They Came From Other Churches

A new survey gives a picture of Unitarian Universalism as a growing movement of (mostly) humanist seekers.

BY: John Dart


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Nevertheless, the denomination-run survey in 1997, to which 8,100 members responded, tallied 9.9 percent who said they were "lifelong members" in answering one question and, to another question on what influenced them to join the UUA, 10.4 percent said, "I was born into UUism."

So, just what is "UUism," the denomination's unusual umbrella term? Though critics usually look upon the UUA as a union of unbelief and uncertainty, the church body's Web site upholds a belief that "personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion." Since "human understanding of life and death, the world and its mysteries, is never final," the association endorses the "free search for truth," or more precisely, "unfolding truths" over time. Underlying its actions is the belief "that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion."

Whereas "human reason and knowledge" was called very important by 96 percent of UU congregational leaders who took part in the multidenominational Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey released early this year, the Bible was termed only "somewhat important" by 50 percent and had little or no importance to 48 percent as a source for worship and teaching. God's presence, at best, was sensed significantly by only 25 percent in church and somewhat by another 36 percent.

As for a preferred theological label, among respondents in the FACT survey and in two other polls previously cited, "humanist" always got the most votes. The UUA's in-house survey four years ago asked church members to chose only one label (though some chose more). The top choices were humanist (46 percent), earth/nature centered (19 percent), theist (13 percent), Christian (9.5 percent), with mystic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim in ever-smaller percentages. Another 13 percent picked "other."

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