The ever-new promise of Universalism.
The reporter was writing a story about Christian Universalism, a still-small, emerging movement within American Christianity that believes everyone is saved regardless of whether you are Buddhist or Baptist, Mormon or Muslim, Jew, atheist, gay, straight. Everyone is saved. Belief in Christian doctrine is not required. This belief was (and is) at the heart of Universalism, and, although we use different language, it is one of the most important beliefs of Unitarian Universalism today. Remember the first of our Seven Principles, affirmation of the “inherent worth and dignity” of every person.
There is a Christian Universalist Association, and one of our congregations is a member. But the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is the current and most significant embodiment of Universalism. And so the reporter decided to come to us for information.
The reporter said: I’d like to ask you a few questions about UU worship. Do you sing hymns?
Yes, I replied.
Would I recognize any of them?
Well, you would probably recognize some . . . but we have changed a lot of the words.
Do you pray?
Well, some of us do.
Do your ministers preach sermons?
Oh, yes indeed.
Do you use the Bible?
Well, yes, but we also use many other sources of religious inspiration.
And what do you believe about Jesus?
The interview, which I did on the phone, went on for 30 minutes, and frequently I had the image of the devoted Christian reporter simply scratching his head as I tried to explain our faith.
But we did find common ground when we talked about the Beloved Community, the “Kingdom of God” in the Christian metaphor. We agreed that the Kingdom of God lives in the human heart. And that my faith, our faith, and his faith call us to work for justice and to end oppression.
I do the translation from Christian to Unitarian Universalist with some ease. What I believe is that we can reach across the divides of religious language and belief, that we can partner with Baptists as well as Buddhists. Perhaps an authentic Universalism will find its way into enough hearts so that we can leave religious divisiveness behind. Perhaps enough people will be called to let justice roll down like water. Perhaps. . . .
The Rev. Carlton Pearson is a black evangelical preacher whose spiritual journey led him from Oral Roberts to a universalist theology that he calls the Gospel of Inclusion. His conversion didn’t please everyone—he was denounced by almost all of his former supporters, and his once 6,000-member megachurch dwindled to a few hundred before finally closing. But despite the setbacks, Pearson has held firm to the inclusive message of universalism. He and his family joined the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Tulsa and have encouraged the remaining members of his old church to join as well. Perhaps more religious leaders will find a similar renewed message of hope.
That hope supports me and my ministry as UUA president.
And I can’t wait to see how the article comes out.
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The Rev. Bill Sinkford is a former president of the UUA and now senior minister at First Unitarian in Portland, Oregon. He was appointed Interim Co-President for the roles of President as outlined in the UUA Bylaws on April 10, 2017.