Our shared faith

Our shared faith

Each strand of our diverse tradition holds up a mirror to our lives and to the society in which we live.


Three years of study and conversation have not brought us to a complete consensus about a common core to our faith. Yet we have found much common ground along the way. . . . Respecting the integrity of individual perspective, we offer the following statements as descriptive of who Unitarian Universalists are theologically:

We are a grounded faith. We are a faith with roots, however lightly held, that go back two thousand years and more. Unlike other more recently evolving nontraditional faiths, ours is solidly grounded in both the realm of history and the realm of ideas.

We are an ecological faith. The “interdependent web” concept of our Seventh Principle is not new to history (the “Net of Indra” in Hindu and Buddhist thought has been around for several thousand years). But in the West this vision of interconnectedness has had an uphill struggle to displace a more hierarchical vision of the nature of the cosmos. We have placed the web squarely at the center of our shared worldview.

We are a profoundly human faith. Whether we see our charge as loving our neighbor or ending the suffering of all sentient beings, whether a transcendent dimension is part of our worldview or not, our primary focus for religious action is the well-being of this world. We wrestle with our ideas about human limitation and human power and acknowledge that our understandings are imperfect.

We are a responsible faith. At our best, we are able to respond to our deep sense of interconnectedness with both the natural and human worlds. Whatever our source of religious inspiration, we understand that humanity must take its responsibility for the state of the world seriously. We humans have created many of the ills from which we and all creatures on this planet suffer. We have the ability to ameliorate suffering, if only we find the will to do so. Our diverse sources of religious inspiration power our will to act.

We are an experiential faith. We are focused more on experience (our own and that of trusted others, past and present) than beliefs. We do not hold with beliefs that contradict our experience, although we recognize that there are realities that can draw us beyond the present limits of our knowledge.

We are a free faith. We are free both as individuals and as congregations. We recognize the authenticity and integrity of each individual’s life journey, and concepts such as “building your own theology” or “composing a faith” resonate with us. We are a faith of heretics (from the Greek hairesis, “to choose”).

We are an imaginative faith. We engage with image and story, garnering wisdom from many traditions and building bridges between them, making a place where creativity can flourish.

We are a relational faith. While we support the individual journey, we ground it in caring community. Relational language occurs more frequently than any other in core-of-faith statements shared with the commission.

We are a covenantal faith. We are held together, from our Reformation roots, by our chosen commitment to each other rather than by creed, ecclesiastical authority, or revealed truth. We began to reclaim that heritage with the language of our Principles. More recently, we have come to recognize ourselves as a dialogical faith; the explosion of covenant groups in our midst reflects this. We are reminded of Francis David’s admonition over four centuries ago: “We need not think alike to love alike.”

We are a curious faith. Freedom and tolerance have been central to our tradition at least since the Reformation. The psychological characteristics and values of people drawn to our ranks suggest openness is a compelling characteristic, even if we do not always live our values of tolerance, acceptance, and respect as well as we might. We acknowledge that our perspective is limited, that we could be wrong, that we live in the midst of uncertainties, yet we are ever open to new insights.

We are a reasonable faith. We do not ask people to check their rationality at the door, and we encourage the practice of disciplined inquiry toward personal and societal assumptions. We challenge idolatries, especially our own. We are positive toward the findings of science, while questioning the values that at times motivate choices in that area, as in every other.

We are a hopeful faith. We are a faith of possibilities, aspiring to be (though we often fall short) a transformative faith, a justice-seeking faith. We would create a space for the realization of possibility, whether we call it the “commonwealth of God” or the “Beloved Community.”

A powerful vision! And one that can be claimed by all strands of the UU tradition. At the same time, UUs should not lose sight of the critiques mirrored by the more newly visible strands in the UU web of community. For theological concerns surface organically when they are called forth by the cry of the heart and the need of the world; these strands are growing because the times call for what they offer.

Neopaganism reminds UUs that we would do well to become a more embodied faith, respecting the power of ritual and the importance of beauty, living more fully in our individual and corporate bodies and therefore more respectful of the body of Gaia. The rise of Buddhist influence in the UU midst reflects a hunger for a more mindful faith, willing to be disciplined, fully present in the moment, and aware of the depths as well as the drama of being, and of UUs’ compassionate connection with all sentient beings.

Feminist and liberation theologies call us to a more prophetic faith, a more risk-taking faith, daring to name what is broken, to challenge assumptions and to take actions requiring discomfort and sacrifice, that we might contribute more effectively to the repair and transformation of our world. They remind us that talking is not enough.

All of these newer emphases within the UU faith tradition call us to the disciplined embodiment of our values and commitments and the strengthening of those qualities that will help us to live them with integrity--to be more whole and to contribute to making the world more whole. This is more than a new spin on “salvation by character” and “service to humankind--onward and upward forever.” It challenges UUs to incorporate a wholeness of being and contemporary ideas into the UU tradition’s long-held commitments.

Every strand of the UU tradition holds up a mirror to our lives and to the society in which we live. Each brings both critique and constructive practice. Every strand has evolved in recent decades toward a more inclusive vision of wholeness and interconnectedness. Each brings a somewhat different perspective and body of wisdom to the circle of dialogue. As UUs grow more diverse, we are also growing toward more solid common ground.

Reprinted with permission from Engaging Our Theological Diversity (UUA, 2005).

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