Writing at The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship’s site, Rev. Thomas Wintle offers an interesting typology of UU Christians. Essentially, it breaks down UU Christian identity into three primary categories, linking them to the Trinitarian Christian conception of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. The descriptions are brief so it isn’t always exactly clear what they mean, but they are intriguing and worthy of consideration.
First are the “classical UU Christians,” who are described as having a sort of “unitarianism of the Father.” These are the people who follow the sort of Unitarian and Universalist theologies that were common currency before theism went out of vogue. They focus on the life and ethical teachings of the human Jesus, don’t consider the Trinity or Atonement necessary, and focus on a reasoned and scholarly-informed approach to understanding the myths and symbols of the Bible. They downplay the rituals of the Christian tradition to some degree. They believe in God, who is pictured as a benevolent Creator but also somewhat distant. This a “unitarianism of the Father” in that Jesus and all people are see as equal children under the guidance of a unified, transcending Father God.
The next type of UU Christians are the Catholic/Ecumenical Christians. Here Catholic means “universal” or “all-embracing.” These are people who find their religious meaning in God revealed through “the Christ-event,” in the person of Jesus Christ and the Church. They are high-church oriented, rummaging freely through the best of Catholic and Protestant liturgical and ritual tradition to find those hymns, sacraments, and other elements that most evoke the Divine. Spiritual disciplines are important to this group. They have a “unitarianism of the Son” because their orientation is toward the Church (the Body of Christ) and have a somewhat mystical attitude toward the more-than-human Jesus.
Finally, the third group are the Liberation UU Christians. They are a “unitarianism of the Spirit” because they emphasize the Spirit at work among the oppressed and needy persons of the world. Their main orientation is toward discerning how God calls us to help our fellows, and then getting out there with rolled-up sleeves to do something about it. The Gospel for these UU Christians is a prophetic call for radical and ethical action devoted to actively changing this world into the Kingdom of God.
A fourth category of “Questioning Christians”–people drawn to Christianity but unsure of how to reconcile it with doubts and modern life–is also mentioned. Wintle acknowledges that these are thumbnail sketches that don’t fully capture the diversity of UU Christianity. But nevertheless they may be useful categories with which to think about how Christianity continues to operate within UU circles. Keeping in mind the differing approaches to God by UUs who affirm a Christian identity can help to explain what it is people find compelling in liberal Christianity.