Dubious Murray reference in proposed Priniciples and Purposes

Steve Caldwell (Liberal Faith Development) put the proposed bylaws amendment — a.k.a. the new Principles and Purposes — at his site. I don’t think they’re great and I don’t think they’re horrible, and it much better than the earlier draft. I know the revision study was long-mandated, but this seems to be an invented need, rather than a real one and there are plenty of real needs out there, vital new congregation organization among them. (Or we need independent actors to supplant the services the UUA isn’t providing.)

Still, I have one editorial concern: the paraphrase of Murray’s charge to the Americans they use to describe Universalist, the one which begins “give the people not hell, but hope and courage.” I have real doubts that it came from Murray — or that it’s even all that old — and while it makes for an OK devotional slogan, anything that ends up in so fundamental a document should be clear of confection or artificiality.

So I would rather it be proved to be authentic (indeed, that would make me quite happy) or a different description of Universalist should be offered in its place. I don’t expect this to happen, but then again I don’t think this document will capture the hearts and minds of Unitarian Universalists as earlier versions did. That said, I don’t think any version could.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. [“Embracing a good myth”] hardly extends to historical figures who are putatively important to our formation.

    Why yes, attributing a dubious quote to Murray would be just as bad as, say, spreading the dubious rumor that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door (when he may have just mailed them to his archbishop). Of course, no one would consider telling that suspicious story of Lutheranism’s formative historical figure as straight fact. :)

    The sarcasm is meant only as a good-natured tease. More to the point, though, while it’s good for us to raise the question of this quote’s historical accuracy–and I’m glad you’re raising it, Scott; I, too, once tried unsuccessfully to track the quote’s origin–I’m less bothered by its inclusion here, even if someone proved tomorrow that Henry Cheetham misquoted it. It’s as good a brief expression of Universalism as I know, whether or not it originates w/ Murray (an issue on which the bylaws amendment remains mercifully silent), so I think it’s useful here.

    Though your point about “Murray’s” quote being “an OK devotional slogan” raises another question about the bylaws proposal–there’s a lot of devotional language in it. For example, setting the “hope and courage” line aside, there’s this striking passage:

    Capable of both good and evil, at times we are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. When we fall short of living up to this covenant, we will begin again in love, repair the relationship, and recommit to the promises we have made

    While I love seeing UUs acknowledging our human brokenness and recommiting to ourcovenants when we fall short, I’m really surprised to see such language in a bylaws statement. Generally, I agree that the proposal is OK–neither fabulous nor horrid–but far better than the earlier draft. I’m just not sure whether I’m expected to recite it from the pulpit, or quote it in my report to the annual congregational meeting. (Probably I’ll do neither.)

  2. Both quotes are dubious, but since neither Dávid nor Murray are explicitly mentioned, we can safely assume that the “quotes” are actually the product of our “collective wisdom” (which they are, in a way, as most of us assumed those sentences as valid historical presentations of our faith(s)), and therefore I see no major problem with including them in the document, as long as the names of their alleged authors are not included.

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