The crucible of freedom and reason that fostered the American revolution also opened the door to new movements in religious thought. One of those movements was Unitarianism, which grew out of Congregationalism in New England and the Unitarian tradition in England, Hungary, and elsewhere in Europe.
The American Unitarian Association (AUA) was created in 1825, giving form to the burgeoning Unitarian faith in North America. Thomas Jefferson had seen the Unitarian potential when he wrote:
“I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.”
Although Jefferson proved unduly optimistic, the AUA quickly became one of the most prominent religious groups in the United States.
The AUA for most of its life was an organization dedicated to promoting a tolerant religious faith that saw reason and a belief in God as congruent rather than hostile. It saw the Unitarian faith as squarely within the Western religious tradition. Modern thought, knowledge, and other faith traditions were not automatically rejected, as other religions insisted be done. Rather those modern ideas and the beliefs they challenged were to be tested through reason and debate, allowing the truth to come forth as a faith that could embrace both the wisdom of the past and new knowledge. Thus illuminated, religious faith would shine steadily and brightly in even the strongest storm.
In more recent years, various movements within the AUA, many not even religious in character, caused the association to depart from its historic traditions to the point that it would hardly be recognizable to its founders. The AUA was disbanded in 1961 when it merged with the Universalist Church of America, creating a new organization called the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The American Unitarian faith tradition was reborn in the year 2000 as the American Unitarian Conference, dedicated to a renewal of the historic Unitarian faith.The new AUC holds that the traditional Unitarian faith is uniquely suited for modern men and women seeking to grapple with the difficulties of applying religious faith to modern life. Classical Unitarian thinking offers a religious faith and language that neither requires its adherents to jettison modern science, nor to accept beliefs that they cannot rationally accept. Yet it is a religious faith, not just a philosophy, and draws sustenance and life from the Western religious tradition.
The new AUC is not so vain or arrogant as to think that all that has been done before us is of little or no value and that religious truths need to be entirely rediscovered with each new generation. Our Unitarianism is anchored in the hard-won wisdom and understanding of those that went before us without remaining stagnant. We believe that the Unitarian tradition is unique in this respect and the AUC aims to make that tradition vibrant and alive once again.
It will take a tremendous amount of work to rebuild Unitarianism into a movement that can fulfill its promise, yet at the same time this effort promises to be an exciting adventure. We invite you to join us and help us build a Unitarianism that will bring us intellectual and spiritual sustenance, a Unitarianism that will offer an anchor in an increasingly chaotic world, a Unitarianism that offers much more than tired formulas and dogmatic creeds, a Unitarianism that we can be proud to bequeath to our children.