BY ROBERT SNEITZER - IOWA LAKES UNITARIAN/UNIVERSALIST FELLOWSHIP
It probably will come as a surprise to most people but, five of our U.S. presidents were Unitarians: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft. Abraham Lincoln was not formally a Unitarian, but had some affiliation with its beliefs. It was not a new concept at that time. It had been already established for more than 200 years. The first formal statement of Unitarian belief was issued just 50 years after Martin Luther stated his refusal to accept Pope Leo X’s statements of beliefs including indulgences with his posting of his “Ninety-five Theses” in 1517.
Our early presidents set tremendous precedents often based on their personal ethical and religious beliefs. They were instrumental in parting with the beliefs and practices they were faced with during the monarchal rule of England.
Other notable Unitarians include Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State under three presidents, Daniel Webster, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, geneticist Charles Darwin, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer and many others.
A trait common to all was their continual search for truth and revelation as new information in science, medicine and religious thought made old practices and beliefs unsustainable for them. They believed religious wisdom is ever changing. Human understanding of life and death, the world and its mysteries is never final. Revelation from teachers, prophets and sages is continuous throughout the ages. Further, as religious liberals, living a moral and ethical life is as important as formal beliefs. They subscribe to the Biblical text “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
A summary listing of Unitarian/Universalist beliefs written by Rev. David O. Rankin follows below.
• We believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty and justice - and no idea, ideal or philosophy is superior to a single life.
• We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop their own personal theologies and to present openly their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
• We believe in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions in every age and culture possess not only intrinsic merit, but also potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
• We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, nor a document, nor an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
• We believe in the never-ending search for truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations that appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful and wondrously exciting.
• We believe in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge, religion and the world, the sacred and the secular, since they all have their source in the same reality.
• We believe in the ethical application of religion. Good works are the natural product of a good faith, the evidence of an inner grace that finds completion in social and community involvement.
• We believe in the motive force of love. The governing principle in human relationships is the principle of love, which always seeks the welfare of others and never seeks to hurt or destroy.
• We believe in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism – so that people might govern themselves.
• We believe in the importance of religious community. The validation of experience requires the community of peers, who provide a critical platform along with a network of mutual support.
In the world of religious affiliations, Unitarian/Universalists numbers are small, but, I believe we have something to offer. These listed principles guide our lives.