Luke, in his ". . . they shall come from the east, and the west, and the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the Kingdom of God," offers a prophecy not only of the ultimate geographical inclusiveness of the world church but also of its spiritual comprehension a fellowship whose unshut gates will include all who desire to enter. This is the ideal. This is "Universalism".
The passing of human isolation calls for this unifying faith-faith able to live in the light of free history and free science-faith held by such a fellowship of men as can lead them confidently to a conquest of the hates and fears now filling our lives with foreboding. The great need is a type of religious loyalty emphasizing the universal qualities of life such as draw men together, as opposed to the creedal distinctions that keep men apart.
Facing the necessity of unity and peace on a world scale, we must set ourselves to the task of creating instruments capable of carrying and sustaining this unity and peace: instruments such as world government, world law and order, a world monetary system, a health program for the world, world trade, world-wide scientific projects, and educational programs of unlimited dimensions. The ideal we must have, but we must have also these means through which the ideal can grow into reality.
Yet it seems vain to hope that men can join together in the building of ONE WORLD if they are not agreed upon basic standards of morality, basic values. And these are the province of religion, of course; and, if we are going to have ONE WORLD, we must have a religion big enough and fine enough and vital enough for ONE WORLD, and to which all can come for a faith that is to them both reasonable and satisfying.
Today and tomorrow the peoples of the earth will band together to build a world commonwealth, or they will go down together in a welter of blood, sweat and tears. Religion that may have seemed to suffice yesterday is proving inadequate for today. Religion that is less than universal, that is limited by creed, that is a caste system for the elect, will perish and rightly so.
Our world cries out in agony for political union, but such union will depend for success upon the belief of the peoples of the world in the unity of the human family, and in the rightness of universal law and justice, order and peace. As long as man is separated from his fellowman by wedges of creed, wedges driven deep by the smug ecclesiasticism of organized Christendom, world union will not have its necessary religious foundation.
Less and less will white American orthodox Christians have reason to send missionaries to the benighted heathen in far away lands. Peoples of all faiths are now traveling everywhere and living everywhere. Churches will learn to welcome them, or churches will pay the piper. And most churches are in no position to welcome anyone who falls short of answering correctly the authorized answers to questions listed in the "pony" to their particular texts.
The need is for a church universal. And the need now has grown to gigantic proportions. Today's problems and goals are no longer local. They are everybody's. Parochialism must go out, and out also must go the high priests and spiritual dictators. This is the time for brotherhood, for confidence in man as a child of God. The very urgencies of the time demand freedom and democracy, and only a person who respects other persons, can have respect for their privileges and their freedoms.
A religious fellowship attempting to represent this idea today is that of The Universalist Church. It happens to be "my church", but this was not always the case, for it is the church of my adoption. I was reared a Scotch-Calvinist, instructed in a faith from whose fellowship my Catholic and Lutheran and Episcopalian boyhood chums were barred. And, being a Calvinist, I was thereby barred from their Roman Church, and Lutheran, and Protestant Episcopal.
In later years, I lived and worked in the tropical Orient, worked with (and came to have great admiration for) people of virtually all races, nationalities, and religions-people who, through the sheer accident of birth, happened to have been born inside skins of another color, reared in different traditions, taught to call God by other names. We shared the same hopes and fears, victories and defeats. Our ideals were one, and my soul rebelled against the whole gamut of theological spider webs woven by the ecclesiastics to separate men from their fellowmen. In order to survive, my soul had to break those barriers; and I chose quite deliberately the fellowship of The Universalist Church. I chose it because of the ideal cherished by its faith. As democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, so is Universalism a religion of the people.
Unlike our authoritarian friends, we Universalists harbor no thought of other churches uniting with our Church. We do hope, however, that others may come to see the distinctive values represented by our fellowship-that there is a spirit within which men of varied persuasions may find a home. We are wistful that men generally may choose to be bound by the same tie as the bond which unites us not that of enforced conformity to a fixed set of prescribed beliefs, but a common purpose.
Obviously, it is not realistic to think we can just go out and make our Universalism universal. But to realize the value of this faith of ours in this kind of world to recognize the goals and to work toward them, is to have a foretaste of the thing itself. What, after all, is religion if it is not the sum total of the goals and the dreams of the people? These dreams and goals are now cherished by us, but they must not be kept by us, for they are not ours to keep. They are ours to preach and to practice.
Oh, to preserve, or, if necessary, to create anew, a fellowship in which all men may be welcomed! Here-here within our own fellowship-right here at our very own command, potentially, at least, is just the thing so desired. What better goal could you and I possibly have than to help cause our fellowship to be the kind of fraternity its very name insists it must be!
Millions now live in slavery and servitude, religiously as well as in other ways. This fact must weigh heavily upon our minds and hearts and pocketbooks. All men must be made free, taught to cherish freedom, self-rule and self-guidance, both for themselves and for all others. This thing just cannot spring from the dictatorship of the creeds. Like breeds like. But it is inherent in the ideal of Universalism.
Historically, Universalism was faith in God, as a triumphant God, capable of, and successful in, saving all the creatures of His creation. All people, therefore, are God's people; and who among us can well afford to be more choosy than is God? If people are children of their Creator, then they should be good enough for our churches.
Religiously, I came from the staunchest and most opinionated kind of Protestant fundamentalism. I must confess it is not easy to find one's way out of that sort of thing, but if I did it, anybody can. Our people should issue from all religious backgrounds and from none. And if the time should ever come that we find our kind of Universalism tending to shut out a single soul who might, of his own volition, wish to be included, or if our Universalism is the kind that would not appeal to others if they are made to understand it, then I don't think our Universalism is the genuine article. It is big enough to include all who would come to it, or it is not big enough for me, certainly. That the Universalist Church is big enough to welcome into its fold all men is the very thing which caused me to choose it as the Church of my adoption.
*Used by permission, from RENASCENCE, copyright, 1912, 1940, by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
If God is Love, then love is a theology. And if Christians in various ways and by various means and processes of thought and experience have come to the conclusion that the way of Love has the power of God in it, then it is time they were expressing their theology in practice. This would be faith in great spiritual realities as shown by a readiness to act on them instead of conceding mere intellectual assent to a set of theological propositions. True Catholicism is the recognition of spiritual unity despite diversity.
There must be liberty of thought and utterance, genuine hospitality to all sorts and conditions of men, and mutual appreciation. The cement that binds in a situation of this kind is not at all a set of theological beliefs agreed upon, but, rather, a common purpose to do the will of God. The shift of emphasis is from personal salvation toward individual social reconstruction and maturity. The very word "religion" means binding together. The kind of union needed, and which must come, is a voluntary association unbound by creedal formulae or ecclesiastical domination, persons and groups of persons coming together for a purpose to serve the common good!
Believing in the strict unity of God, your task and mine is to join hands in building a brotherhood universal.
Our fellowship is all-inclusive. It speaks of a common humanity. Its citizens must be citizens of the world. Today-in this kind of faith-is a driving force to which we must be alert and of which we must be a part.
It is your responsibility as it is my own to make it unmistakably clear that into this wider fellowship all are welcome (not as a matter of tolerance, but as a matter of course) : unitarian or trinitarian, Christian or non-Christian, colored or colorless, theist, humanist, or agnostic. Faith for today's world that is circumscribed by creed and dogma is as unthinkable as it is untenable and unworkable.
Let us see to it in our churches that men, all men, may come to share their deepest selves, to confess their failures and seek inspiration for higher striving, come in their joy at the bearing of new life to name the infant and to dedicate themselves with the infant to the service of the common good, come to study the religious striving of the past and the problems of the present, come to be married, come to work together to make their lives more abundant, come at the time of death to bid farewell to their loved ones. Here let no one who would come be shut out. Here let all be children of God, brothers and sisters all.
Then, "Let God be thanked who has matched us with this hour."
other publications available for free distribution
"The Universalist Idea of God" John Murray Atwood "Charter of Our Faith"