02 January 2010

17 Examples of Erasing Universalist History, Ignoring Universalist History, or Burying it under the Label of Unitarian History

. . . A collection of examples of Universalism or Universalist history being left out of the picture, destroyed, ignored, misrepresented, treated with substantially less space than Unitarian history, called Unitarian history, or buried under Unitarian history.

I have seen so many examples of this casual disregard for Universalist history that I just had to start collecting them. Please note: These are not all the examples I have ever found, just examples from people who should know better.

How would it be if, every time someone mentions Channing, Emerson and Parker and implies that they are the whole foundation of UU history, someone snuck in and added Murray, Winchester, Balfour and Ballou? Hmmmm. (Listed in chronological order, more or less.)


Exhibit #1


The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 5
by Clarence Monroe Burton

Page 188, in the biography of Rollin Howard Stevens, states:

"Dr. Stevens served on the board of trustees of the Church of Our Father and has long been identified with the Unitarian faith."

Comment: Church of Our Father was a Universalist church. After this book was published, their name changed (1934) to First Unitarian-Universalist Church when Detroit's Unitarian congregation consolidated with the Universalists. It is incorrect to refer to members of this Universalist church as Unitarians, particularly prior to the 1934 event in which the Unitarians "moved in" with the Universalists.


Exhibit #2


Of the 34 people who signed Humanist Manifesto I, it is often stated that "about half (15) were Unitarians."

Comment: This fact is mentioned in the Preface of the Manifesto. In fact, the signers included only 12 Unitarians, 1 Universalist, and 2 individuals who were dually fellowshipped.

The sole Universalist is called a Unitarian and the two in dual fellowship are stripped of their Universalism and called solely Unitarian.

(Email me if you would like a list of the Universalists and Unitarians who signed the Manifesto.)


Exhibit #3


The famous group of murals, 24 Saints of Liberalism, painted at 3rd Unitarian Chicago 1956–69 by church member Andrene Kauffman, includes 9 Unitarians, 15 non-U/Us, and no Universalists.

The Unitarian subjects are: Susan B. Anthony, Edwin T. Buehrer, William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Jefferson, James Martineau, Thomas Paine, Theodore Parker, Joseph Priestley.

The Non-U/U subjects are: Jane Addams, John Peter Altgeld (progressive governor of IL), Albert Camus, Confucius, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Suddhartha Gautama, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Jesus of Nazareth, Socrates, Harriet Tubman, Walt Whitman, Woodrow Wilson, Roger Williams.

Info from UU World, Summer 2009, pages 36-39


Exhibit #4


Book title: Thomas Starr King: Eminent Californian, Civil War Statesman, Unitarian Minister, by Robert A. Monzingo. NY: Boxwood Press, 1991

Comment: Thomas Starr King was ordained both Universalist and Unitarian but here he is described only as a Unitarian.


Exhibit #5


The UU Alphabet

Song lyric by yours truly, listing one famous U/U for each letter of the alphabet.

The song lists 14 Unitarians (61%), 3 Universalists (13%), 2 UUs (9%), 3 borderline or wrong names (13%), and three letters (U, X, Z) that I had to fudge entirely, not included in percentages.

In my own defense, I wrote the lyric before I knew much Universalist history. I collected the names from list of "famous UUs" that I got from various sources. Since most lists of "famous UUs" at the time were — and still are — approximtely 80% Unitarian, 10% Universalist and 10% wrong, my song lyric ended up being about the same.

(Email me if you would like to see the song.)


Exhibit #6


"[The Rev. James] Stoll was a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Association--known as the Unitarians--and his act [coming out] was the first of many that came to mark the Unitarians as the country's most accepting, welcoming denomination for homosexuals."

-- Mark Oppenheimer, History Department, Yale University

This is the third sentence in his article, "The Inherent Worth and Dignity": Gay Unitarians and the Birth of Sexual Tolerance in Liberal Religion, published in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 7, 1996

Article excerpt found online at Questia at

http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=L1rMSv1h95SD1n1t0HKQJZp0wqkLYw1TYQ2k7WV0npv33fjFDP1C!-997264469!1888687908?docId=96428120 (viewed online Jan 2, 2010)

Should I be shocked that a professor of history at Yale doesn't know or doesn't care about the difference between a Unitarian and a Unitarian Universalist?


Exhibit #7


"UUs seem to have two conflicting "myth of origin" stories that influence our sense of roots. One is that we began with Akhenaten, Moses and Jesus, and we're the REAL monotheists. (Though that theory is somewhat out of fashion with the change from "one God at most" to "one God more or less.") Then there's the "creation ex nihilo" out of the heads of Servetus and Channing -- this myth is operationally what many members in UU churches believe. It's interesting what you learn by listening at coffee hours and online UU chats, just to understand what the average congregational member really thinks is the history of our idea and association!"

-- Jone Johnson Lewis, on the UU Historical Society listserv

Comment: She says "UUs" have two origin myths but describes origin myths of Unitarians alone.


Exhibit #8

date unknown (circa 2000)

I once sat through an entire sermon in a UU church in which the speaker -- a guest and layman -- referred to Walt Whitman three or four times as "a gay Unitarian minister." I don't know who the speaker was thinking of but Walt Whitman was not a minister and was not a Unitarian (he was borderline Universalist at best).


Exhibit #9

16 Jun 2000

David M. Robinson, Distinguished Professor of American Literature, Department of English, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, posted the following to the UU Historical Society listserv:


Dear Fellow UU History Buffs,

I'll be giving a talk at GA on UU History in a session sponsored by the Fulfilling the Promise Task Force (session 446). The official title is "What Our History Might Teach Us," but it has evolved over the spring into a paper with the working title "The Five Phases of Unitarian Universalist History." I thought I would put my basic thesis out on this list in advance for possible reaction, and will perhaps be able to speak with some of you at GA. The "Five Phases" will probably not surprise you, but they gave me the best broad overview of the denomination's development that I could work out. What I was interested in developing was a broadly comprehensive, and thus necessarily very general, "big picture" encapsulation of our history. The five phases are:

(1) the Unitarian Controversy (Great Awakening to the 1830s)

(2) Transcendentalism (1830s to 1860s)

(3) Free Religion (1860s to 1890s)

(4) Humanism (1920s to 1940s)

(5) Social Justice Movements (1960s [or late 1950s?] to the present). . . .


Comment: This is not an outline of UU history, it is an outline of Unitarian history. It ignores Universalist history and has almost no direct relevance to Universalism. There's nothing wrong with that except that Professor Robinson refers to it as "UU History" and as a "broad overview of the denomination's development."

To Robinson's credit, when it was gently pointed out to him by several others on the list that his outline did not apply to Universalist history, he responded, saying:

"I also agree with you that it falsifies Universalist history to try to read it through categories derived from Unitarian history, such as Transcendentalism and Free Religion. This need to keep things separate historically of course presents some problems. In one sense, all UUs after the merger must own the histories of each denomination. And the history of the denomination after the merger is of course "Unitarian Universalist." But to own those histories does not mean to merge them or erase their uniqueness."


Exhibit #10

27 Dec 2003

"Still we, in our dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist biography and elsewhere state that Ralph Waldo Emerson, Clara Barton, Horace Mann, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and others, were 19th century Unitarians. How many Unitarians were there in the 19th century?" [emphasis added]

John Keohane, UUHS listserv

Comment: Clara Barton was a Universalist but here she is lumped in with Unitarians and called a Unitarian.


Exhibit #11


This Day in Unitarian Universalist History: A Treasury of Anniversaries and Milestones from 600 Years of Religious Tradition, by Frank Schulman, published by Skinner House Books, an imprint of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Comment: This is, overall, a well written book, with clear, concise entries. It is well laid out and easy to read. It lists, for each day of the calendar year, around two to four milestones in UU history.

The problem is that it is almost all Unitarian history and only a little bit Universalist history. And I hazard to say that the Universalist history seems to be based on Unitarian sources.

I made a count of how many entries are Unitarian, how many Universalist, and how many are Borderline (regarding someone who was a small-u unitarian, for example) or Both.

I was going to count the whole book but stopped after three months (January 1 to March 31) since the trend was obvious.

Out of a total of 293 entries for the first three months, I found:

85% (248) Unitarian entries

10% (28) Universalist entries

3% (9) Borderline

3% (8) Both (Unitarian Universalist combined) (total is 101% due to rounding)

I also checked the bibliography and found a preponderance of Unitarian sources. There were 26 Unitarian, 11 Universalist, and 5 UU history books listed, as well as one general biographical dictionary and one history of the Humanist Manifesto (see Exhibit #2).


Exhibit #12

2008 (approx)

On the poster entitled 100 Unitarians and Universalists there are 79 Unitarians, 9 Universalists, 5 UUs, 1 labeled "you" (with a little mirror instead of a portrait), and 6 who don't even belong on the poster.

The nine Univeralists are: Hosea Ballou, P.T. Barnum, Clara Barton, Olympia Brown, Augusta Jane Chapin, Mary Livermore, John Murray, Benjamin Rush, Clarence Skinner.

The five UUs are: Tim Berners-Lee, Laurel Salton Clark, Robert Fulghum, Thomas Starr King, Christopher Reeve.

The six who shouldn't be on the poster are: Isaac Asimov, Thomas Carlyle, Theodore Giesel, Thomas Huxley, Robert LaFollette, Daniel Webster.

I do not know who published this poster. There is a framed copy of it hanging in the First UU Church of Detroit, but no publication data visible.


Exhibit #13

7 Apr 2008

Clint Richmond, on the UU Historical Society listserv, said:


The historic First Church in Boston has invited me to speak as part of their adult RE Learning Community. The illustrated presentation is based on my guidebook 'Political Places of Boston' . . .

I will be surveying neighborhood landmarks/events and their UU connections (Boston Pride parade, Boston Common and Faneuil Hall) as well as UU sites (such as UUA headquarters, Beacon Press, Arlington Street Church, and Community Church).

UU people to be mentioned will include Emily Greene Balch, Elliot Richardson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Theodore Parker.

The UUA bookstore has kindly carried the book since it was released in 2004. Their copies also have a special insert that makes some of these same connections, which allow you to take a similar such "UU Freedom Trail" if you visit Boston.


Comment: He calls his book and his talk and his freedom trail all "UU" but with the exception of the UUA headquarters, everything mentioned is 100% Unitarian; there seems to be nothing Universalist included.


Exhibit #14

Apr 2009

Dictionary of UU Biography

Comment: I counted the Unitarians and the Universalists in the Dictionary of UU Biography because it seemed as if most of the entries were on Unitarians. I made the count in Apr 2009.

Of the 932 Individuals listed:

68% (633) are Unitarian

18% (172) are Universalist

3% (32) are Both

11% (98) are Unknown (to me at this time)

Comment: The editor in chief of this project specializes in Universalist history, so I am hopeful that as the project goes forward, the difference between the number of Unitarian and Universalist articles will be lessened.

(Email me if you would like to see a list the actual names and how I counted them.)


Exhibit #15

May 2009

This website gives a brief history of "UUism" based solely on Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a Unitarian minister for about 4 years (1829-1833) then withdrew from the denomination.


Exhibit #16

Jun 2009


Warren Allen Smith's website has a summary page listing the names of 325 notable Unitarians who are profiled on his site (there are a few doubles and other anomalies so the correct number is about 323), and another summary page listing all the Universalists, of which there are 45.

But wait, four of the individuals listed as Universalists were actually Unitarians, so the actual number of Universalists listed is only 41. (The four are Dan McKanan, Winifred Latimer Norman, Arpad Szabo; plus Hosea Ballou I is listed twice, the second time as Josea Ballou.)

I also checked the Unitarian list to see if any names belong on the Universalist list and found four (Johannes Auer, Adin Ballou, Angus MacLean, Clinton Lee Scott).

Comment: The site is about 85% Unitarian and 15% Universalist.


Exhibit #17

4 Nov 2009

UU historian John Keohane's proposed four-session "Course in Adult Religious Education on UU History," as posted on the UU Historical Society listserv.


1) Ballou and Channing Both were 19th century Protestant Christian ministers in Boston. Each read the Bible more seriously than their "orthodox" brethren. They were from different strata of society, and they didn't like each other. Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) was a Universalist. He found in the Bible evidence for Universal Salvation. William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) was a Unitarian. He found lack of Biblical evidence lacking for the Trinity. He thought the Bible must be read with the use of reason.

2) The Humanists of the mid-20th century Evidence that Unitarians had gone clearly beyond our Christian roots. We'll discuss the Humanist Manifesto (1933), and some of those who signed it, including ministers John Dietrich and Edwin H. Wilson. We'll then go to another Humanist, the distinguished scientist and physiologist Maurice Visscher, learning of some of the early medical missionary work of the Unitarian (now UU) Service Committee. We'll also learn of Visscher's social action, of the science, and his actions to end atmospheric nuclear tests.

3) Unitarians and Universalists for Civil Rights We'll discuss UU martyrs at Selma, James Reeb, a minister from Boston, and Viola Liuzzo, a housewife and mother from Michigan, whose Oldsmobile with the Michigan plates stood out in the red clay of Alabama. We'll then move our discussion to a giant of the United States Senate, the Quaker-Unitarian Paul H. Douglas, of Illinois, who led the way for civil rights in his 18 years in the US Senate (1949-67), and each year reported his net worth and income to the penny, while rejecting any gift over $5, and refusing his disability pension from the United States Marines.

4) Unitarians and Universalists in the last 50 years Pre-merger cooperation on Religious Education, a hymnal, etc. leading to merger in 1961, to become the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Comment: His course includes about 85% Unitarian and 15% Universalist material. The number of Universalist people mentioned here is exactly one: Hosea Ballou, although one could also count Viola Liuzzo who belonged to a joint Unitarian Universalist congregation.


Visit my online used bookstore and check out my little booklet, A Who's Who of UUs

Thanks and Happy New Year y'all.


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