“Unitarian and Universalist Federation” (1899)

Unitarian and Universalist Federation

The Outlook, December 2, 1899, p. 759-60

In The Outlook for November 18 we called attention to the proposed union of the Universalists and Unitarians in one denomination, and to the objections to such a union expressed by Dr. Edwin C. Sweetser, speaking for the Universalists. We did not express any opinion as to the wisdom of denominational unity between Unitarians and Universalists, simply saying that, if there were serious and fundamental differences, between the two Churches, an attempt to bring about organic unity would be unwise, if not impracticable. We have now received a letter from the Rev. Samuel A. Eliot, Secretary of the American Unitarian Association, who, from his official position, speaks with authority; in this letter he takes issue with Dr. Sweetser and corrects a general misapprehension in which we shared. Mr. Eliot points out that no organic welding of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations into one has been proposed. He states the facts as follows:

On May 30, 1899, the American Unitarian Association, at its annual meeting, passed unanimously the following resolution:

Resolved, That the interests of pure Christianity can be better served by a recognition of the intellectual agreements and the deep faiths of the heart which, beneath all diversity of gifts, bind together the Unitarian and Universalist fellowships in bonds of peace and mutual good will.

Resolved, That this Association presents its fraternal greetings to the Universalist General Convention, and invites the Convention to join with the Association in appointing a Conference Committee of five representatives from each body, which shall consider plans of closer co-operation, devise ways and means for more efficient usefulness, and report the results of its deliberations to the Association and the Convention at their next meetings.”

These resolutions were duly submitted to the Universalist General Convention on October 23, the invitation was accepted, and the members of the Conference Committee have since been appointed by the Universalist Convention and the Unitarian Association. It will be the purpose of this Conference Committee to endeavor to upbuild sympathy and unity of spirit in the sister denominations, to prevent waste and duplication of missionary effort, and to provide means of more efficient co-operation in Christian work.

Certainly such co-operation and union as this is desirable. Mr. Eliot also takes issue with Dr. Sweetser’s criticism of the belief of the Unitarian body. “His attempt,” says Mr. Eliot, “to prove that the Unitarian body is non-Christian is a repetition of an ancient prejudice which is unworthy of intelligent observers in these days.” We agree in this with Mr. Eliot, but the very decided difference of opinion and of feeling on these matters existing between him and Dr. Sweetser is an indication, as we said in our former paragraph, of a widespread difference in point of view between the two denominations, which would make organic union impracticable. But this does not, in our opinion, interfere with the closer co-operation and fellowship which, as Mr. Eliot points out, is the purpose of the leaders in the two denominations.

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