The Principles that Unite Us
The introduction to the Object of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
A key principle of the Unitarian approach is the conviction that the search for truth and wholeness, developed through the spiritual life of the individual and the community, can best be pursued in an atmosphere of open enquiry. Freedom of belief and conscience have been the basis of our faith ever since the foundation of our earliest congregations.
Not surprisingly this broad and inclusive stance has led outsiders to wonder what unites us. Critics have suggested that Unitarianism is a lax faith within which people can simply 'believe what they like'. To the contrary, belief is not for the Unitarian a matter of whim, or random 'pick and mix'. Unitarians are free to believe only that which is consistent with their best understanding.
The individual Unitarian will hold to the insights of reason and conscience. But are there values and principles which Unitarians hold in common? Increasingly, Unitarians have recognised a pressing need to articulate the shared values and principles which define them as a religious community.
A landmark event was the acceptance of the new General Assembly Object at the Annual meetings of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in April 2001. The original Objects of the General Assembly had undergone only small changes since its foundation in 1928. The wording had become outdated and had largely lost its usefulness, hence the decision to create a contemporary statement.
The process of revision was a lengthy one. At times it was difficult to see any way forward towards consensus. Every stage was conducted in a highly democratic, fully consultative manner. It led at last to an almost unanimous acceptance of the new Object.
This Object is most emphatically not a creed. Complete agreement with the statement is not required of any individual or congregation. The Object should instead be understood as a guide to the purposes of the General Assembly but, more than this, it is a means of helping Unitarians to articulate where they stand in facing the spiritual challenges of the twenty-first century.
We, the constituent congregations, affiliated societies and individual members, uniting in a spirit of mutual sympathy, co-operation, tolerance and respect; and recognising the worth and dignity of all people and their freedom to believe as their consciences dictate; and believing that truth is best served where the mind and conscience are free, acknowledge that the Object of the Assembly is:
To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.
To this end, the Assembly may:
- Encourage and unite in fellowship bodies which uphold the religious liberty of their members, unconstrained by the imposition of creeds;
- Affirm the liberal religious heritage and learn from the spiritual, cultural and intellectual insights of all humanity;
- Act where necessary as the successor to the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and National Conference of Unitarian, Liberal Christian, Free Christian, Presbyterian and other Non-Subscribing or Kindred Congregations, being faithful to the spirit of their work and principles (see appendix to the constitution), providing always that this shall in no way limit the complete doctrinal freedom of the constituent churches and members of the Assembly; Do all other such lawful things as are incidental to the attainment of the above Object.