I’m a Unitarian Universalist. Unitarians were historically founded on a message of the oneness of God and a rejection of the trinitarian dogma that God comes in three parts. Universalists, on the other hand, were founded on a message of universal salvation, i.e., no one goes to hell.
When the two denominations merged in the early 1960s, the Unitarians had the membership, and the Universalists had the money. The Unitarian side vowed to honor and remember the Universalist heritage, and not just run off with the nice endowment. So now I’m a Unitarian Universalist, a member of a 10-syllable denomination that is commonly referred to as UU, but which is also confused with Unity, the Christian denomination; and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon.
Is that old naming promise still binding on us as Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century? Did the American Unitarian Universalists of 1961 make an agreement about our denomination name that binds us in perpetuity?
I say, Only if we fear that in essence we are still really primarily Unitarian — “we” Unitarians took over “those” Universalists, and so “we” still need to honor our promise to “them.”
If we truly felt ourselves to be Universalist as well as Unitarian, we could decide as Universalists that the old fear of losing our identity and our message is no longer a concern. Universalists could gracefully acknowledge that American society understands the Unitarian name, and that we can call ourselves “Unitarians” without betraying our heritage — any more than we betray our Jewish and Christian roots by not calling our religion “Judeo-Christian-Based Religious Liberal Unitarian Universalists With Buddhist Influences.”
Alternatively, we could start with all-new branding. I love the poetic name “Universalist;” we could use just that name instead.
Look: I have a practical reason for this. I am the Twitter blogger for my congregation, and I blog UU issues on my private Twitter account as well. I only get 140 characters for each message, and have you counted the letters in “Unitarian Universalist” lately?
I call on the Unitarian Universalist Association (the American denomination) to survey non-UUs, to find out how they understand and respond to the words “Unitarian,” “Universalist,” “Unitarian Universalist,” and “UU.” We talk about growing our denomination, but we’re squandering our biggest asset — a branded name. And it isn’t “Unitarian Universalist.”