Discussion of Commission on Appraisal Report “Belonging: The Meaning of Membership” (Part I)


Commission on Appraisal Report: “Belonging: The Meaning of Membership”
(Part I) March 12, 2017

Led by Rev. James Hobart

Assigned readings: Chapter 1. The Process of Commitment
Chapter 2. Theologies of Membership

Consider:  If you were ever charged with having been a Unitarian-Universalist, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Life-long UU’s are in a decided minority in our congregations (except perhaps in Transylvania).  Most of us are “come-outers” from some other religious tradition or from no tradition.

I.    Historical aspects of Unitarian Universalism

Unitarianism and Universalism were born out of the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth Century – on the basis of theology

Unitarians believed in the oneness of God (rather than the Trinity).  They argued that nowhere in the Scriptures was a trinity described.

Universalists believed in universal salvation based on a loving God.

The radical reformists didn’t agree about purgatory and whether there would be any punishment for misdeeds during one’s lifetime, but they believed that God would save everyone.

When Calvinists established a reformed church and overthrew the Catholics, they felt THEY had the one true church – as did the Lutherans, Anglicans and more.

But the radical reformers believed people would come to their churches out of their own choice.  In Transylvania the king declared he was a Unitarian.  The diet of the country then agreed that people could choose among several approved religions.  This was the first example of religious choice in Europe.

The Enlightenment – supporting the rights of the individual – influenced most all of the organizers of the “American” revolution.

Both the radical reformation and the enlightenment influenced Unitarianism and Universalism.  In America Unitarianism grew out of the Puritan Church in a common background with the United Church of Christ.  The freedom the Puritans offered was to get out of New England if you didn’t want to be a Puritan, and if you didn’t get out, you might be imprisoned or put to death.

Within the congregational church arguments arose about the nature of God (was God judgmental or loving) and the nature of Jesus (was he God or not God).

Jesus may have been the Messiah, but he was human.

The use of reason was introduced into religion.  Members didn’t have to believe the same thing to be part of the same body.  Differences were accepted and seen as enrichments and alternatives.  Alternative theologies produced richer engagement.

II.  There are three categories of Unitarian Universalists:

Those who identify as UU but do not belong to any formal group;.

Those who are UUs by affiliation – including members and non-members who are associated with a congregation;

Those who have fulfilled the requirements of membership, which, at First U Chicago, require signing the book and contributing a minimum recorded amount of money.

III. What SHOULD be required of members?


?taking on some work of the church

?acknowledging the Seven Principles

IV.  Creeds versus credos

Creeds are statements that members must agree to.  Unitarian-Universalism has no creeds.

A credo is a “This I believe” statement

We are a covenantal religion.  Every Sunday we read the covenant beginning “Love is the spirit of this church….”  Covenants are descriptive of who we are as a people

V.  Disillusionment

From the text:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a book on Christian fellowship entitled Life Together, has addressed this subject theologically. He writes, “Only that fellowship which faces such Disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.” He calls the idealization of community a “human wish dream” that “is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.” 

Disillusionments may be like lovers’ quarrels – disagreeing but not leaving the circle – but reserving the right to do so.

An example from the denominational meetings of 1963:  A change to the by-laws was proposed that would have made it a violation to have segregated congregations.  An argument was raised that the member churches were independent and couldn’t be dictated to on such matters, and the vote fell just short of the required 2/3 vote.  The proponents were sorely disappointed by the vote, but determined not to leave the denomination and to continue to push the point, which they eventually won.

Staying in the group through disillusionment causes those in the group to continually re-exam their positions.

Today our member churches are desegregated, but there is a tension between two positions on how to handle issues of racism.  One position is that all our meetings need to be multi-racial.  The other is a strategy that there are occasions when particular groups need to meet together to discuss issues that affect them.  One temporary resolution of the positions is that when racial groups are separated there should be a third multi-racial group for people who wish to remain in such dialogue.

Our religious tradition is one of dissension, and many dissenters have suffered for dissenting.  We believe in the right of dissension.

VI.  We all belong to many things, but our church membership is something to which we commit our whole lives. Therefore we need to think about how we can best support the church.

VII. The nature of the congregation changes with each new member.