Creed concerns

I think ChaliceChick is just right about creeds. Where there is a void, we will attempt to fill it. Where there is an obsession, we will often been consumed by it. So this putatively creedless faith gets tied up around creed issues that liberalish confessional churches don’t bother with.

From my experience, the UU Christians have two distinct concerns:

  • That no creed be adopted, de jure or de facto. Sometimes there’s an appeal to Christian liberty, or simply to the Unitarian or Universalist traditions.
  • That no creed be adopted that would exclude the Christians. I wasn’t there in 1985 when a lot of ink was spilled and anxiety wrought that the Principles and Purposes would do just that. Were you? Comments please.

Little wonder Christians were on the defense for so long. We need to be very careful.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Scott, don’t you think that, in order to be really creedless, we should first get rid of those theological labels, those attachments that we add to our true name and identity? Why this need to keep referring to those religious traditions that very noble and enriching, but which do not deal with the central issues of our religious experience as a movement? We come from a lineage of radical questioners, of people who were always open to new discoveries, always reluctant to accept received dogmas, always radical in their freedom and in their capacity to be bold. I want to be just a Unitarian and Universalist, no further qualifications needed.

  2. My problem with understanding or accepting Jaume’s statement is that it ultimately undermines itself. Even Unitarian and Universalist are theological labels–and labels that are not commonly agreed upon by those who adhere to it. Be free, be bold: but at some point is there no articulation of belief? Or even an articulation of disbelief?

    A creed is ultimately a statement of belief. Go to any creedless church and for each member of the congregation, there is going to be some creed, something which the person of faith is going to say “I believe that …” But is there as shared belief of the congregation? You would hope that there are some shared beliefs. And are there any shared beliefs by all the congregations within the UUA? There’s the tricky question.

    Am I credal? It depends upon your definition. In liberal religious terms, if “credal” is an assumption that everyone’s faith must match mine (i.e,. dogmatic), then no, I am not credal. That just means I’m not dogmatic.

    But I am credal. As a UU, and as a Christian, I do believe. Credo.

  3. ((( You would hope that there are some shared beliefs.)))


    Much like if you ask everyone to list their ten favorite foods, there will be a lot of overlap on the lists.

    But there’s no one definitive list of foods people have to like.

    who is aware that this explanation is sort of stupid, yet is going with it.

  4. I think our collective talk about UU elitism is self-serving stroking. We have almost no entry requirements. We have precious few accomplishments. We have few benefits of membership. Some have some money, but there’s a historic reluctance to acknowledge it, much less give it away. “Elite” has become code for “well-educated.” I suppose that’s generally true.

    But when it comes to applying that well earned knowledge, I think we do (collectively) a miserable job applying it to the very foundational standards that we claim distinguish us.

    We talk about creeds (perjoratively) but has a terribly limited vocabulary about what creeds are, what they are not, what some alternatives are, and why these are preferable to creeds.

    After making this study myself, I found myself much less resistant to creed and much more respectful of creed-writers’ motives. Which, to read most Unitarian Universalists, is merely to stifle free thought.

    Not that we’re doing so well with the thoughts we’re free with.

  5. CC writes:


    Not stupid, and a useful concept. I just want to make sure that I am not misunderstood. I never said that there had to be a required list of definitive beliefs shared by a congregation. I think functionally you’ll find some shared beliefs which keep thet congregation going. But I never said that there was a definitive list.

    It is a semantics thing, perhaps. There is a spectrum, where we go from individual beliefs (personal creeds) to shared beliefs (descriptive creeds) to beliefs which must be shared to be part of the club (prescriptive creeds). Because Unitarian Universalism has an understandable reaction to the latter notion of creedalism, the movement sometimes throws the baby (i.e., the very word creed) out with the bathwater. I hope that makes my point more clear.

  6. Peregrinato, I partially accept your argument as valid. Nevertheless pls keep in mind that the origin of Unitarianism was not the dogmatic affirmation of the One God theology, but criticism of the Trinity dogma as unscriptural and misleading. Then several alternative views were given as substitutes for the rejected dogma, and the Unitarian label was given to that range of non-Trinitarian, rather rationalistic, Gospel-based views of Christ’s status in relation to God’s essence. So in Unitarianism, radical, argument-based criticism and vindication of free investigation of truth comes first, labels come second and usually from opposing parties.

    According to Angel Alcalá, perhaps the greatest Servetian scholar after Bainton, Servetus’s two legacies were the radical investigation of truth, and freedom of conscience and expression in religious matters. I am faithful to that legacy.

  7. Jaume, you’ve given me quite a historical chunk to digest, and I am grateful for that. All I can offer in response, though, is that your original post was “I want to be just a Unitarian and Universalist, no further qualifications needed”, but I don’t think that this is possible, because of the range of interpretation applied to each of those terms (and to the conjoined Unitarian Universalism). Look at the transformation of Universalism from apokatastasis to the “emergent Universalism” of the Humiliati et al. I am not going to say whether or not they are two fundamentally opposed definitions or understandings of Universalism; but I will say that the particulars of the two traditions do not match (one rooted in Christianity, one seen as a break from it). My point here, to be clear, is not that one is Universalism and the other isn’t; or that one is “right” and the other isn’t. But it is not as simple as just saying that they’re “Universalist” without accepting that there is a vast difference. Sometimes, I think, qualifiers are necessary, at least for understanding what we’re saying. That was wordy, and I apologize–but as Pascal said, I did not have time to write something shorter.

  8. Plus, and you’re not going to like this Jaume, but Servetian unitarianism is not the rootstock of American unitaranism (or denominational Unitarianism.) In as much as it is rational Arminianism from New England moderate Calvinism, its identity cannot be divorced from Christianity. That would be to examine the vector without considering the context of its arc.

    The arc is too wide for any part of it to be definitive Unitarianism or Unitarian Universalism. It is for clarity, not sectarianism, that I call myself a Universalist Christian.

    Otherwise, I’ll defer to Peregrinato’s comments

  9. Scott, I know the theory of the “two origins” of Unitarianism well. It says that American Unitarianism has a different origin from continental European Unitarianism, concretely, that it is basically derived from New England Puritanism with scarce, if any, external influence. It has been lately stated in several UU history books, and it has some vocal defenders at both sides of the Atlantic. It is really up to Americans if they want to have a separate origin (then I have to wonder why they care about the Transylvanian Church at all, including Partner Church efforts). I personally think that the theory stresses some fact and downplays others (as any theory does for that matter), and it does a bad favor to American UUism by linking it too closely to the Puritans, and alienates other American communities who have no emotional and historical link to those origins, such as Latinos. I also think that the two-origins theory consciously downplays the role of the Enlightenment and Deism in the building of the Unitarian ideology in America, for purposes that I have yet to fully discern. I think that Western Unitarianism has one origin, not two. I hope to be able to prove in due time that the tradition that comes from Servetus to Poland and Transylvania is the basic line in our common faith, New England liberal Puritans being dependent on that one. But first I have to write a paper on the link between Erasmus and Servetus, to get my Master in Religious Studies! First things first… :-)

  10. Peregrinato, I do think that being a non-hyphenated UU is possible. It requires a great appreciation of our separate religious identity, respect and veneration of our history, trust in our methodological tools, and consistency in our approach. I am one of those who think that a “Trinitarian Unitarian” is indeed an oxymoron. We cannot be all things to please all people, because then we are nothing and please nobody.

  11. I hear what you’re saying. Some things still stand out though. Our “separate religious identity” is not a concrete historical unit; it is a collection of discrete units that have blended together over centuries of history into a single Association. Do not read criticism in this; simply statement of history. I have never said that one cannot be a “non hyphenated UU”. But I am not a non-hyphenated UU, and so in my case–and in the case of other UUs, some qualifications of Unitarian and Universalist are necessary to maintain our own identity. To get rid of theological labels, as you suggest (and other than the label of Unitarian Universalist) is to diminish my own belief. As long as some non hyphenated UUs continue to say “but Unitarian Universalism is so post-Christian”, I will have to continue to qualify myself as a UU Christian.

  12. It is said that when a Chinese leader was asked what he thought about the French Revolution, he replied, “it’s too early to make a judgement on that.” Likewise it is perhaps too early to say that we have achieved total independence as a separate religious tradition.

    Being “discrete units that have blended together” it is not an uncommon fenomenon in the formation of new religions. In his “Lost Christianities”, B. Ehrman argues that differences among 2nd and 3rd century Christians were as big as to look like totally different religions, from Ebionites to Gnostics and from Marcionties to Proto-orthodox. Their books were not the same, their authority figures and traditions were not the same, even their God was not the same (some believed that God the Father and Yhwh were one and the same, others thought that Yhwh was the Devil or a lesser god). The only element in common was the centrality of the figure of Christ in their faith. Compared to them, we UUs look like a friendly bunch of like-minded people. All that changed after Constantine. We won’t have a Constantine, thank God, but evolution is certainly open. So we’ll see, time will tell.

    Thanks for this thoughtful and nice conversation.

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