American Unitarian Conference

Promoting the American Unitarian Tradition

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President's Letter 3/2004


Dear American Unitarian:

Our Unitarian faith is a forward-looking faith. Our hope is for material, intellectual, spiritual and moral progress and our work consists of trying to make that progress a reality. Yet just as looking in only one direction may prove dangerous when navigating physical terrain, looking only forward can be hazardous in one's religious life.

Our generation is not alone in having grappled with the great religious questions. Our predecessors did also. I am convinced, now more than ever, that we will take fewer wrong turns and go further in our journey if we look at the maps they drew rather than striking out without a map. We American Unitarians have a tradition, a foundation, on which to build. That foundation includes both our specific American Unitarian religious inheritance and the broader Western heritage that gave birth to it. It is imperfect and needs both maintenance and improvement. But if we try to start entirely from scratch, as is so utterly common among Unitarian-Universalists today, we may make the same mistakes that our ancestors made or we may make even more mistakes than did they. And we, in effect, waste their efforts, since we gain nothing from their labor. Only by engaging our tradition are we likely to move forward in the right direction and explore further than they did.

They loved God, their neighbors, reason, freedom and tolerance just as much as we do. They shared our faith. They were soul-mates. Engaging our tradition in a serious, deep way is enriching, ennobling and profitable. If undertaken in a spirit of constructive criticism, our tradition will serve us well. The aim is not to learn about history or the tradition for its own sake, but to learn that which will aid us in our own journey. It is the height of conceit to think that we have nothing to learn from these people, now gone, as we embark on our own efforts to make sense of God's creation and our place in it and to do right in the world. Let us join together, their maps in hand, our mind and spirit engaged, to explore this life that is God's gift to us.

May God's peace be with you always.

Faith, Freedom, Reason.

David R. Burton


2004 American Unitarian Conference