus on this life, because that is an experience we can all agree on. So the focus of the service is on social action, equality and supporting each other and our communities. Because we come from different faith traditions, and have different understandings of an afterlife, that cannot be the focus, whereas it plays a much larger role in traditional Christian churches.

I do feel badly for those who come to a UU congregation and find the lack of Christian-centric thought to be ostrisizing. But take comfort in the fact that that is not typical of all UU’s, and that churches are a community of people, and people make mistakes. I have yet to feel that way in my own congregation, and when I was concerned others may find my Christian frame of reference offensive, my atheist minister assured me that it was as much my home as hers.

November 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm
(21) Morgan says:

I’m sorry to hear that some people have felt ostracized in UU churches for any sort of beliefs, but you shouldn’t base your opinion of UUism entirely one one congregations conduct. The nature of our religion makes for many very different communities using the same name, so it’s easy to understand how people become confused. That being said, all UU’s are supposed to follow the Seven Principles, which are guidelines to help us function as a group and as individuals. They can be found here
http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/

May 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm
(22) Melyssa R says:

I have reported Ms. Fairchild to about.com. It’s obvious that she did virtually no research into the topic. There are hundreds of books, a magazine that has been published for years, and probably a hundred websites that a real writer could use to research this topic. She has chosen to do an incredibly shoddy job of researching, visit one church, and write a shallow, ridiculous piece of “my opinion” fluff. Not a real writer. Does not deserve any space on about.com.

May 31, 2013 at 10:08 am
(23) Mary says:

Dear Melyssa R –

I’m so sorry you felt our research on the UUA was “shoddy.” I assure you that Jack Zavada, the author of the three articles about the UUA, did extensive research. In fact, he and I were both in direct contact via email with a staff representative from the Unitarian Universalist Association, who supported our efforts to present the UUA on About.com and welcomed our use of their logo.

June 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm
(24) Lee Kronick says:

I won’t get into any deep philosophical discussions, now, but I joined a Unitarian congregation and we refer to our organization as a “fellowship.” I kind of like that term. “Church” is sort of a Christian term. Webster New Collegiate defines “church”: 1: a building for public and esp, Christian worship. So, I like “fellowship.” Again, Webster defines it as: 1: COMPANIONSHIP, COMPANY 2a: community of interest, activity, feeling , or experience 3: a company of equals or friends ASSOCIATION.
My organization is call the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Boca-Raton…affctionately referred to as “the UUFBR.” Incidentally, I joined our choir ’cause I’ve got a great seat to watch our minister give her really meaningful sermons and, of course, I would never fall asleep. Oh yes, and I love singing and we have an amazing choir director.

June 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm
(25) Justin says:

The author used the word “cult’ in the most true and academic sense here.

September 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm
(26) Marcus says:

May I just comment here, that if the Unitarian Universalist Church is indeed open to ALL faiths, then they could possibly have a congregation with satanists, muslims, and christians, right? WRONG! If ANY of those people ACTUALLY believed in the base parts of any of those faiths, they would be so indisposed toward each other, that even a “welcoming” and “accepting” congregation wouldn’t be able to bring them together. So, basically what I am saying is that the Unitarian Universalist Church is NOT unique. There is another word for what their “church” represents-secularism. Secularists don’t necessarily reject God, but they do reject religion. I guarantee you that they are not the only secularists. The UU’s seem to be just a club of people who don’t really know what they believe, because there are no definitions of what the true God is in their church. This seems to be what they worship as their fundamental “success,” but I assure you that it could be their biggest weakness, as well. Extremist believers of any faith could easily stir up unrest in such a congregation, because they would be “welcomed” and “accepted.” For having their own beliefs. And the fact that they are welcomed isn’t the fault. It is the fact that the church adheres to no specific TRUTH, and therefore, those who do adhere to a specific TRUTH in the congregation would immediately be at odds with everyone else.

September 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm
(27) Marcus says:

(continued…)
This comes to the base discussion of “There is no absolute truth.” This is an outright contradiction within itself. If there is no truth, then the statement “there is no absolute truth,” could not be true. So there is truth. And the UU’s don’t define it. This is why I would argue that they are open to attack from those who have established what truth is (although only one truth can be right, remember, which means only one religion/faith/belief can be complete truth). The UU’s have no true fight-they can’t even argue that there is a God, because they must also accept Atheists. They cannot be right, because they have established no truth to prove.

October 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm
(28) Barb L. says:

For the Christians here who claim they experienced so much Godlessness or hate for the Christian way among Unitarian Universalist fellowships you must understand this is a faith that DOES welcome all beliefs excluding the ones that condemn or oppress. At our fellowship we often have reverends or chaplains that teach from the Bible and I myself teach the children’s groups there Bible stories. I was raised Baptist, but never truly felt “God” until I discovered the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. We are not a cult, club, or church, but a FELLOWSHIP!

October 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm
(29) Roddy says:

I am open to evidence to the contrary, but I see UU’s as primarily a group that supports armchair spirituality. You never see UU hospitals or schools or nursing homes or digging wells for villages in Africa, although as individuals they may donate a tiny pittance now and then. And if you’re down and out and about to become homeless, the best they will do is not to sue you for your pledge. UU’s gather around what they aren’t. They aren’t theists, or they aren’t fundamentalists, or they are oppressing the poor and needy. Whoop dee doo. At least they only charge a buck for pretty good coffee before and after services.

October 25, 2013 at 3:47 am
(30) Keith says:

I feel the term “cult” is misleading, though I don’t feel the author intended disrespect when using it. I am saddened that some of you felt repressed at a UU church, as I feel this is the antithesis of who we are. While we are diverse in our beliefs, we do hold our seven principles to be sacred (the first of which is the inherent worth and dignity of every person). If you have had a bad experience, please do not judge all UUs based on that experience. My congregation strives to be inclusive, and actually does a pretty good job. Christianity as a whole has difficulty coming to agreement although they have the same core beliefs, so you can imagine how difficult it can be to have a church where even basic beliefs are radically different. I would ask you to exercise patience and compassion. We too, are only human. Peace.

November 11, 2013 at 10:15 pm
(31) Julie says:

Probably the best way to answer this question is that Christians can be Unitarian Universalists, but not all UUs are christians. I would not classify UUism as being a christian denomination. Historically speaking, however, both Unitarianism and Universalism, the two movements which merged to create Unitarian Universalism, came out of Christianity.

December 4, 2013 at 7:12 pm
(32) Mavis says:

Cult? Really? Comments like this are exactly why I have abandoned the mainline Christian church and sought & formed a deeper relationship with God in the accepting and non-judgmental environment that is UU.

“It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.” ~ C.S. Lewis

December 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm
(33) Kate says:

I have been accommodating my family’s fundamentalist Christian beliefs most of my life. When I hang out with UUs I have to accommodate being politically correct all the time. At least the UUs don’t send me Christmas cards with “you are going to burn in hell” ( which I don’t believe in) threats. The UUs just make me feel responsible for the environment and the poor ( jokingly said). I should mention that I am not a member but have been attending UU services, education classes and working along side them in various community social services throughout the years.

UUs are very big on world religion classes here on the West Coast. The one that I attended over a period of weeks did not seem at all biased. UUs are the very opposite of a cult IMHO.
If you have been brainwashed and subjected to religious patronization and dogma from childhood I can understand why being allowed to follow your own conscience and experience can seem like feeling adrift at first.

January 24, 2014 at 6:18 am
(34) Cactus Pete says:

Let’s remember that Unitarians prior to 1961 were very different than the Unitarian Universalist church of today and these Unitarians dated back centuries. The American Unitarian Association, formed in 1825, was one of these. Later, in 1961, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which is the largest organization of Unitarians in the US. The UUA is no longer an explicitly Christian organization and does not focus exclusively on the core teachings of Jesus Christ or Christianity. Unitarianism,, named for its understanding of God as one being, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one being. Traditional Unitarians maintain that Jesus is in some sense the “son” of God, but not the one God. My beliefs lay along the lines of these traditional Unitarians that date back to the 1600′s, but not really the new Unitarian Universalists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarianism

January 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm
(35) Fred says:

I am a Unitarian Universalist. UU is the opposite of a cult. UU’s tend to take a very analytical and critical but respectful approach to everything. A UU joke is that UU’s always sing the hymns out of time because they are reading ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics.
What is important to understand about this faith is that it explicitly does not tell its members what to believe. It is a religion that supports each person’s search for truth. Some find it in science, some in nature, others in traditional religious doctrine, or in personal revelation. In this sense, we are all prophets, discerning as well as we can the meaning of it all.
As a faith, we support one another to find and live our truth as we know it.Central to our faith are values of loving God (or spirit) and loving one another. And as a faith, we work together for justice and peace. You know, making the world a better place.
I know that it is difficult for a person who accepts a doctrine to understand a faith tradition based upon an individuals quest for prophetic insight and understanding. But let me just suggest, I will respect yours and you can respect mine.

February 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm
(36) HLM says:

If cult membership requires “worship” then perhaps UU is NOT a cult, as UUs do not necessarily WORSHIP anything.

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