Brief UU History

Brief History of Unitarian Universalism

The Unitarian Universalism denomination was formed by the merging of the Unitarian and Universalist churches in 1961.

Both churches were founded in Europe but prospered in the United States. The Universalist Church of America was founded in 1793, the American Unitarian Association in 1825.

Unitarians originally considered themselves to be Christian but did not accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost as three separate beings in a single God). Instead, they believed in the unity of God.

Eventually, Unitarians came to emphasize the humanity, not divinity, of Jesus and were influenced by a variety of philosophies from transcendentalism to humanism. The church has long been active in a variety of social justice causes — including peace, poverty, education reform, prison reform, children’s welfare, and more recently, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.

Well-known Unitarians include Susan B. Anthony, Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, author Louisa May Alcott, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Paul Revere, President William Howard Taft, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Universalists were Christians who did not believe that a loving God would damn anyone to hell for eternity; they believed that eventually everyone would be reconciled with God. The Universalist belief in love and inclusion gained popularity in the American culture of religious freedom, but many Universalist churches were destroyed and ministers killed during the Civil War. In addition, as other denominations adopted a “softer” approach to damnation, Universalism lost some of its uniqueness.

Early well-known Universalists include newspaper editor Horace Greeley; American Red Cross founder Clara Barton; physician, humanitarian and signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush; and George Pullman, industrialist and inventor of the Pullman railroad sleeping car.

By the mid-20th century, Unitarians and Universalists had steadily grown closer in their beliefs and decided to form a new denomination.