A Unitarian is a follower of, or a member of an organisation that follows, any of several theologies referred to as Unitarianism:
- Unitarianism (1565–present), a liberal Christian theological movement known for its belief in the unitary nature of God, and for its rejection of the doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, predestination, and of biblical inerrancy
- Unitarian Universalism (often referring to themselves as “UUs” or “Unitarians”), a primarily North American liberal pluralistic religious movement that grew out of Unitarianism, but later became more associated with Humanism, no longer officially opposing Trinitarianism nor officially supporting Theism, and which holds no specific creeds.
- In everyday British usage, “Unitarian” refers to the organisation formally known as the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, which holds beliefs similar to Unitarian Universalists
- International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, an umbrella organization
- American Unitarian Association, a religious denomination in the United States and Canada, formed in 1825 and consolidated in 1961 with the Universalist Church of America to form the Unitarian Universalist Association
- Biblical Unitarianism, a scripture-fundamentalist non-Trinitarian movement (flourished c.1876-1929)
- Nontrinitarianism, a generic name for a Christian point of view that rejects the Trinity doctrine
Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. Unitarian Universalists assert no creed, but instead are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth, guided by a dynamic, “living tradition”. Currently, these traditions are summarized by the Six Sources and Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, documents recognized by all congregations who choose to be a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These documents are ‘living’, meaning always open for revisiting and reworking. Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) congregations include many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership, and there are U.U. churches, fellowships, congregations, and societies all over America, as well as others around the world. The roots of Unitarian Universalism lie in liberal Christianity, specifically Unitarianism and universalism. Unitarian Universalists state that from these traditions comes a deep regard for intellectual freedom and inclusive love. Congregations and members seek inspiration and derive insight from all major world religions.
The beliefs of individual Unitarian Universalists range widely, including atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, panentheism, pandeism, deism, humanism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Taoism, syncretism, Omnism, Neopaganism and the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was formed in 1961 through the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association, established in 1825, and the Universalist Church of America, established in 1793. The UUA is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches mostly in the United States. A group of thirty Philippine congregations is represented as a sole member within the UUA. The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) became an independent body in 2002. The UUA and CUC are, in turn, two of the seventeen members of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.
Unitarian Universalists practice a non-creedal religion. Their individual beliefs are diverse and they acknowledge each other’s beliefs and traditions with acceptance or tolerance. Rather than focusing on doctrine or belief systems, or on keeping a narrow religious tradition, Unitarian Universalists place primary significance on the formal statements of their mutual covenant, or shared agreement, of religious community. Accordingly, congregants and member congregations of the movement agree to “affirm and promote” the Seven Principles and to embrace a “living tradition” that comprehends the Six Sources as drawn from the multitude of sources of human knowledge and experience.
Main article: Unitarian Universalist Association § Principles and purposes
Adopted in 1960, the Principles, Purposes and Sources are incorporated in the Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Unitarian Universalists emphasize the responsibility of the individual as well as the community for achieving spiritual growth and development. The complete statement of the Unitarian Universalist covenant describes the Six Sources upon which current practice is based:
1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
2. Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
3. Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
6. Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
Over time, Unitarian Universalist principles, purposes, and sources have been changed, or ‘grown’, by the movement to manifest a broadening acceptance of beliefs and traditions among the membership. For example, both the seventh Principle, (adopted 1985), and the sixth Source, (adopted 1995), were added to provide inclusion for members with neopagan, Native American, and pantheist spiritualities.
Approach to sacred writings
Originally, both Unitarianism and Universalism were Christian denominations, and U.U.s still reference Jewish and Christian texts. Today, the Unitarian Universalist approach to sacred writings, including the Christian Bible and Hebrew Scriptures, is taken more broadly:
While Unitarianism and Universalism both have roots in the Protestant Christian tradition, where the Bible is the sacred text, we now look to additional sources for religious and moral inspiration…. We celebrate the spiritual insights of the world’s religions, recognizing wisdom in many scriptures.
When we read scripture in worship, whether it is the Bible, the Dhammapada, or the Tao Te-Ching, we interpret it as a product of its time and its place,…not to be interpreted narrowly or oppressively…Scripture is never the only word, or the final word.
From the beginning we have trusted in the human capacity to use reason and draw conclusions about religion… Each of us ultimately chooses what is sacred to us.
Unitarian Universalists regard the texts of the world’s religions as venerable works of different peoples attempting to understand and explain ‘the mystery’ and ‘the sacred’ that surrounds all human existence and experience. They treat with respect the scriptural works of peoples of all religions or spiritual backgrounds.