If you ask Unitarian Universalists just what they believe, you may find them stumped for a short answer. If you were to conclude from this, and from our diversity and our freedom, that we dont know what we think, or that one can believe anything one likes and be a Unitarian Universalist, you would be mistaken. In spite of appearances, we are remarkably united in our basic values and beliefs.
Some of these basic values and beliefs are expressed in the Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Mission Statement.
One aspect that distinguishes Unitarian Universalist from other religious or spiritual groups is that ours is not a church that prescribes what we should believe. Rather, we focus on how we should behave, with freedom, reason, compassion and tolerance.
We believe that every person should be encouraged to develop their own personal theology and take responsibility for their own spiritual journey. Everyone should be able 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 an intrinsic merit and potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
Unitarians trace their roots back to Transylvania in the 1500s as well as to Poland, Hungary and Italy. Universalists begin in the early settlement days of America in the late 1700s, although Universalist thought can be seen much earlier in England. In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universalists in the United States of America merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Across the world, the majority of this religious group remains Unitarian and includes groups in Australia, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania (Transylvania), Russia and South Africa. Groups who, like the UUA, claim both the Unitarian and Universalist traditions can be found in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Finland, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and The Netherlands.
Many of these countries have organisations which are members of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists which is a network of Unitarian and Universalist organisations.
In Australia, the first Unitarian church was established in Sydney in 1850. The Melbourne Unitarian Church was founded in 1852 and the church in Adelaide was founded in 1855 by English settlers. In New Zealand, the first Unitarian congregation was formed in Auckland in 1863.
The Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together in 1995 but it is not the first time Unitarians gathered in this city. In the early 1980s a group of Unitarians met for several years before disbanding. However, they left the remainder of their financial offerings in a bank account with the instructions that should another Unitarian group be formed in future, this money should be turned over to the new group, which is what happened. Apparently, there was also a Unitarian group meeting in Brisbane in the 1950s. If anyone has any information about this even earlier group, we would be keen to know and would appreciate you contacting our secretary.
Theologically and philosophically, Unitarian Universalism springs from the Christian religion as practiced in Europe and then it spread from here to the rest of the world. However, throughout their history, Unitarians and Universalists are characterized differently from other Christian groups in that they persisted in being the most liberal thinkers of their day, whatever the age. Often, this saw them persecuted as heretics for believing such things as people should be allowed to interpret the bible for themselves, Jesus was not the literal son of god, Jesus did not bodily ascend into heaven, or everyone would be saved not just the chosen ones.
A major shift in theology and philosophy occurred in the 1930s-1950s throughout the UU world and especially in America, Australia and the UK, due to the rise of Humanism as a response to the Second World War. As many Unitarians began to consider or embrace Humanism, significant questions about Unitarian and Universalist ties to Christianity arose. Since that time, the Unitarian Universalist movement has continued to challenge and expand its circle of religious and philosophical knowledge and acceptance. Today, Unitarian Universalism can perhaps best be described as a pluralistic spiritual tradition with roots in liberal Christianity and branches in global religion.
In Australia and New Zealand, the majority of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists identify most strongly with Humanist philosophy. While many people in our congregations originally come from Christian backgrounds, most (although certainly not all) of them have moved from a theistic understanding of the divine to a non-theistic one. Other members identify most strongly with Atheism, Buddhism, Paganism or Taoism.
Many people identify with several traditions simultaneously. Unitarian Universalism can be home to all of these traditions because it is not a religion based on creeds, rather on values. In other words, UUs are not required to believe in a particular god or doctrine and rather agree on how we should live together with freedom, reason, compassion and tolerance.