The Affirmation of Social Principles (1943)

There was only one Universalist national meeting during the Second War War. They were biennial, and the 1941 and 1945 meetings just book-ended the United States participation in the war. I’ve not been able to read the Christian Leader, the denominational newspaper from that period and so much of what I have been able to discern has been from the record of that one meeting, in New York, held at the Church of the Divine Paternity, now known as Fourth Universalist. It was thinly attended — 117 delegates; there was a war on, after all — but plenty occurred. The denomination formally adopted new bylaws as the Universalist Church of America for one. The delegates approved the following Affirmation of Social Principles for another, which I’ve attached below. It’s worth noting how they were already looking past the war years to a new age, and a spirit which surely persisted into consolidation with the Unitarians.

At some point I’ll get this on one of my documents sites, but since those could use a cleanup, I’ll post it here first.

Read more: The Affirmation of Social Principles (1943)




Adopted at New York City October, 1943

We Universalists avow our faith in the supreme worth of every human personality, and in the power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God. This faith is being challenged on every side. We therefore re-affirm our historic stand and call upon our people to think through and act upon that faith.

Now is the time for greatness. There have been few if any periods in the entire history of the human race when men have had such an opportunity to mold the future. We stand at the great divide. On one side lies a land of promise, an unprecedented opportunity to build a better world than has ever been known. On the other side lies a return to the old order with its greed, poverty and war.

The hour for decision is at hand. We must move backward toward the old or forward toward the new. It is a fateful decision to make, for destiny will be determined by it; but we cannot and would not escape the responsibility.

Partialism cannot solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Partialism limits, divides and excludes. It emphasizes nationalism, racism, classism, sectarianism, caste and privilege, and it inevitably issues in conflict. Partialism is the underlying philosophy of an old order which was founded on a technological and sociological isolationism which no longer exists. It is discredited and impotent, It cannot construct, a unified and universalized civilization, but will lead us backward to the past. That way lies disaster.

The peoples of the world have built an interdependent and integrated culture. Nations, races, classes share a common heritage of science. Airplanes have abolished boundaries. Radios have brought the voice of every people into our homes. Industry has distributed far and wide the commodities of inventive genius. Music, art and education speak a common language.

The only possible philosophy for a better world is universalism. It alone is realistic and creative. In it lies the hope of mankind; without it we are doomed.

This faith means that, the whole is greater than the parts. It is the philosophy and the religion of the all-inclusive. It interprets life in terms of the universals and the unities. It levels barriers, abjures prejudice, and renounces all that sets man against his fellow man. It endeavors to integrate humanity into one harmonious co-operating unity.

This faith demands that the common humanity of all races be recognized.

This faith demands that all men of all classes, races, creeds, shall abjure war as a method of solving international disputes and shall affirm their faith in the possibility of progressively building a lasting peace.

This faith demands that we must build an international order in which the sovereign power to settle international disputes resides in a league or assembly of all peoples.

This faith demands that the physical resources of the earth be so used that all men everywhere shall have the essentials of a good life.

This faith demands that we must build an economic order based on the abundant life for all rather than upon the acquisitive power of the few.

This faith demands that the human resources of society, such as education, culture, the arts, be made progressively available to all.

We here and now call upon all fellow Universalists to unite in a great and consecrated movement to make these things come to pass.

In the field of social welfare:

  1. We must acquaint ourselves with the faith and practice of other religionists that we may help to overcome the destructive force of religious prejudice.
  2. We must recognize that today Americans of Negro, Indian and Oriental descent, and many not yet citizens, are suffering from unjust forms of discrimination. We must combat every such form of race prejudice by practical steps which shall achieve a just status for these, our brethren.
  3. We must work for such forms of social betterment and security as will enable the American family to provide conditions of housing, food, education and recreation consistent with constructive religious living.
  4. We must work for the strengthening of the spiritual foundations of the American home that all members of the family may be growing Christian persons.
  5. We must engage in sacrificial and informed community activity which will produce wholesome and progressive results in the areas of planning, relief, reconstruction and recreation.
  6. We must study the complex problems of labor, management and capital so that we can intelligently bring the insights of Christian ethics to bear on the problems of economic justice for all members of society.
  7. We must recognize the importance of a strong, independent, land-owning farm folk to the future health and well-being of a growing democracy. To this end we recommend support of such legislation and other organized activities as help to increase the number of family-sized and family-owned farms.
  8. We must welcome and encourage the growth of the co-operative movement as a check on unwholesome economic practices vice to producers and consumers alike.
  9. We must work for improved educational opportunities for young and old, and for a freedom in teaching which puts no restriction upon the authority of truth known or to be known.
  10. We must condemn as destructive to the best interests of society all forms of gambling and small games of chance which are an attempt to get something for nothing, and we must work for more stringent laws governing such practices.
  11. We must advance the cause of temperance through wise legislation pertaining to the manufacture, distribution, advertising and sale of alcoholic beverages and we must promote a sustained and scientific educational program dealing with the personal and social effects of intemperance.
  12. We must avoid both sentimentality and vindictiveness in our attitudes toward criminals. To this end we must give enlightened support to penologists, jurists and trained social workers who seek to develop scientific, humane and ethical treatment of actual and potential criminals and so promote the cause of corrective penology.
  13. We must commit ourselves and encourage others to consistent obedience to law lest we and our society suffer the consequences of disorder and unrestraint.
  14. We must recognize the fact that there is no common judgment among Christians as to one’s personal duty when called for military service and we call our people to be true in policy and action to a basic law of our church, Article XII of the Laws of Fellowship, which grants full fellowship to conscientious objectors in time of war.
  15. We must increase our participation in government as individuals and as representatives of groups of citizens, and must as a denomination and as local churches know and speak our mind on significant public questions.

In the field of international relations:

  1. We must inform ourselves concerning the problems of today’s world.
  2. We must co-operate in establishing an international organization which shall be truly democratic and all-inclusive. In this world organization there must be some internationally organized power to restrain those who threaten the peace of mankind; there must be provision for peaceful change, for the regulation of currencies, tariffs and other economic concerns by international agreement, and for equal opportunity for all to share the natural resources of the earth.
  3. We must be prepared to continue in a spirit of self-sacrifice after the fighting ends to provide food, medical care, and the materials and leadership for reconstruction in all devastated lands.

In the field of international church extension:

  1. We must evaluate the work which we have done in Japan and Korea and decide whether or not to re-establish any or all of it, and we must study opportunities offered in the post-war period for new approaches to the Japanese through educational and social work.
  2. We must consider new opportunities in world mission, and take our share in the responsibility of Christians for relief, reconstruction and education.

We, therefore consecrate ourselves to the task of building, under God, a universal brotherhood.

What I’m reading

I’m currently reading

Talbott, Thomas. Understanding the Free-Will Controversy: Thinking through a Philosophical Quagmire. Cascade Books, 2022.

Why? Because while the charge that Universalism violates human will has never impressed me much, neither did “classic” Universalists give it the consideration it deserves. Talbott presents a small but dense work, and as a well-known figure among neo-Universalists deserves a careful read. Or two.

Lynskey, Dorian. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984. Doubleday, 2019.

I’ve stumbled back on Orwell’s masterwork and I want to appreciate it as an adult. As a reflection on the current infatuation with authoritarianism but also, in light of World War Two anniversaries, of Orwell’s postwar Britain.

Parks, Tim. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. W. W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Trains and Italy? What more do you want?

It’s worth noting I got the Talbott work on sale from Wipf and Stock, of which Cascade in an imprint. They are the de-facto Neo-Universalist Publishing House among other niches, so if you’re reading this, you should get on their mailing list now.

“Missing” Georgia churches found

As many of you know, I am from Georgia and started my career there. I even worked to an ill-fated and later abandoned master’s degree in church history; my thesis would have been about Universalist churches in the antebellum South. But resources were harder to get thirty years ago, and so left that behind, went to seminary instead.

Between those researches and recent (say, 1980s) UUA directories, I knew there were churches that had been in Georgia for which there was little evidence. Two that kept coming back up was the one in Allatoona, in the northern part of the state, and the one in Senoia, south of Atlanta.

I always wondered what happened to them. The last I heard of the Senoia church was that it was rented to a Pentecostal church, so I assumed it was still in those hands or demolished. In other parts of the South, I’ve seen a gap in a cemetery where a church should be; been shown by an elder where an extinct church turned into a house (and the graveyard into a vegetable garden); and once unwisely drove up a logging road to find the grafitti-ed ruins of an abandoned meeting house. Times takes our little works away.

In a moment of free-form web browsing last week, I visited the Georgia Digital Library and looked up the Universalists and got my answer.

The Allatoona church is in rough shape, but evidently is or was on the radar of historic preservationists. There’s even a picture.

No picture but a happier outcome for the Senoia church. According to the September 27—October 1, 2004 issue of the “Preservation Georgia online” newsletter, the church was given in trust by the last members and has been converted to a private home.

“Harmony Church, a former Revolving Fund property of The Georgia Trust, will be featured this October on an episode of HGTV’s Building Character. The show highlights properties that have been transformed into one-of-a-kind private homes and the owners who rehabilitated them.

Located in Senoia, the 1896 Harmony Church was built by a Universalist congregation that came to Coweta County from South Carolina. Last used regularly in the 1980s, the surviving members of the congregation donated the church to The Georgia Trust’s Revolving Fund in 2002. The vernacular religious architecture of the 1,450-sq.-ft. church has been retained, as have its original windows, doors and hardwood floors. While the pews and pulpit were removed, the interior is still paneled entirely in wood.”

I’ve not found that clip online, but Harmony is a typically Universalist church name. In any case, it’s good to know what happened to them.

Remembering Universalist Heritage at Jubilee celebration

The Universalist National Memorial Church held a convocation on October 7, 2023 entitled “Universalist Jubilee: Its Legacy and Promise.”

The video will become available at some point and I will link it here, but in the meantime these are the notes from my part of the service.

Friends, where have we as Universalist come from? A few words. Look to the window to my right. It depicts, or is intended to depict, the Hand-In-Hand, the vessel which brought John Murray from England to America on September 30, 1770. This is the anniversary we remember today: the point from which we mark the 250th anniversary of Universalism in America. By the time he landed at Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, he was already a broken man. His change of faith within British evangelicalism lost him most of his friends and probably successful career. Then his wife Eliza and their son died. He landed in debtors’ prison, and once out we wanted to lose himself in the world, particularly the great American wilderness. That’s why he came here. But even the ship, bound for New York, was off course. The grace — almost miraculous grace — of his encounter with Thomas Potter encouraged him back to the ministry, and back to life. It’s a well-known, oft-told story, too long to repeat now, but it’s a story we need to tell more often. Murray did not plant Universalism here. There existed groups and individuals up and down the Eastern Seaboard who felt, thought and believed as he did: believing in a perfect hope of God’s complete salvation. One such group was the nucleus of what would be the first Universalist church in America, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. And one of those he met was Judith Sargent Stevens, a writer in her own right and today more famous than this minister she would later marry. The irony was that his own theological and homiletic approach to Universalism, the would-be denomination he supported and his lineage of leadership within the fellowship of churches faded in his own lifetime and he was quickly overtaken by others whose names are also a part of our heritage. But Father Murray was as much a model of Christian life and a preacher or pastor. He suffered disappointment, depression and loss. We can understand him, and trust that he would understand us. His faith that God saves, and saves completely returns us to hope. Little wonder this church’s first iteration was a memorial to him. While the vision in and from Universalism was grand, our numbers never were. Numerically, we have been been in decline for generations. In 250 years, will there be Universalists who look through us, to Murray’s landing in New Jersey? The question is not important. Rather, as with others before me, I trust God and trust in God. I trust God will be true to the divine nature, a nature that we profess as love. Not that God is loving, but that God is love itself. And that love will not betray or fail us. Our existence is not a failure in the universe. New people rediscover and reconstruct this faith all the time; it will not die. So I trust in God, that there will always be a witness for the larger faith, whether in our fellowship or another. Occasions change and plans fail, but the providing grace of God endures. Those who will listen will hear the truth. So at this anniversary celebration, we can look back to Murray’s landing and return to life. Behind him we see the Reformation, and the Apostolic church, and back to Calvary where this world was redeemed, and from that to the foundations of the world. There, with the Creator, “whose nature is Love” we find our legacy and our hope. updated

My current, main Universalist documents sites, is back up. I fixed some bad formatting and have added a last-edited marker on the front page. There are still typos great and small. I know about some, but and report (including any broken links) are welcome.

But getting more documents up or linked will be a first priority.

Requests open for

I’ve build some of my sites, including, (documents) and (original writing and perhaps more) using the Jekyll static site generator, but I’ve let them go so long that I’m having a hard time refreshing and adding to them. Did Jekyll change, or did I just forget how to use it?

Either way, I’ve decided to relearn it but that’s taking more time than I thought. I’ll post updates, but in the meantime can you go to those sites, and especially, and let me know what you would like to see added?

Connecting the Philadelphia and New England Conventions

Originally there were two Universalist convention bodies, but the Philadelphia Convention died no later than 1809. It was the New England Convention that eventually developed into the Universalist Church of America, and that was what consolidated with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

So, if the Philadelphia Convention (1790-1809) was an ecclesiastic dead-end, then why was its Articles of Faith and Plan of Church Government cited and reprinted? Antiquarian interest?

Richard Eddy comes to the rescue in his Universalism in America (vol 2, p. 432).

it’s because the Philadelphia plan was adopted by the New England Convention in 1794, and later adapted or amplified by the meeting at Winchester, N.H. in 1803. That 1794 meeting was the one where Ballou was famously ordained by Elhanan Winchester, with a bible pushed into his chest.

Small Universalist churches aren’t new

Reading though Russell Miller’s The Larger Hope I came across these sentence about the Philadelphia Convention, which I’m reading about now.

Universalist societies in fellowship between 1790 and 1809 were small, weak, and lacked financial resources. With the exception of the Philadelphia church, the largest had only fifteen members and one only had six. (vol. 1; p. 79, citing Richard Eddy, Universalism in America, vol 2, p. 122.)

Cleaning up

One of the problems of writing about Universalism so long is that when I search the web about something I don’t know, I often find something old I wrote or transcribed, but had forgotten about. Or sometimes, something I’ve written about but have neglected.

I’ve been thinking about how the Universalists viewed elders (the church office) much like I wondered about deacons last year. That lead me back to the 1790 Philadelphia Convention, its Articles of Faith and its Plan of Church Government. Oh look: the page has typographic and styling errors. I need to work on that.

It and Universalist Christian Initiative ( need a general refresh. I’ve not touched either in three years, and that also means relearning the engine that generated them, Jekyll.

But it’s not just a clean up job, or a polity dive. I’d like to know more about the church building the Philadelphia Universalist had (an interesting story in its own right) and more about a shadowy minister from what are now the far exurbs of Washington, D.C.