American Unitarian Conference

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President's Letter 9/2004


Dear American Unitarian:

There is the UUA. There is the United Church of Christ. There is Reform Judaism. There are lots of places you can engage in “liberal” religion. What is it that makes American Unitarians and the American Unitarian tradition different? Is all the time and effort we put into the American Unitarian Conference really worth it? 

The American Unitarian tradition and our basic religious principles are unique. Although our religious convictions are, I believe, shared by many Americans and were shared by many founders of the American republic, no other religious organization articulates a religious vision that regards science, religion, and reason as equal and complimentary partners in the search for truth; no other religious tradition regards God as central to a true understanding of the world but affirms that reason and science are entirely consonant with a proper religious understanding. If they did, they could neither hold to the ancient creeds, nor believe in the Godhood of Jesus. No other religious tradition is willing to encounter other faiths with tolerance and openness but remain centered in the Western tradition, and draw on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. No other faith offers the same hope of finding genuine religious or spiritual insight—insights consistent with reality—without embracing superstition, unsubstantiated assertion or blindly accepting pronouncements from religious authorities. 

Yet it is patently obvious that the American Unitarian tradition is also in some sense flawed. As a matter of history, American Unitarianism failed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to successfully resist the destructive humanist atheist impulse that, unfortunately, so many within its ranks found attractive. As a matter of history,  American Unitarianism did (and does) a poor job of evangelizing and building congregations. And, in my view, American Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalist Christians now have a surprisingly small number of evangelists, articulate spokesmen, or intellectually rigorous and creative theologians or ministers helping to build an American Unitarianism for the 21st century. We need to do better. 

Help us to do better. Help us to rebuild the tradition we all value. There are many ways you can do this; but we will only succeed with your help. Ask yourself this: Do you want the American landscape to be devoid of rational religion, of true religion, by the end of this century? If not, then get involved. Do you want there to be an American Unitarian faith for your children and grandchildren. If so, then get involved. Do you think the only choices for people with faith in God should be among competing pre-enlightenment doctrines fashioned some 500 to 1700 years ago. If not, then get involved.  

May God’s peace be with you always.  

Yours in faith, freedom, and reason, 

David R. Burton


American Unitarian Conference

© 2004 American Unitarian Conference