American Unitarian Conference

Promoting Monotheism in the American Unitarian Tradition


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Orville Dewey on the Attacks Against Liberal Christianity
(an excerpt)

It is said that this religion is a new thing; that it is a departure from the faith of ages; that it unsettles the most established notions of things, and breaks in upon the order and peace of the churches. I state this objection strongly for the sake of our opponents, and indeed much more strongly than it deserves to be. For Unitarianism professes, so far from being a new thing, to be the old, pure, primitive Christianity. It does not profess, even in comparison with orthodoxy, to be essentially a new thing, but only so, in certain speculative doctrines; and still less is it the friend or promoter of disorder and disunion.

Nevertheless, it is, to a certain extent, a new thing, and it occasions, through the objections made to it, much disturbance. And can these, I ask, be valid or weighty objections in the mouths of Christians and Protestants? Christianity was once a new thing. The Athenian philosophers said to Paul, no doubt with as much contempt as any modern questioner could feel, "We would know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is." And others said, "These men that have turned the world upside down, have come hither also." Yes, troublesome, "pestilent fellows," "movers of sedition," devisers of mischief, and "doers of evil," were the first propagators of Christianity accounted, and were not ashamed thus to suffer in imitiation of their slandered Master.

And the Reformers of Christianity, in the sixteenth century, trod in the same steps, and in like manner had the "names cast out as evil." And especially was it objected to them, that they departed from the faith of the ages, and invaded the repose of time-hallowed doctrines and institutions. And in the strong confidence, ay, the strong argument of the majority, the same things were said about the truth as are now said; the same cry of "the church is in danger" was raised; the same anathemas were pronounced against dangerous heresies and the denying of the faith.

The whole scene was acted over, that is now witnessed, of an exclusive and hostile orthodoxy, on the one hand, and a firm and unyielding dissent on the other; only that orthodoxy could then command the inquisition and the rack; and now it only sets its tribunal on the reputation of men, and subjects the mind to trials, that in some instances scarcely fall short of the tortures of the rack. This has always been the fate of innovation, and perhaps, it always must be.

2003 American Unitarian Conference