There Has Never Been a Universalist President of the UUA: The Answer to Today’s UU Trivia Question of the Day

Michael Tino is the winner of today’s UU trivia challenge! He correctly answered that there have been more Unitarian than Universalist UUA presidents. In fact, he answered the extra bonus question too, by pointing out that there has never been a UUA president from the historically Universalist wing of the denomination. As he said, all of the presidents have been Unitarians. Actually, it’s a little more complicated in the case of John Buehrens, who converted to UUism after the creation of Unitarian-Universalism in 1961. So we might say there have been six Unitarian presidents, one Unitarian-Universalist president, and zero Universalist presidents. But even Buehrens was converted at Unitarian Harvard, under the influence of his Unitarian roommate Bill Sinkford, and has served exclusively in historically Unitarian congregations.

One reason the Universalists were reluctant to join with the Unitarians was that they feared being drowned and lost in a sea of Unitarianism (which was the larger and more culturally powerful denomination). I don’t know if this lack of Universalist presidents is evidence of their fears coming true or not–Universalists have held important positions on the Board of the UUA, even if they’ve never been elected to the presidency. Does this lopsidedness say something about UUism, or not?



Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

7 responses to “There Has Never Been a Universalist President of the UUA: The Answer to Today’s UU Trivia Question of the Day

  1. Oh, I knew the answer. Perhaps the Universalists just aren’t ready yet!

  2. Universalist Gordon McKeeman ran in the 1977 election that Paul Carnes won; he was also considered for the position when Carnes died in office.

    It’s also worth noting that, as president, Sinkford has identified much more strongly with a kind of neo-Universalism than with Unitarianism.

  3. Patrick McLaughlin

    A member of my fellowship–a 5th generation Universalist–likes to point out that the name “Unitarian Universalist” concerned many Universalists who felt that Universalism got second billing… but that what it really does is make Unitarian a mere modifier of Universalism.

    Looking at those who’ve grown up within the merged tradition or joined it in the last 40 years or so… I think that Universalism (neo- or not) is a significant theological theme. Unitarianism is — for most — a bit of history, theologically speaking.

  4. Eric Posa

    It seems likely at this point that the number will never change. Both candidates for next UUA President, Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales, came into UUism post-merger. The following election probably will occur in 2017, 56 years after the UUA was formed. The window of opportunity is closing, so while I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, I suspect no one with a connection to the Universalist Church of America will ever serve as UUA president.

  5. The window has closed. The last graduates of the Universalist seminaries are well into retirement. Meanwhile, only a handful of traditionally Universalist churches are large enough to launch a presidential candidate (if precedent is any guide): West Hartford, Conn.; Minneapolis; Denver; and maybe a few others.

  6. What? Unitarians that were around pre-merger have to convert to Unitarian Universalism, otherwise they are still merely pre-1961 stuck-in-the-past Unitarians? What does the conversion process look like?

    I know many post-1961 Unitarian Universalists who mistakenly refer to themselves as “Unitarians,” perhaps because they haven’t been paying attention to our liberal religious movement. Or maybe some are just reluctant to say, “I’m a UU — Unitarian Universalist”?

    In 1958 or so, the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination was formed. They seem more aware that they’re UCC than many of us are of being UU.

  7. Jeff

    Elizabeth, I’m afraid I didn’t really understand your questions. Could you try to rephrase them? It looks like you’re reacting to a misunderstanding of what’s been said here, but it’s not really clear.

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