Congregationalists and Christians Were Potential U/U Merger Partners: The Answer to Today’s Trivia Question

There have been several good guesses today.  It’s actually hard to declare a winner, since it somewhat depends on how you parse history.  Basically, the two main groups that were considered for merger were the Congregationalists and the Christians.  But it’s all part of how you define things.

For example, SophiaSeeker guesses that the United Church of Christ was one of the groups that the Unitarians and Universalists considered merging with.  That’s sort of right, but only if we think of the UCC as the main inheritors of the Congregationalist legacy.  But by the time the UCC was created in 1957, not only had it combined with German denominations that the U/Us had never flirted with, but the talk of possible merger was past.  This seems to be what StevenR had in mind in his comment.  Both the Unitarians and the Universalists considered merger with the pre-UCC Congregationalists at times, but the Universalists were significantly closer to an actual plan to do so.

Meanwhile, Philocrites correctly guessed the other, actually much earlier group that the Unitarians especially considered merger with.  Even his answer technically needs some unpacking: in the early 19th century a broad movement called the Christians appeared that included a number of strands in it.  The ones that the Unitarians worked with tended not to be the actual ones that directly gave rise to the Disciples of Christ, but again, this was a multi-faceted and protean movement, so it isn’t a wrong answer.

For post-UUA merger, there are two groups that have popped up repeatedly in UU circles (and sometimes on the other side of the fence as well) as potential future merger partners.  Both happen to appear in StevenR’s speculations about groups that might merge with the UUA.  One, predictably, is the UCC.  The UCC and the UUA share common roots, although the Congregationalist UCC forbearers were actually bitter enemies of both the Unitarians and Universalists for quite some time, even actively persecuting them (especially the Universalists) in their New England stronghold.  Of course, the idea of UCC folks persecuting anyone is so odd that it just shows how long ago all this was.   A merger is not outside the bounds of imagination, though it might’ve worked better if the UUs had become the Liberal Christian Church as planned at one point, rather than the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The other possible merger partner is, believe it or not, actually the one that has been more strongly considered: Ethical Culture.  Dana Greeley even speculated that such a merger was desirable and looked forward to the day that it might happen.  But will either come about?  Probably not in the short term, at least.

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4 Comments

Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

4 responses to “Congregationalists and Christians Were Potential U/U Merger Partners: The Answer to Today’s Trivia Question

  1. Strong connections between some Unitarians–think the Western Conference– and the founders of Ethical Culture go back to the days of the Unity Movement. Connections were increasingly cordial as Humanists grew in influence in the old AUA. By the time that influence was at its peak–co-incident with the consolidation with the Universalist Church In America–such a movement seemed desirable, even likely. But although most UU’s continue to define themselves as some sort of Humanists, the triumphant days of the old “No god talk here!” brand has long sense passed and with it any chance of joining the Ethical Humanists. There is now far to much “sprituality” and “language of reverence” in most UU congregations the the Ethical Humanists ever to be comfortable.

    By the way another group that was sometimes thought of as a possible merger partner with the Unitarians a during the ’30’s and ’40’s–Reform Jews–have dropped out of consideration for similar reasons and because that movement has had its own “sprititual” revival and a re-awakened sense of urgency in Jewish identity.

  2. My thinking was that the UCC was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
    the Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1931 as a merger of the Congregational and Christian Church. So the United Church of Christ answer contains both Congregational and Christian Church.
    — unless the Christian Church that merged with the Congregationalists was one of the other divisions of the Christian Church.

  3. Transient and Permanent

    Patrick, you’re right about the Reform Jews being considered, at least in the abstract. And there’s another group that also figured in such (mainly idle) speculations: the Quakers (at least, the non-evangelical wing). But there was considerably more talk about Ethical Culture than either of these two groups.

    Steven, those are some of the Christians alright. The problem is that it’s so terribly hard to pin down the Christian movements: by their nature they were anti-authority and suspicious of denominationalism, and so you got lots of mixing and matching. My point was really just meant to be that you can’t ever draw a straight line from the Christians directly to any particular denomination (such as the Disciples) because lots of joining and splitting and recombining always took place in-between, ensuring that there are no “pure,” coherent lineages.

  4. Actually, one Ethical Culture society is currently negotiating joining the UUA. There may be more about this by June.

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