Mrs. Unitarian

Philocrites touches on a matter bothers me very much: the false appropriation of Universalism as a moniker for “Unitarianism lite.” Not that the Universalists didn’t originally collude in this arrangement; even in the nineteenth century liberal forces among the Universalists were cozying up along side the Unitarians. But they knew who they were.

Today, “neo-Universalists” pretend the tradition is made up of bumpkins who frequented revivals (quite the opposite) and who were soft-hearted saps. (Again, quite the opposite; if anything, old Universalists were rather fierce, but I wouldn’t want to re-institute their debate mentality.)

If anything, “neo-Universalists” are guilty of applying insulting and anachronistic sex roles to the respective traditions, and make Universalism the fawning, none-too bright wife of Unitarianism, who nonetheless is teeming with mother-love and good feeling for all. Mrs. Unitarian looses her name, identity, home, and income. (The fable paints “her” as poor, but the history is plain about how the Universalists bailed out the Unitarians after consolidation.) If there is a different between the Unitarian ways and the Universalist ways, we know who always loses. (Except for the Central Fellowship Committee qua Ministerial Fellowship Committee, which covers half of the old Universalist role. In the day, Universalist churches were subject to fellowship rules like ministers were. But instead of seeing today’s MFC as an imperfect Universalist inheritance, it is often derided as “creeping Presbyterianism” or worse.)

I used to get mad about this inequity. Now I just keep hammering away about what Universalism is, and what it is not.


  1. I agree that there is something to the notion that Unitarianism is seen as “male”/intellectual and Universalism is seen as “female”/feeling. And it may well be that it’s inaccurate. Certainly, despite my femaleness I am more comfortable in my intellect than in my emotions. And I know that Universalists such as Hosea Ballou were every bit as rational as Unitarians such as Channing.

    I don’t, however, see why this “myth” should be considered insulting to Universalism. To take offense at this presumes that intellect is superior to compassion and that male is superior to female. And actually, I see some utility in this myth (which may be why it’s so prevalent and oft repeated) in that it emphasizes the need for balance between the two. They are equally important.

  2. It’s insulting because it’s an idea about Universalism that was imposed upon Universalism, particularly by Unitarians. The vast majority of Universalist writers would have seen themselves as learned, even heady, and if not schooled then rational. Even if it has utility, it’s based on falsehood.

  3. If something has spiritual utility then it is “true” regardless of whether it is factual.

    Point taken on the imposition. Tho I still can’t help but get the sense from your OP that part of the offense is in thinking that “female/feeling” is somehow “less.”

  4. Believe what you will: I’ve made my case already. But think also that your definition of spiritual utility has a Colbertian ring of “truthiness”.

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