Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The long history of UU distrust of centralized authority

In my research and study to understand better the dynamics that contribute to Unitarian Universalism being such a small denomination when it has so much to offer the world, I stumbled across this paragraph in Richard Trudeau's book, Universalism 101 on page 61:

"Another reason for Universalism's decline had to do with Universalists' fear of centralized authority. In 1792, Universalists in Newport, Rhode Island, were reported to be reluctant even to meet with each other for Sunday worship, for fear of the ecclesiastical structure that they felt would inevitably follow from holding regular meetings. (And some say that Unitarian Universalists today have a problem with authority!) To the every end of its independent existence, the Universalist denomination never allowed its national organization to have significant authority."

This quote appears in Trudeau's book under the section headed "Universalist Decline."

I have encountered this negative attitude toward centralized authority at Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, NY when I was a member there in the mid 2000s. Some members of the congregation resented and were opposed to paying the member fee to the UUA even though the church gladly requested and utilized UUA services.

The fear of centralized authority has limited the viability of the denomination in the nation and world because its operation is left to local volunteers who are constantly reinventing the wheel trying to create and maintain an effective and efficient and customer satisfying social architecture within which worship, education, and service can occur.

There is a subtle balance  in power and control between local and centralized authority. The UUA and the local churches need to find ways to collaborate and cooperate for the benefit and viability of the denomination. A stronger voluntary accreditation system would be a step in the right direction.

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