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An experiment in creedless religion turns 50

An experiment in creedless religion turns 50

Daniel Burke of RNS describes the Unitarian-Universalist Church as a “creedless church” and wonders if this “virtually unprecedented experiment” of advancing a religion without doctrine can survive another 50 years.

He writes:

For 50 years the UUA has conducted a virtually unprecedented experiment: advancing a religion without doctrine, hoping that welcoming communities and shared political causes, not creeds, will draw people to their pews.

Leaders say its no-religious-questions-asked style positions the UUA to capitalize on liberalizing trends in American religion.

But as the UUA turns 50 this year, some members argue that a “midlife” identity crisis is hampering outreach and hindering growth. In trying to be all things to everyone, they say, the association risks becoming nothing to anybody.

The UUA does promote seven largely secular principles that emphasize human dignity and justice.

Membership in the UUA dipped in 2011 for the third consecutive year, to 162,800, a loss of about 1,400 members. The number of congregations fell by two, to 1,046.

The UUA was formed in 1961 by the merger of two small, historic groups: Unitarians, who believe in one God, rather than Christianity’s traditional Trinity; and Universalists, who hold that God’s salvation extends to all, regardless of race, creed or religion.


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C. Wingate

Frankly I do not think that a deacon should be authorizing or encouraging Christians to strike out parts of the creed.

Clint Davis

@ Herb, I wish those Unitarians would come back, they might be fun. They still exist in New England, but especially in Transylvania and Hungary, where they’ve survived persecution and have been around for like 500 yrs now, happily Christian and Unitarian, liberal and deeply traditional; they even have a Bishop!

Clint Davis

I don’t end with the Creed, or try to make myself “believe” the Creed. Rather, the Creeds, Scripture and all the rest is where I start from, and from this I either accept, reject, modify or ignore, but I don’t throw out. If I’m gonna be a Christian, that’s the case. I don’t go to church reciting from the Upanishads, or sing Allahu Akbar instead of Alleluia. Christianity is something with which one identifies, then engages with. The idea that it is something to be believed without inquiry and followed with a fear of deviance has led Christianity down some strange ol’ roads, and not all of them end at living waters and living bread. Some people even wind up dead.

But concerning UU’s, well, bless their heart, they’re doing what they need to do, and they do good work in many cases. But I would find all that um…”stuff” about “worth-ship” and “soulful evenings” and “mingling the waters”, and “searches for meaning”, and “living the questions”, not to mention all the identity theologies, to be tiresome, wordy and unsatisfying. Yawn.


At my age (90) I really don’t worry much about the catholic creeds. I regard them largely as a good way to remember while at worship what inspired and motivated Christians who xame before and made my beliefs possible. So I can say the creeds with gusto, whatever my personal reservations.

When it comes to the UUA, I have a true story. When I was the student pastor of a New England Congregational Church, back in my early days before I ended up a layman in the Episcopal Church, the one who served before me was a retired Unitarian clergyman. One day he explained that he was a “Christian Unitarian”, in fact so much so that he and other like-minded Unitarians used to gather at an island home he owned in Portland harbor, to celebrate the Eucharist and that they did so in such a secluded place because otherwise their “heretical” activity might be discovered and they would be defrocked!

Herb Gray

Richard E. Helmer


I agree — none of us is truly “creed-less.” The real danger is the unexamined one that we each might carry by virtue of our birth, culture, or life experience. Another way the Catholic creeds work in our liturgical use of them is to challenge our parochial “programming,” even if that means only counter-balancing a sermon that goes off the theological rails!

Still, I have the feeling that our recent liberal aversion to the creeds, for all the foibles of their history, is more about us and our impoverished literalizing than the creeds themselves. Where else do we find such a succinct statement of how God’s grace has manifested in our tradition?

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