Friday, July 13, 2007

God is still speaking.

[Charles West Cope, Pilgrim Fathers Leaving Delft]

PeaceBang has drawn a lot of responses to her post about the UCC’s new slogan, “God is still speaking”. What I’d like to explore here is the backstory, which many UUs may not be aware of, but which explains why their slogan would catch our attention.

The oldest congregation in the UUA is First Parish Church in Plymouth, Mass. It was first gathered (in secret, to avoid persecution for heresy) in 1608 in Scrooby, England, spent a few years in exile in Holland, and migrated to the New World in 1620 aboard the Mayflower in pursuit of the freedom to worship openly.

Around 1800, in one of the earliest outbreaks of what would later be called the “Unitarian Controversy”, the Plymouth church divided, with the liberal faction remaining in First Parish and the stricter Calvinist faction forming a new church that is now affiliated with the UCC. Because of this schism, both the UUA and UCC now trace their earliest origins in North America to the Pilgrims of Plymouth.

What this dry old history means to us today is that, contrary to the intuition of many contemporary UUs, the Mayflower Pilgrims were UUs too. Well, proto-UUs. Liberal Calvinists. Free-thinking dissenters branded as heretics. A hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, when Unitarianism was arguably at its zenith, it was the Pilgrims, not Theodore Parker or Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom Unitarians all looked to as their denominational exemplars. The Pilgrims truly have a more rightful place on the Famous UUs list than many of the names who are actually there. (Which makes for great elevator speeches about who we are, by the way.)

And what exactly did these early religious liberals believe that set them apart from more rigid Christians? Here’s Governor Edward Winslow of Plymouth writing in 1646, recalling the farewell sermon given by their pastor John Robinson, who had remained behind in Holland in 1620 and died before he could rejoin his congregation in the New World:

We were now, ere long, to part asunder; and the Lord knoweth whether ever he should live to see our faces again. But … he charged us, before God and his blessed angels, … if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his Ministry. For he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word.

He took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period [full stop] in religion; and would go no further than the Instruments of their Reformation. As, for example, the Lutherans: they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw, for whatever part of God's will He had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. "And also," saith he, "you see the Calvinists. They stick where he left them, a misery much to be lamented.

"For though they were precious shining lights in their Times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living," saith he, "they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light as that they had received."

Here also, he put us in mind of our Church Covenant; at least that part whereby "we promise and covenant with God and one another to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us…," but withal exhorted us to take heed what we received for truth; and well to examine and compare and weigh it … before we received it. "For," saith he, "it is not possible … that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once."
[Emphasis added.]

“The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word”. That is the pastoral charge that would form the foundation of what are now two entire denominations, the UUA and the UCC. That is the understanding that informed the original covenants of so many of the oldest congregations in both denominations, with their expressions of devotion to truths yet to be known. And it is the source of many subsequent paraphrases in both denominations, such as these 19th-century examples:

It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.
(Unitarian minister and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his Divinity School Address)

New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward,
Who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her campfires!
We ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly
Through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future's portal
With the Past's blood-rusted key.

(Unitarian poet James Russell Lowell, from his poem "The Present Crisis")

We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind --
By notions of our day and sect – crude, partial, and confined:
No, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred,
For God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.

(Congregational layman George Rawson, from his hymn “We Limit Not the Truth of God”)

Reason's noble aspiration
Truth in growing clearness saw;
Conscience spoke its condemnation,
Or proclaimed the eternal law.
While Thine inward revelations
Told Thy saints their prayers were heard,
Prophets to the guilty nations
Spoke Thine everlasting Word.

Lo, that Word abideth ever;
Revelation is not sealed;
Answering now to our endeavor,
Truth and right are still revealed.
That which came to ancient sages,
Greek, Barbarian, Roman, Jew,
Written in the soul’s deep pages,
Shines today, forever new.

(Unitarian minister Samuel Longfellow, from his hymn “Light of Ages and of Nations”, #190 in the grey hymnal)

So, when in the 21st century the UCC undertakes a new outreach program with the slogan “God is Still Speaking,” it’s only natural that their phrase would resonate with many UUs as well. After all, the understanding that it expresses is not new to the UCC or unique to them; rather, like some of our own favorite UU slogans, it’s a restatement of a bedrock principle that we UUs have always held in common with them.


At July 13, 2007 at 12:37:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Great "puff piece" Fausto. . . You know perfectly well that the slogan "God is Still Speaking," would "resonate" with many atheist "Humanist" U*Us like chalk screeching on a chalkboard. You know full well that no shortage of atheist "Humanist" U*Us will label anyone claiming to have "heard" God "speaking" to them as nuts, crazy, delusional, unwell and even psychotic. If I am to believe the testimony of Joel Monka some atheist "Humanist" U*Us labeled UUA President Bill Sinkford as "psychotic" when he called for more "Language of Reverence". You know perfectly well that even though the U*U "religious community" claims in its fraudelent propaganda to be open to "new truth" "prophecy" and even "revelation" that revelation is effectively sealed within the U*U religious community by callous indifference, willful ignorance, and even hostile and malicious reactionary attacks on those who dare to claim to have had some kind of profopund revelatory experience of God. God is indeed still speaking but U*Us are not only obstinately refusing to listen, they are effectriovely telling God to shut up. . .

At July 13, 2007 at 12:56:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I don't think what you call "propaganda" is "fraudulent", Robin. As reflected in my observations on our denominational history here, I think it's authentic and valid.

Certainly there are some UUs who don't appreciate or understand either our history or its present implications, and there are some other UUs who understand it but refuse to walk the talk. But do the evident shortcomings of our members invalidate our ideals? I don't think so. Do they make us less sincere or more hypocritical than all the other religious denominations out there? No, I think they make us just the same as all the others.

As Genesis tells us, we all live east of Eden, or as the Buddha said in the first of his Four Noble Truths, life is suffering. That being the case, we might as well get accustomed to it.

At July 13, 2007 at 1:19:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

The last time I checked prophets are by no means supposed to "get accustomed" to hypocrisy, or indeed other injustices and abuses. UUA and CUC produced magazines, pamphlets, web sites, and other media can be very properly described as U*U propaganda. The content of U*U propaganda can entirely justifiably be described as fraudulent if, indeed when, U*Us continue to distribute it even though they consistently behave in a manner that proves that propaganda to be falsehoods and lies. How can U*Us pretend to be a "church" or indeed "religion" where "Revelation is not sealed!" and "the word of the prophet still flows" when they have not only consistently ignored contemporary revelation and prophecy but have even gone out of their way to belittle and malign those who claim to hear God speaking and have attempted to pass on the message?

At July 13, 2007 at 1:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Well, before we accept a new revelation we have to face the question of how to discern whether the voice you may hear is authentically that of God. As John Robinson warned the Plymouth congregation, in spite of our receptivity we still need "to take heed what we receive for truth; and well to examine and compare and weigh it … before we receive it."

In other sects within the Reformed tradition, there is more of an emphasis on the superiority of collective discernment of truth within the constraints of the communal covenant than there is in contemporary UUism. I think that's largely a result of Emerson's emphasis on individualism. However, there are boundaries of individual discernment beyond which even UU congregations are reluctant to venture, and processes of collective discernment that we still follow, and I think that is to our credit. Without our collective discernment processes, for example, I suspect we wouldn't have been in the forefront of the religious witness for marriage equality. For that matter, without both the openness to new truths and the careful discernment urged by Robinson, we wouldn't have absorbed so many humanist attitudes into our approach to determining truth.

At July 13, 2007 at 1:51:00 PM EDT, Blogger Lizard Eater said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this, Fausto!

At July 13, 2007 at 2:23:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Needless to say I meant to say -

We are wondering if U*Us are even capable of responding respectfully to contemporary claims of revelation of God.

At July 13, 2007 at 2:36:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

God IS still speaking and it is glaringly obvious to most intelligent people that the vast majority of U*Us are still not the least bit interested in listening. . .

At July 13, 2007 at 3:09:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

In our covenantal religious tradition, just as in that of all other covenantal Reformed denominations, when there is a conflict between personal discernment and covenanted communal discernment of truth, both the individual and the community are bound by their obligations under the communal covenant.

If the community does not accept the apprehensions of an individual member as valid, the individual then has a covenantal obligation either to accept the discernment of the community or withdraw from the covenant. That does not necessarily mean that the individual's rather than the community's discernment is in error, but even when the communal discernment is faulty, that does not necessarily consititute communal hypocrisy. There is a long history within our denomination of different covenanted congregations reaching conflicting conclusions on matters of truth and belief, including even on the existence of God, but they are generally able to disagree without compromising the covenantal tradition, their willingness to consider the validity of subsequently revealed truths, or their religious integrity.

I know what's on your mind, Robin, and I don't want to debate it all over again here. I've allowed you some latitude, largely because I think your comments are helpful in examining the often-overlooked conflict between individual and communal discernment, and the equally overlooked principle that in the case of such conflict in the covenanted community even the personal search for truth is conducted within and constrained by personal covenantal obligations to the larger community, but I will remove from this thread any direct or indirect references to what you understand to be your own personal revelations, or the difficulties you have had with your own former congregation over them.

At July 13, 2007 at 3:46:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Here is a fuine example of that fraudulent U*U propaganda I was talking about Fausto and you are once again demonstrating just how fraudulent it is. . .

Unitarians believe first of all in truth in its supremacy and its authority. It does not need to be embalmed to be preserved for posterity. We jealously guard the right to know, to speak, and to argue freely, according to conscience, within our own church and in society at large. We are opposed to censorship, by church, state, or any other institution. We believe that truth stands the best chance of emerging under conditions of freedom.

At July 13, 2007 at 4:37:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I have never heard that statement before, Robin. I would agree that it is problematic, but you would probably disagree with me on the reason why.

I think that in expressing such an extreme view of the freedom of inquiry, the statement unduly omits the balancing and governing role that the covenantal relationship has always served in maintaining the stability and support of the community within which individuals may conduct their free personal inquiry, and without which their inquiry would have little significance or even be impossible. Thus, the statement is misleading not because it expresses a false ideal that we refuse to honor in practice, but because it omits the necessary governing conditions and qualifications without which a personal quest for truth within a community cannot dependably proceed.

One of the conditions of any covenant supporting the freedom of a personal quest for truth must necessarily be that such a quest cannot infringe on any other individual's personal quest for truth. In other words, if you can believe what you want, you also have to respect my right to believe what I want, even (or especially) if my belief disagrees with yours. You cannot require me to believe or even to consider anything I do not want to. Or as it has been expressed in the context of civil liberties, your free right to swing your fist stops at my nose.

If you are perfectly free to proclaim the truth as you apprehend it, but wish to remain voluntarily bound in a covenant of community with me, equity demands that I must also be perfectly free to ignore you, no matter how fervently you may believe in the truth of your apprehensions.

At July 13, 2007 at 4:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

More fancy worded obfuscation aka talking through your hat Fausto. Ignoring someone and censoring someone are two different things. You have already censored one of my posts here that was very much on topic to this thread and a direct response to your own comments.

Clearly you do not jealously guard the right to know. Au contraire you quite evidently jealously guard the right to ignore, censor and suppress as do many if not most of your fellow U*U hypocrites.

Clearly you do not jealously guard guard my right to speak, and to argue freely, according to my conscience, within your own church or even in society at large. . . Yes Fausto your Socinian blog is part and parcel of society at large as are all other U*U blogs.

No doubt this is precisely because the truth stands the best chance of emerging under conditions of freedom and you are no more interested in allowing unpleasant truths about the U*U religious community to emerge than any number of your fellow U*Us. . .

At July 13, 2007 at 5:40:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

As I said before, Robin, UUism has historically overemphasized individualism and underemphasized covenantal obligations in comparison with its sister denominations in the Reformed branch of Protestantism. I think this can be traced to Emerson and his heroic view of the personal apprehension of truth. In defense of Emerson's religious integrity, though, I'll observe that once he realized the implications of his ideas about the supreme authority of personal discernment, he severed all his pastoral and congregational relationships.

However, unlike Emerson himself, we UUs have never abandoned the covenantal relationship as a framework for organizing our communal religious life. That being the case, our failure to place enough emphasis on it has led to a great deal of misunderstanding about the validity of personal as contrasted to communal discernment, and about the subordination of our individualism that we offer to the gathered congregation when we enter into a covenanted relationship and undertake corresponding obligations.

I think your own apparent view that personal freedoms or apprehensions deserve to be afforded the higher priority when they conflict with covenanted obligations to the community is a reflection of our unbalanced emphasis. I think your view is widely shared by others in the denomination, but I think in both your case and theirs it only reveals a misunderstanding of our collective polity and our collective epistemology, not an immutable foundational premise that we habitually and hypocritically breach.

At July 13, 2007 at 6:53:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

For a second there I thought yopu said "habitually and hypocritically preach". . . ;-)

I have been trying to stay on topic to your original subject but if you want to talk about covenantal relationships I will happily point out to you the many ways in which a certain unmentionable U*U "church" and no shortage of individual U*Us have habitually and hypocritically breached U*U "covenants" their ratheer less than "right relations" with me and other people. In fact U*Us have habitually and hypocritically breached pretty much ALL of the purported "covenants" of the Seven Principles of U*Uism in their disinterested, indifferent, willfully ignorant, when not outright hostile and abusive, responses to my efforts to let U*Us know that "God is still speaking" and freely and responsiblyb share an important message of God with U*Us.

How about if you lay off the censorship on this thread and allow Rev. Charles Eddis' fraudulent U*U propaganda a chance to redeem itself for once. . .

I would like to see some actual truth emerge here about how U*Us actually respond to those who claim that "God is still speaking" and even have a message or two to share. . . At present U*U claims to be a "church" where "Revelation is not sealed" and "the word of the prophet still flows" are remarkably empty and effectively fraudulent.

At July 13, 2007 at 7:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

You might want to start a new thread dealing with "covenental obligations". Be assured that I have plenty to say on that subject. . . For the record my view is that personal freedoms or apprehensions deserve to be afforded the higher priority when the community disregards and/or breaks the "covenanted obligations" *of* the community, as the U*U "community" has repeatedly done in its well-documented inhuman human relations with me. U*Us repeatedly made a complete mockery of most of the purported "covenants" of the Seven Principles long before I decided to exercise my right to peaceful public protest.

At July 13, 2007 at 11:31:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

You see, Robin, the thing is, I have my blog and you have yours (which, IIRC, I encouraged you to set up in the first place). The way we can each best speak our own truths is to do so on our own blogs.

When we bloggers divert the discussion on someone else's blog to our own issues and concerns, we are not so much exercising our own free personal discernment of truth as infringing the freedom of our host blogger's personal discernment. That's why, for example, when I wanted to expose the common historical antecedents to the UCC's "Still speaking" slogan and our own "Revelation is not sealed", I did it here rather than on PeaceBang's "parent" thread, where she was exploring the question of how God speaks.

The particular truth to which I am witnessing here is only meant to raise awareness of how our historical legacy informs our present attitudes and values. If you want to use my points as a springboard for exploring further whether we are in fact as true to those legacy values as we should be, or if you want to offer a critical analysis of the works of Rev. Eddis, or if you want to review the covenantal obligations that a congregation owes to its individual members, that's not my main focus in this thread. Please, by all means, speak those truths yourself as you perceive them, but do it on your own blog rather than usurping mine, just as I did by starting this thread when I departed from the focus of PeaceBang's discussion.

Asking you to do that does not censor anyone and protects the free discernment of everyone.

At July 14, 2007 at 6:12:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At July 14, 2007 at 6:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Sorry to zap another one, Robin, but the piece of the puzzle that you seem to be consistently missing is that our own blogs are where we discern and testify to our own truths, not open podiums we offer freely to anyone with anything else to say. On blogs, all visitors are guests. In the virtual world as in the real one, guests are welcome only if and to the extent that they observe the ordinary rules of common courtesy and consideration that hosts always expect of guests.

In the real world, if I'm hosting a "Hallelujah Chorus" sing-along, it would breach common courtesy for you to show up and start playing another tune on the accordion or electric guitar at the same time. The issue wouldn't be whether you were playing good music or playing it well, but whether you should be playing it right then and right there. The same principle applies in blogging. Guest comments should advance or complement a discussion, but not take it in a different direction than the host wants.

If you have something that you think I will consider worthwhile to add to the view of UU history I've expressed here, do it on this thread. I've left up more of your posts than I've deleted, I think. But it's ultimately my discussion, and I am the sole arbiter of what's appropriate and what's inconsiderate.

The test of whether guest comments stay up here is not whether they're valid or invalid points, but whether they advance the discussion I want to host. Trying to argue with me about my posting policies, for example, does not advance the discussion I want to host. Neither does a tangential debate about communal reluctance to affirm as a community an individual's highly personal discernments. Those are different topics and therefore distractions. If you have other, unrelated truths to tell about topics I don't want to engage here, please do it on your own blog, not here.

At July 17, 2007 at 6:22:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jaume said...

I don't get all the fuss about that quote, "the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word". This is after all just a paraphrasis of John 16:13, and therefore perfectly Christian and Evangelical. No new or particular theology here.

P.S.: Socinian, you said that Robin was welcome here. Now you have to deal with that offer...

At July 17, 2007 at 9:30:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Actually, Jaume, I don't think it is a paraphrase of John 16:13. Robinson in his sermon was lamenting the closure of rival Protestant communities to further interpretation or apprehension beyond those bequeathed to them by Luther or Calvin -- which had very little correlation with Jesus' parting consolation to his disciples in that section of John. Yes, there is the similarity that Robinson was being separated from his congregation just as Jesus in John 16 was preparing to leave his disciples, but if Robinson was suggesting that he had been a similar leader to his flock as Jesus had been to his disciples, and that the congregation needed a similar sort of consolation upon their separation from him, the implied analogy of himself to Christ would have been understood as a gross blasphemy. Rather, in keeping with the great Protestant principles of disintermediation and "the priesthood of all believers", I think Robinson was suggesting that work started by the Reformers in freeing God's entire truth from arbitrary Roman hierarchical strictures had not yet been completed.

As to my moderation of Robin's comments, his constructive contributions to the discussion, which he is fully capable of offering when he is motivated to do so, are indeed welcome. However, intentional distractions, diversions, interruptions, non sequiturs, cheap shots, pot shots, and other miscellaneous graffiti are not -- especially those that appear to recall his differences with his former congregation, which he is fully able to rehash for the umpteenth time somewhere else. Although I do impose some limits, and perfect consistency is probably an unattainable ideal (that is, if we ignore Emerson's scorn for it as an ideal), I think my policy is more lenient and forgiving than many other UU bloggers', and I am perfectly willing to engage what appear to me to be his substantive contributions, as I tried to do here. If that were not the case, this thread would have been very much shorter.

At July 19, 2007 at 6:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jaume said...

Thanks for your detailed answer. I was not referring to the preacher's personal situation, but that the expectation that more revelation is at hand for those who are able and willing to listen to the Spirit, is a perfectly Christian teaching and has been a leit-motif of many theologies and in the mystics' writings. It is, IMO, not particularly meaningful as a precedent or anticipation of what UUism has become.

I keep believing that the Enlightenment and Deism are more relevant to the theological development of 18th century Unitarianism than what you call "liberal Calvinism" (an oxymoron IMO). Apparently more bibliography on Priestley's role is being published right now which could shed more light on this. But this is another issue for longer and more careful debate.

As for Robin's way of responding, I think that you just can't ask Robin to "behave" (well, you can, but he won't). He always responds the same way no matter what, although with varying degrees of intensity and scorn, particularly referring back to Drennan and the Montreal event, and utterly ignoring the principles of congregational polity, he elevates the case as a denominational and even a theological issue. And every single thread will finally come down to this.

At July 19, 2007 at 9:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Jaume, you said:

...the Enlightenment and Deism are more relevant to the theological development of 18th century Unitarianism than what you call "liberal Calvinism" (an oxymoron IMO)."

That's true as to the English Unitarians, but it would be my contention that the American Unitarians arose out of a somewhat different intellectual and religious milieu -- one that could accurately be described as "liberal Calvinism".

However, my argument depends on defining what "Calvinism" consists of. Are Calvinists all those whose religious tradition can be traced back to Calvin himself, or only those whose tradition remains consistent with the further interpretations of Theodore Beza as codified at the Synod of Dort? Arminius and his losing partisans at Dort considered themselves at least as faithful in their understanding and application of Calvin as the prevailing Bezans. The Bezan faction were the ones criticized by Robinson in his farewell sermon for their closed-mindedness.

In Calvinist 18th-century New England, it was Arminian- and Socinian-leaning ministers, like Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew, who constituted the primary opposition to the evangelical Dortian Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards. It was these Arminians and Socinians who in the early 19th century were refused fellowship and accused of English-style Unitarianism by their stricter Calvinist brethren.

Throughout the 19th century, despite the schism, both factions (by then called Unitarian and Congregational) maintained a liberal drift -- as did much of the (originally Bezan) Presbyterian Church in the US and Church of Scotland. Today, I would argue, not only the Arminian UUs, United Methodists, and much of the American Baptist Convention, but also the PCUSA and Church of Scotland, and others, can all be accurately described today as "liberal Calvinists".

At July 21, 2007 at 4:00:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jaume said...

Your argument is solid about the development of Unitarian history in America, and it is told along similar lines in most if not all manuals of Unitarian history published in the US. I still wonder about the influence of Priestley and of English Unitarians in the development of Unitarianism in America. How influential were their writings? It has been said (by Americans) that Priestley's church in Philadelphia was not influential in American Unitarianism, even though it was the first one which was openly Unitarian. We also need to take into account that the first Unitarian church in Massachusetts was an Anglican church, not a congregationalist one. Was the development of American Unitarianism a truly native production out of the rationalist wing of New England Calvinism, or was there a borrowing process from English sources for pastors who were immersed in the Enlightenment worldview and were looking for a way to oppose their revivalist brethren and slowly adopted the views coming from England? I just wonder because I do not have enough data available (I hope to find more soon), but it might turn out that the influence of English rationalistic views on religion was higher than told in American UU books.

At July 21, 2007 at 9:31:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

We're talking about two different historical influences. I'm talking about a liberal urge that I think has always existed within Calvinism (if defined broadly), which found a renewed strength among the Reformed churches in New England after Arminius and his faction were defeated at Dort. You're talking about the emergence of a low, antitrinitarian Christology, which was occurring in North America more or less simultaneously with the liberalization of Calvinism in the 18th century, and which eventually came to be adopted in many of the New England churches, but which is not really related to their Calvinist origins. I would say it was the liberal trend in the Calvinist churches that allowed them to consider the arguments for a low Christology, but I would also agree with you that there is nothing inherent in low Christology that makes it particularly Calvinistic or even particularly appealing to Calvinists.

Priestly's church had its influence within its region (on Thomas Jefferson, for example), but in Boston it was Calvinist Harvard that trained generations of ministers in Enlightenment rationalism, including (without emphasizing) English Unitarian ideas, so to that extent, borrowing did occur. The first openly antitrinitarian pastor in New England was Harvard-trained Jonathan Mayhew, who was the fourth generation of Puritan clergy from his family, and whose low Christology was already fully formed when he was called to the pulpit of West Church in Boston in 1747. Kings Chapel in Boston, which was originally Anglican, is the oldest surviving Unitarian church in New England. However, when it became Unitarian in 1782, it was not due to Anglican influences but at the request of James Freeman, another congregationalist Harvard scion like Mayhew, who was not willing to accept a call to its pulpit unless he were allowed to remove the Trinitarian liturgical elements from the Book of Common Prayer.

At the time of the "Unitarian Controversy" of the early 19th century, it was the orthodox (i.e., Dort and Westminster)Calvinist faction who made a big issue of the liberals' supposedly low Christology, and who called the liberals "Unitarian" as an intended slur. Nevertheless, the liberal faction at the time were tolerant of variations in Christology because they didn't consider it a particularly significant element of their doctrinal system; they considered the more important area of disagreement to be their rejection of the Dort Calvinists' view of human depravity and incapacity, and of the pretetermined arbitrariness, harshness and finality of God's judgment.

At August 2, 2007 at 9:14:00 PM EDT, Anonymous e. isaacson said...

A beautiful post, Fausto.

You can accuse me of "ancestor worship and reviving the dead," I suppose, but I do think that the tale of John Robinson and the Pilgrims is both compelling and relevant: We should strive never to close our hearts and minds.

But there's still more backstory on "God is still speaking." I think it's worth noting that the major networks banned the United Church of Christ's advertisment - - on the ground that by suggesting homosexuals are worth of Christian love and respect, it was flatly contrary to the Bush Administration's homophobic policies. I kid you not.

CBS explained that because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

The "God is still speaking" ad can be found here:

And CBS's explanation for why the networks won't run it can be found here:

At August 2, 2007 at 10:56:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Thank you for your kind words here, E.

I remember the flap over the UCC's ad campaign, and I agree that it was appalling how the campaign was kept out of our public ariwaves for such thinly veiled, anti-libertarian, political reasons.

And though it's a bit of a digression here, I think that there is a legitimate line to be drawn between the appropriate use and the misuse of our religious heritage and the examples of our religious ancestors. We UUs may no longer find much worth preserving in Robinson's Calvinist theology, for example, and even the UCC has left a good bit of it behind as well, but his charge to the departing Pilgrims remains at the vital center of the "living tradition" of both denominations.

At August 28, 2007 at 12:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger kimc said...

Lots of religions find ancestor worship perfectly respectable....

At September 6, 2007 at 10:46:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

:As for Robin's way of responding, I think that you just can't ask Robin to "behave" (well, you can, but he won't). He always responds the same way no matter what, although with varying degrees of intensity and scorn, particularly referring back to Drennan and the Montreal event, and utterly ignoring the principles of congregational polity, he elevates the case as a denominational and even a theological issue. And every single thread will finally come down to this.

Sorry Jaume but dealing responsibly with clergy misconduct is a denominational issue in that it is the UUA, its Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and now its Department of Congregational Services that is responsible for holding U*U ministers accountable for clergy misconduct. Anti-religious intolerance and bigotry is a denominational issue in that it is a widespread problem that is spread throughout the U*U World. My case is by no means the only case of a U*U minister or U*U lay people making a total mockery of U*U principles and ideals by engaging in anti-religious intolerance and bigotry. If you can`t take my word for it take the word of other U*U who have spoken out against it, such as this recent post by Rev. Victoria Weinstein.

My case is also a theological issue in that I am claiming a significant revelation of God but the uncommonly hypocritical denomination that pretends in its religious propaganda allows Rev. Ray Drennan and other U*Us to verbally defecate all over my claimed revelation with complete impunity and refuses to respond in responsibility to my claimed revelation of God by engaging in a genuinely *responsible* search for the truth and meaning of what I am claiming.

At September 6, 2007 at 10:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Im meant to say - the uncommonly hypocritical denomination that pretends in its religious propaganda to be one where "Revelation is not sealed!" allows Rev. Ray Drennan and other U*Us to verbally defecate all over my claimed revelation with complete impunity

At September 7, 2007 at 6:59:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Robin, you crossed over the line with those last two posts, and I ordinarily would remove them, but I'm leaving them up for now because they start out responding directly to Jaume, and end by proving Jaume's argument.

If the conversation gets sidetracked any further in the direction Jaume predicted, however, or if Rev. Weinstein objects to your link, I'll start purging. This is a thread about the historic sources of some of our principles, and how we share them beyond our own denomination, not how well we may or may not have lived up to them in a specific recent circumstance.


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