A portal site for universal restorationists?

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I'm more and more convinced that the future for Christians who espouse universal salvation (aka universal restoration) is through extradenominational contacts. Not only is the UUA not the "heir" but quite a few universal restorationists (UR) -- the most common term I've seen on the Internet -- first disassociate themselves from "those Unitarian Universalists" before doing what they do. That hurts, but it seems fair.  Historically, the grand coalitions Universalists make tend to sideline the core Universalist affirmation: that all are saved and brought into the fullness God planned for humanity and the universe.

To this point, the UR Internet world has been pretty disjointed. I'm thinking of making my nohell.org domain a portal.

Would there be interest? If so, what kind of things would URs want?

17 Replies to “A portal site for universal restorationists?”

  1. Hi Scott,

    Someone wrote once in a blog to which I’ve lost the link that in America everyone goes to church, so evangelism becomes a matter of comparison shopping – believe in our faith, come to our church, we’re nicer than them. For an audience of Christians who are looking for an alternative within the faith, focussing on the negative (We Don’t Believe in HELL!) is fine.

    I’m not an American, and I live in a society which seems much more secular. No one goes to church (unless they do, in which case they’re pretty intense about it). Telling the people around me that I don’t believe in hell isn’t going to get much of a response. “That’s nice”, they’ll say, “neither do I. Stupid idea. Do you have anything interesting to tell me or are you just wasting my time?”

    Now, they might be interested if I told them that I believed that “all are saved and brought into the fullness God planned for humanity and the universe”. But that is only the same message as “No Hell” if we assume a whole bunch of Christianish stuff which they don’t believe (or even know about).

    In short, putting a portal up is a great idea; putting a portal up at nohell.org may just fall into the old trap of “sidelining the core Universalist affirmation”.

  2. Double post!

    Is ‘Universal Restorationism’ a reform movement within Christianity, or is it Christianity reformed?

  3. Not sure I can answer the latter, but you make a good point about the former. At least in the US, I’ve noticed the no-heller name has legs where Universalism/Universalist is either misunderstood or unknown. In Australia and Europe, the prior condition you describe is certainly germaine. But that said, I doubt that any site would do much to cultivate new religious interest unless it fed to a real live congregation.

  4. At least in Australia, as the majority become less church-going the Christian minority seem to become more rigid. Liberal Christianity is squeezed between the two – embarrassingly religious yet dangerously secular. As the only noticeable Christians are people who are doubtful about evolution, don’t like women preaching and think that their next door neighbours are going to hell, liberal Christians and universalists find ourselves falling into the trap of defining ourselves negatively – “Yes, I’m religious. But I don’t believe in [long list]”.

    The more fundamentalist Christians (ie most of the vocal ones) hear this and think “Liberals Christians are Christians who only believe part of it” as opposed to “Liberal Christians are Christians who have different beliefs to me”.

    So I would argue for something positive, not treating it as an exercise in via negativa 🙂 I don’t know whether such a site would cultivate new religious interest, but I wouldn’t want to underestimate the extent to which an Internet only presence could influence seekers.

    (Interestingly the Winchester Profession is essentially positive – they didn’t just say “We’re Christians but we don’t believe in hell”)

  5. Hi Scott,

    Go ahead and start another portal for U.R., if you feel called to do so. Nohell.org is a nice domain name to use! However, contrary to what you said, the U.R. internet world is not really disjointed. There already are several pretty good portals for Universal Reconciliation / Christian Universalism, including mine at http://www.christian-universalism.com , Gary Amirault’s at http://www.tentmaker.org , John Moneypenny’s at http://www.gospelfortoday.org , and Ken Allen’s at tgulcm.tripod.com/cu/ . I have compiled a spreadsheet of more than 150 other websites that are out there which promote Christian Universalism. Most of them are similar in the sense that they lean in a conservative Christian (but sans-hell) direction. I imagine yours would probably have more of a liberal slant than most of the currently existing sites, which would be a welcome difference. Out of the four I listed, mine is the most theologically liberal and will probably be moving in a more liberal direction over time.

    Eric

  6. Scott,

    I forgot to mention in my previous comment, I want to congratulate you on coming to the conclusion that the UUA is not worth it for Christian Universalists to be supporting. There is a whole other world out there for Universalist Christians beyond the UUA, including numerous websites and ministries, churches, conferences, and projects that are in development. A Christian conference on Inclusion (universal salvation) is being held in Arkansas in June, which is expected to draw over 300 people and will feature several prominent Christian ministers who believe in the inclusive salvation / universal restoration message. There are so many exciting things going on. The UUA, in comparison, seems like a dying religion, slowly withering away because they don’t know what they believe spiritually, beyond secular humanist principles.

    The one thing the UUA does have — in much greater abundance than any Christian Universalist ministries and organizations — is money. Lots and lots of money. The most prominent C.U. organization, Tentmaker Ministries (run by Gary Amirault), can only afford to hire one paid staff member. And that is the #1 C.U. ministry in terms of prominence and level of support. It is very sad, really, that Christian Universalists are dirt poor compared to the UUA, which in comparison is rolling in cash. If the C.U. movement had even 10% of the financial resources the UUA has, we could make a huge impact on the spiritual landscape.

    So, what we really need to figure out how to do, is to raise more money to spread the Christian Universalist message. It’s great to have lots of websites, but that can only accomplish so much compared to what can be done with significant financial support. If you have any ideas on how the C.U. movement can get rich like the UUA, that is what is needed most.

    Beyond that, I would suggest that if you do start your own website promoting Christian Universalism / Universal Reconciliation, that you should aim for a liberal tone because that is what is currently lacking in this movement. It is heavily infused with conservative Christians and websites with a fundamentalist tone (fundamentalist about everything except the belief in eternal hell), and I think the C.U. movement has pretty much tapped out that audience, or is approaching the limit of what it can accomplish with the fundamentalist Christian audience. That’s why I am planning to start moving my own website and ministry in a more liberal direction over time.

    Eric

  7. Pretty harsh words there Eric –
    and while it the long run – it may or may not be true – time will tell.
    On the other hand, there are plenty of non-Christians (not just humanists) in the UUA who wish you were right, that the UUChristians would go elsewhere- there remain plenty of Christian UUs and even still more Univeralist Chirstian UU Churches than you have on your list (why dont i tell you who they are? well, its not my churches, and I dont find it right to to try to define them – on the other hand, a portrait of Jesus behind the altar and communion of wine and bread on Easter suggests something different than humanism….). Are we to tell these people to leave their churches? Particuarly when a partialist church is all that’s left in their area?
    On the other hand, telling someone who is only familiar with denominations where every church is the same, would result in massive confusion – UuA is an association where every church can be completely different from the next. and Is.
    If you think the UUA is rich, you havent been reading carefully enough! The UUA hasnt been rich since the middle 1960s,

  8. Technically, Apocatastasis is not necessarily an exclusively Christian theological proposition. Origen was well versed in Neoplatonism and an emanationist theory of being may interpret the reverse process as a natural development as much as the Big Crunch theory was for a while the logical sequel to the Big Bang in many scientists’ minds (not the ever-expanding universe seems to be the most commonly accepted explanation these days). Even from a Taoist or an Advaita point of view, the idea of ultimate reconciliation of all things with their Source is quite acceptable, even desired.

  9. Steven,

    I wasn’t intending to be harsh. I still like the UUA a lot better than eternal hell fundamentalists! I just honestly feel the UUA is not the best place for Christians to put in their energy and resources. Scott seems to be coming to a similar conclusion (though probably not as strong as how I feel about it, at least not yet).

    As for some Christian churches in the UUA not being on my list, yes, I do know about that — there are about 4 or 5 UU Christian churches I know about which I have not yet included in the churches directory on my website — but I do plan to (probably) add them eventually, after I have a chance to talk to their ministers. The only reason I would not include them is if their ministers tell me Jesus rotted in the tomb rather than rose from the dead, and the resurrection was only mythological. I won’t know until I ask them their position on the resurrection, and I just haven’t had time yet to contact all the ministers that I would potentially like to include in my directory. I am happy to include any UU Christian churches if they really uphold the belief in Christ as the risen Lord. But from what I have heard, there are only about 10 (or maybe up to 15 maximum) such churches in the UUA in the entire denomination. That’s only about 1% of their churches. This is one of the main reasons why I see little long-term future for Christians within the UUA.

    Eric

  10. Steven wrote: “If you think the UUA is rich, you havent been reading carefully enough! The UUA hasnt been rich since the middle 1960s”

    The UUA may not be rich compared to other denominations, but they are rich compared to Christian Universalist organizations. The UUA has paid staff, probably has offices, runs programs and projects that require significant sums of money, etc. I don’t know a lot of details, but they definitely have a whole lot more money than any C.U. organization or ministry that is out there. At least it sure seems that way. There is not a single C.U. organization that even has enough money to pay for its founder/president to comfortably live on, let alone to have full-time staff, offices, programs that require money, etc.

    My theory about the lack of money for C.U. is that up until now, C.U. ministries have generally focused on trying to convince fundamentalist evangelical Christians to believe in universal salvation. Because the pool of such people who would ever be willing to embrace this viewpoint is so small, therefore the pool of potential donors is also very small. Just a theory… who knows.

    Eric

  11. A couple of follow-ups. Eric lists some of the best UR sites out there, his own included. But there’s a — ahem — a underuse of technology among those sites, and the probably best (Tentmaker) isn’t nearly as helpful for community-building as it could be. The sites inspired by Concordant Publishing texts tend to be hard for newcomers to understand. That’s put nicely, right?

    There are real live Universalist Christians in UUA-member churches. But very few and aren’t being served through publishing and direct services. Few of any threological stripe are, really. And there isn’t “real” money with the UUA; there are some trusts and well-heeled congregations, but not the deep pockets some imagine. That money there is comes with pretty tight strings; a Faustian bargain. Better to to raise our own or do without.

  12. Scott,

    What are some technological ideas you have for your site that would be an improvement over the current major UR / CU portals? My own site, admittedly, is not very high-tech, but I think it has a clean look and is relatively easy to use. I personally find Tentmaker to be harder to navigate than I would like to see, considering how much excellent material they have on their site. And yes, they aren’t too big on community building through their website, although I know Gary is trying to add some high-tech features to his site that will enable people to post their location on a map or search for Christian Universalists within a radius of X number of miles of their own location. But he has been talking about adding this for a long time and hasn’t done so yet, so I’m not sure when that will come online. I hope it will soon, because I think it’s an excellent idea.

    Even so, community building requires not only technology on the internet, but also the willingness of people to get up off their butts and do something tangible, i.e. start local meetings which could become thriving fellowship/study groups or eventually evolve into full-blown churches. I am of the opinion that the house church movement is how Christian Universalism is going to grow. Anything you can do, through technology or otherwise, to encourage this to happen, is certainly an excellent direction to go in.

    Eric

  13. Eric, you raise another consideration for a site devoted to universalism – the degree to which liberal theologies are accepted. Certainly when you insist on a belief in an empty tomb you exclude a number of liberal theologies – at least some of which positively affirm Christ as risen Lord.

    Coming from a liberal background in a secular country, the idea of Christian Universalism being properly considered a subset of fundamentalism seems very, very limiting – hiding the light, so to speak. Does it comes from the fact that only fundamentalists truly believe in hell – so only they listen to a message that says “There is no hell”?

    What membership requirements are there for a Universalist Restorationist community apart from Scot’s “that all are saved and brought into the fullness God planned for humanity and the universe”? The Winchester Profession? Trinitarianism? Empty tomb? Nicene Creed?

  14. For what it’s worth, up at the old Universalist conference center in Maine, Ferry Beach, the altar table in the outdoor chapel says “God Is Love.” (Ferry Beach was started by the Universalist Restorationist evangelist Quillen Hamilton Shinn.) For some of us Universalists, esp. the ones who have spent time at Ferry Beach, that phrase has enormous emotional resonance, and it happens to be positive. It’s sort of a shorter and less intellectual version of Scott’s phrase.

    (BTW, http://www.godislove.com looks to be available….)

  15. Rusty,

    I think there are two main reason why most Christian Universalists who actively evangelize for this belief tend toward the conservative/fundamentalist side of the spectrum:

    1. Many people who believe in CU are former fundamentalists, who became disgusted by the teaching of eternal hell which is so prominent in fundamentalist churches. They often keep a lot of their conservative Christian views when they accept the teaching of universal reconciliation, because they think that liberal theology would make them un-Christian. There is a huge fear among CUs of becoming “like the Unitarians who believe in nothing and aren’t even Christian anymore,” as the saying goes. So there is a tendency to cling to conservative theology as a way to avoid that horrific slide into UUism 😉

    2. Evangelical/fundamentalist type of Christians are more likely to evangelize for their beliefs than liberal Christians — even if they believe in universal reconciliation. Therefore, they are more likely to start websites and ministries to try to convert people to Christian Universalism. Liberal Christian Universalists are probably a lot less likely to feel a burning need to evangelize and convert people to their way of thinking; hence they are underrepresented in the online CU community.

    Now for your second question, about “membership requirements” for the online UR/CU community. Basically, there are no formal requirements, because there is no denomination espousing these beliefs about salvation. However, I think someone like Scott would find that a liberal, openly gay Christian such as himself would have a tough time being fully accepted by a large percentage of active online UR believers. My research has shown me that this movement is heavily tilted toward the conservative side of the spectrum right now, and that is why I encouraged Scott to be open about his liberalism if he does start a new UR website. It would be a breath of fresh air. I have taken flak from some people in the UR community simply because I don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy and blood atonement theology. My educated guess would be that anyone who taught a full tomb of Jesus Christ rather than an empty tomb would be viewed with great suspicion in this movement, and anyone who taught gay marriage I suspect would be persona non grata. I can’t say for sure, but my observations of who currently populates and leads the online UR movement (i.e. mostly former fundamentalist Christians who live in the American South and are still quite conservative in most of their views), would seem to indicate that a truly liberal and non-traditional Christian who believes in UR would face a significant degree of suspicion or even possibly ostracism within this community. I am one who hopes that will change.

    Eric

  16. Hi Eric,

    From what you describe, I think that there is an interesting overlap between the liberal Christian universe and the UR movement – many people are ex-fundamentalists and tend to define their faith as a reaction their earlier fundamentalism. As a liberal who has never been a fundamentalist, I find this quite frustrating – it makes a certain kind of negativity central to the message. Also any movement that largely consists of ex-whatevers ties itself to the whatevers, becoming almost parasitic to it.

    Which is why I would encourage Scott to have a positively focused site, not one whose central message is merely that there is no hell (although this is important) but one that proclaims our salvation, and one that goes beyond the liberal here-and-now focus to a message of eternal universal reconciliation.

  17. Sorry, the godislove.* domains are taken, except godislove.biz, which doesn’t quite set the right tone.

    I’m sticking with Nohell.org, but there’s no reason there can’t be a number of sites, each with their own tone and message which can be mutually linked. I’ll be writing about what a portal site is good for in the next few days.

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