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
"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:
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.
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:
2) If you are in Kitchener-Waterloo, here are the websites of the local Unitarian and Unity congregations:
First Unitarian Congregation Of Waterloo
Posted by Mark Andrew at 6/06/2011 09:00:00 PM