Monday, January 23, 2006

Fixing UUism: Build an Association of Free Faiths


Why not build a association of free faiths? Instead of seeking to
merge with groups like the United Church of Christ, Society of
Friends, Reform Judaism, or Community of Christ, we could seek to
ally with as many of them as would have us in a marriage of equals,
each partner keeping its name and habits while sharing resources.

The UUA could offer to be the initial host, rather like the US giving
the UN a place to grow. But, unlike the UN, the Association of Free
Faiths could seek independent headquarters within a few years,
ideally in a convenient location in the midwest.

This association would give great autonomy to individual
organizations and communities while letting them share all they can.
No one would have to sacrifice identity, but those who wanted to
identify themselves simply as part of the Association of Free Faith
could do that.


Anonymous said...

good idea, but what's so darned "convenient" about the midwest???!!!???

Steve Caldwell said...

Several "association of free faith" proposals were floated during the pre-UUA merger 19th and 20th century.

The Andover-Harvard library has UU merger timelines that provides this information:

Timeline of Significant Events in the Merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Churches During the 1900s

Timeline of Significant Events in the Merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Churches During the 1800s

Here's our history of "free faith association" initiatives as listed on the above links:

1865: Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association to establish a higher council consisting of denomination bodies and other members. Christians, Universalists, Methodists, and Congregationalists were approached. Nothing came of this effort.

1867: The Free Religious Association was formed, with at least six different religious groups represented; about half were Unitarian ministers. Very few Universalists affiliated. This association apparently lasted about 25 years. Its chief product was a liberalizing influence, principally on Unitarianism.

In 1908 the National Federation of Religious Liberals was formed. Its membership included the Unitarians, Universalists, Religious Society of Friends, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The organization ceased its existence with the advent of the Free Church of America in the 1930s and was of minor significance in Unitarian-Universalist relations.

In 1923 the Universalists received overtures from the National Convention of Congregational Churches. Each body established a Committee on Comity and Unity. In 1927, the Universalist Committee met with an interested group of Unitarians with the thought of establishing a Congregational-Universalist-Unitarian structure, but the whole move was defeated by Universalists, who felt that the best course would be Universalist-Unitarian.

In 1931 a Joint Commission of the two churches was formed and began meeting, but this commission soon concluded that the time was not ripe for merger. Instead, in their May 1932 report, they recommended that an organization be formed that would include all liberal churches. This resulted in the formation of the Free Church of America, which was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1933. The Free Church movement did not attract as many liberal churches as hoped, and it held its last annual meeting in 1938.

Since this idea has been tried before with limited success, we should ask what worked well with these earlier efforts and what didn't work. Studying history may provide us insight for the implementing this idea successfully if we choose it.

Will Shetterly said...

Steve, excellent history. Thank you!