Monday, June 6, 2011

What Is The Difference Between Unitarians & The Unity Movement?


After the Sunday morning service at my spiritual centre this past Sunday, a fellow community member approached me with the question that I have faced numerous times: What is the difference between the Unitarians and Unity? I am the recipient of this question because I have had the pleasure of being part of both communities in recent years. Also, this past weekend I "Facebook Shared" a link to a 20-question online survey which postulated, based on your responses, which religion you were best suited for. Many of my friends, along with myself, had Unitarian Universalism in their top ten (for the record, Unity was not listed as an option, though New Age and New Thought were).

So why not attempt to answer the question "What is the difference between Unitarians and Unity?" I make this attempt solely on my experiences within my local Unitarian and Unity communities, and fully admit that my opinions/observations could be quite different from others.

First of all, no, Unitarians and Unity are not the same thing; this is a common misunderstanding. It's easy to get confused based on the names - and this article isn't even taking the United Church or the Unification Church into account!

A Bit Of History...very abbreviated

Unitarian Universalists

"The origins of the Unitarian movement were in 16th-century Europe. New patterns of thinking had emerged in the Renaissance, beginning in Italy, while further north the Protestant Reformation had affirmed the right of private judgement in matters of religion. But the established authorities, whether Catholic or Protestant, set boundaries beyond which thinking was not to venture. There were some few independent thinkers, however, who were not prepared to accept such limitations, and felt morally obliged to follow wherever their unfettered reasoning would lead them. Persons of this kind eventually became the founders of the Unitarian movement."

Initially, Unitarianism was considered to be a branch of Christianity, the big difference being that Unitarians believed God was One, rather than being a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Thus the name Unitarian.

Unitarianism has a long and widespread history. Some famous Unitarians include U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Taft, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. More recently, authors Robert Munsch and Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) considered themselves Unitarians.

In the early 1960's, the Unitarians joined forces with the Universalist Church. Universalists believe that God saves everyone and that no one goes to Hell.

The Unity Movement

The Unity movement was founded in 1889 in Kansas City by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore after Myrtle claimed that she was healed from tuberculosis through the practise of prayer. The Fillmore's studied under various spiritual teachers and founded several organizations/publications under the Unity umbrella, such as Unity School of Christianity, Silent Unity prayer ministry, and Daily Word, a publication of inspirational writings. The Fillmores and others within Unity interpreted Christianity and the Bible differently than mainline Christianity, choosing to view them metaphysically rather than altogether literally.

Similarities Between Unitarians & Unity

1) Both religions/movements have no set creed or dogma which one must believe in in order to be "saved."

2) Both embrace that there are many ways to experience religion/God and that no one has the absolute only "right" answer.

3) Both Unitarians and Unity generally embrace the gay and lesbian community, though both would probably admit there is still work to be done to make their congregations even more welcoming.

4) Both Unitarians and Unity believe 100% in the equality of women and men. (During my time within both movements I have had 3 ministers, all women.)

5) While, as mentioned Unitarians and Unity have their roots within Christianity and ties to it, I would argue that both are moving steadily away from being able to be called Christian movements. Unitarianism in particular is it's own liberal religion and very few adherents in some congregations would consider themselves Christians. More people within Unity would be comfortable calling themselves Christians, but this too is changing I believe. As a reflection of this, many Unity congregations are dropping "Christianity" from their names (For instance, my congregation recently changed its name from Unity Centre of Practical Christianity to Unity Kitchener.)

Differences Between Unitarians & Unity

I would say that Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion, while Unity is a spiritual movement. Now, in saying this I add the caveat that this does not mean that Unitarians are not spiritual and that those within Unity aren't religious. But in general I would use those definitions.

Unitarianism today has a strong humanist contingent who would say there is no God. Meanwhile, most within Unity would say that God does exist (though many would refer to him/her by a different name.)

Again, my experience (and I stress MY) has been that Unitarians are more religious and Unity is more about spirituality. This might be a good time to list the Unitarian Principles as well as Unity Principles. Again, these are not creeds by which one must be "saved." These principles are as follows:

Unitarian Universalism

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

1)The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2)Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3)Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4)A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5)The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6)The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7)Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The Unitarians also have a list of sources which they draw upon:

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

1)Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
2)Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
3)Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
4)Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
5)Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
6)Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Unity Principles

The five basic ideas that make up the Unity belief system are:

1) God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
2) We are spiritual beings, created in God's image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
3) We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
4) There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our connection to God.
5) Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.

I would note that probably every member of Unity would agree 100% with the Unitarian principles, while many Unitarians would not agree with the Unity principles. This isn't a critique, but an observation.

Why I Switched From Unitarianism To Unity

As a bit of background, I was raised as an evangelical Christian and eventually took these beliefs to be my own. There was God the Father, His son Jesus, whose blood sacrifice was the only way humankind could be saved from Hell, and the Holy Spirit who came afterwards. After high school I attended Bible college for 3 years with thoughts of perhaps engaging in missionary or ministerial work. However, near the end of my time at the Bible college, I began to seriously question some of the major tenets of evangelicalism, namely the existence of Hell, and the belief that Jesus was the only way to Heaven. I left the college and for a couple of years did not attend church anywhere. But I always believed in something more, something divine; that never left me. So I thought I'd check out some other options rather than evangelical churches. First I attended a United Church; while they were very nice, there was still too much Christian language for me. And then I ventured into the Unitarian congregation which was located near where I lived. Immediately I felt that I was in the right place. I was welcomed by members and the minister and am friends with several to this day. People were free to believe whatever they wanted to with no threat of judgment hanging over them. I was part of the congregation for probably about 2 years, and found them to be a warm, caring community. Some accuse Unitarians of merely being a "social club," but this is not the case.

If I liked it so much, why did I leave? Because I was missing spiritual direction, I was missing that divine aspect that I had never stopped believing in or experiencing. I strongly believed in God/Mother/Spirit, but I didn't get the sense that most others in the congregation believed similarly. As a reflection of the congregation, sometimes you didn't hear much about God at all on a Sunday morning.

So I checked out Unity and am now a member there as well as having the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors. When I look at the Unity principles, I agree with all of them, very strongly in most cases. I believe in the existence of the Divine, which is about goodness and oneness. I believe that the Divine lives in everyone and everywhere. I believe that I am divine in nature, as is everyone else. We are God being born into this world. I also like Unity's emphasis on prayer and meditation. Something that is HUGE in Unity is changing your life by changing your thoughts. This is accomplished through regular times of affirmative prayer and meditation. Unity also talks a lot about "energy" and "consciousness," and adheres to the belief that "thoughts create things." Therefore, at Unity, you'll here a lot about The Law of Attraction (commonly known as The Secret). You're also likely to hear quotes from New Thought/New Age authors and speakers such as Neale Donald Walsch, Wayne Dyer, Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, etc. Again, I would say that Unity is better identified as New Thought or New Age than it is Christian, though during a Sunday service you may also here quotes from Jesus or other Biblical figures.

I am thankful for both the Unitarians and Unity and that both have congregations here in my community of Kitchener-Waterloo.

1)Here are the links to the Unitarian and Unity main websites:

Unitarian Universalist

Unity

2) If you are in Kitchener-Waterloo, here are the websites of the local Unitarian and Unity congregations:

First Unitarian Congregation Of Waterloo

Unity Kitchener

10 comments:

Christine Leigh said...

Thank you for this post! I came across a Unity church in Seattle that was entitled "Unity Church of Truth". My first thought, admittedly, was "YIKES!", as I am UU because "Truth" may be impossible to know and it seemed suspicious that they would claim it. After a discussion on my facebook page (I posted a picture of the church), I found out that it is a denomination of sorts, and felt silly. I'm grateful for this further clarification!

Jim H said...

Mark Andrew, thanks for the insightful comparison between the two religions. I began following your blog because your writings seemed very Unitarian Universalist. Then later, I read in one of your entries that you belonged to a Unity church, and I wondered about the similaties and differences.

Red Sphynx said...

Mark Andrew, thanks for this post.

I'd add some other difference, from observations of both UU and Unity across four US cities:

UU is *much* more concerned with social action, politics and social justice than Unity.

Unity is much more New Age than UU. In UU, notwithstanding its pagan faction, there is strong skepticism and even antipathy towards belief in reincarnation, astral travel, psi phenomenon, astrology, etc.

Unity sermons are much more about giving advice than are UU sermons.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
Wow, I am in the same spot as you were, and others here on your post. I have wondered where I stand am I more UU or Unity?? Thought about taking classes, but feel I need to find my true compass, or I will be a phoney to myself/others. Being in a alternative committed relationship with a small toddler, I believe working towards the UU social/equality issues. And I belive in a fierce protection of the environment. And I like the idea of hearing about other great spiritual teachers like Jesus in other religions, again sort of UU.
But, have always believed since I was a small child, something greater than ourselves made us and everything is connected, like Unity. I think the mind is powerful and using it too much can be harmful. So learning to go with the flow, can bring rewards again, much like Unity. And I have experienced that personally.
Went to a few UU meetings in the past, very nice but quite dry. thought is this it??! But maybe it was the church itself and not typical. Although, I was refreshed to not have to hear God, God God and how we are so much below him/her.
Hmm...Do you have any deal breakers of wisdom you could provide of what clearly a UU person belives versus a Unity folk. Thanks Jen

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen again,
Forgot to say...
It just seems like Unity speaks more to my soul or the "inner me", def more personal. A belief in a higher power in all things, power of the mind/body/soul connection, metaphysical.
And UU speaks more to the "outer me", my outward actions. Equality, environmentalism. Or the daily physical actions. Make sense?? Maybe that is where people get caught up??..I have even taken a test on the internet "belief checker", it always scores high for UU, Zen,New Thought,New Age,Pagan, mainstream Christian and Orthodox come out dead last. Again your thoughts between the 2. Thanks

Nora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nora said...

A friend sent this blog to me--interesting and somewhat insightful. While it misses the mark on many ideas and put false ideas into the mind of my friend against UU--I would say it opens a lively debate.

You debate that Unity is more spiritual and UU is more religious and I would like to chime in.

Looking at Unity, the very first tenet is: "God, Divine Mind, is the Source and Creator of all." The second, "We are spiritual beings, ideas in the Mind of God, created in God's image and likeness." And third, "Jesus was a special person in history who expressed perfection and thereby became the Christ, or Jesus Christ."

I am a Unitarian Universalist. I will argue here, for me, that this sounds strongly religious to my own ears. Perhaps an interpretation from someone else, it would be spiritual. But (and of course, I am speaking only for myself) it comes off strongly religious.

Yet, the very opening statement I see from my church is: "Unitarian Universalism is a caring, open-minded religion that encourages seekers to follow their own spiritual paths." Faith into action to work towards social justice within our communities and the wider world. Regarding your statement of "one God" (which I believe has made my friend believe UUs believe in only One God--which, obviously, is not the case) was taken out of context and is only a piece of the story. A small, humble beginning to the true nature of the UUA. I am not Unitarian. And I am not Universalist. I am a Unitarian Universalist.

One last argument--to say that 100% of Unity members would agree with UU beliefs and that "many UUs" would not agree with Unity is arguing that UUs are not inclusive, when in fact it is the exact opposite. Some UUs (and I do not personally fall into this category) may argue that they are agnostic and/or atheist. Therefore, they may not agree with the beliefs of Unity Church based on the first tenet alone. Yet, the UUs will embrace and rejoice with this individual's path towards spirituality. So for one or a few UUs who have different ideas about "god," they may struggle with the idea that "God is the Creator of all." This statement alone denies individuality. So yes--not all UUs may believe the same as Unity simply on the fact that they may not believe in a "god" as the Unity believe in "God."

"We need not think alike to love alike."

Like all things, the congregation to which you join depends as well. My parents, who are strongly united in their UU beliefs, moved us to Phoenix, AZ, in the mid 1980s. While there, we attempted to go to the UU church and found that it wasn't quite the same as our church in Minnesota. Luckily, we moved back a year later and were able to rejoin and rejoice with our like-minded people.

That said, I now live in California and have attended a Unity church here--and it is so strongly Christian that I cannot find my personal spirituality within the congregation. I am grateful for my friend who has found love, peace, and sanctity within the Unity Church.

And because of her love, I found this blog. I wish you the best on your spiritual journey.

Nora said...

Oh, and one last thing...Perhaps you missed this on the website:

"Unitarian Universalism is proud to perform commitment ceremonies and marriages for couples regardless of gender, and has publicly supported this practice since 1984. The UUA actively encourages member congregations to work for marriage equality in their communities, and leaders continuously advocate for marriage equality on a national level."

It is a "Welcoming Congregation."

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated all the comments in this article. I truly believe that God is greater than any one group or sect can describe. In fact, the more people pontificate and say that they know this or know that because they read it in a holy book kind of scares me. People read scriptures and say they know God and have done unimaginably evil things. Members of Unity and Unitarian Universalists seem to be organizations that truly understand simple,loving ways of living for THIS time and place. Many scriptures are culturally anchored and do not apply in this day and age. The first and great commandment is to love God. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments cover every situation and circumstance. The God of all Grace loving energy is always moving in, through and around us. God's 'Gifts" are infinite and are manifested in ways that we mere mortals can barely understand. Many years ago, I thought about God's mathematics. God has an eternal and infinitely complex algorithm that no one can figure out. My bottom line: we reflect the love of God as God has worked it in us according to God's own purpose. All seekers of truth will find it. May peace rule your days.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insightful information. I was raised as a Christian evangelical fundamentalist, probably the most dogmatic type. In my 20's I rejected the religion that I was raised in for many reasons; the guilt, shame and the idea of a literal hell or devil. I am now in my early 50's and I have never lost my belief in the Devine. I feel drawn to the Unity faith and continue to enjoy reading Unity material. I doubt I will ever attend a Unity service. Religion still scares the hell out of me.