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The Wellsburg Universalist Church, pictured at left, is located between Cranesville and Albion in the village of Wellsburg and is now owned by Elk Creek Township and maintained as a community center.

The legacy of the Unitarian/Universalist tradition and why it needs reviving

 

Prťcis of address at Wellsburg Universalist Church 150th Anniversary June 5, 2005

 

From 1770 Englishman John Murray and other Americans evangelized New England and the middle colonies with the doctrine that Christís atonement on the cross was to unite the entire human race to God and not send some to Hell. No one was to be excluded from the love of God. This was echoed by Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania, signer of the Declaration of Independence, who said that Universalism was the religions equivalent of the American Revolution that stood for the political equality of all. If as in the Christian tradition all were condemned by Adamís sin was it not just as reasonable to believe that all would be saved by Christís love? The Universalist churches did well in some cities but also in the backwoods and were known in Appalachia as the Ďno-hellers.í

 

Originally Trinitarian in theology, they moved closer to Unitarianism in the next century. This movement originated during the 17th century English Civil War and became the theology of George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson even if they didnít join that church. Later Presidents John Quincy Adams, William Howard Taft, and Millard Fillmore were members, and Abraham Lincoln who never joined a church but had clear sympathies in that direction. In the 1960ís both traditions came together to create the Unitarian Universalist Church know now as the ĎU/Uís.í

 

Why do we need this today? The Universalists recognized that concept of Hell is truly horrible, and it leads to a religion of fear. It is difficult to think of a God who would condemn people to the fires of eternity because they didnít believe in a specific way or sign up for creeds of a particular tradition. Some condemn others who are not of their persuasion and tell them to go to hell, and this leads to demonization. We are seeing that today from Washington to Syria to North Korea and we are experiencing it in the culture wars over abortion, stem-cells, and evolution.

 

Secondly, it is important to have an appreciation for the validity of all the ancient faiths. Our people and our soldiers need to know that the Koran is as holy to Muslins as the Hebrew Scriptures is to Jews and the New Testament is to Christians, and that there is much overlap and connections between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Those who say ĎJesus is the only way to heavení are making it hard for different but sincere believers to live with each other. The Unitarian tradition, at odds with the un-biblical fourth century notion of the Trinity, are opening the way for all faiths to acknowledge each other at last. If Christians say Jesus is divine but Moses and Muhammad arenít, we are due for years of troubles. Letís treat them as equal prophets Ė Moses for the Jews, Jesus for the Christians, and Muhammad for the Muslims, and let us work and worship together for the common causes of peace and justice throughout the world.

 

Rev. Charles Brock

cjb16@psu.edu