I'm behind on my blog reading, so I missed the UU Salon's May 31st request for blogging about Universalism until today. Since I am so far behind, I haven't read blogs (I did read the beginning of Scott Wells and the UU Salon).
I see that folks are still confused about what Universalism is. That doesn't surprised me, I know some Universalist theologians who are confused about what Universalism is today. That's been the case for long time, for as Lewis B. Fisher wrote, back in 1921 "Universalists are often asked to tell where they stand. The only true answer to give to this question is that we do not stand at all, we move. or again we are asked to state our position, Again we can only answer that we are not staying to defend any position, we are on the march."
If that is indeed still true, what is universalism, and how do we catch a snapshot to show what it is today? Can all those different things be universalism?
Putting aside the issue of universalism in the early days of Christianity, Universalism was reborn as part of the revolutionary spirit of the 1700s. It was a radical idea for radical times. Dwell on that for a little bit, it believed that there was no elite in the eyes of God, that the prodigal son was as worthy as the obedient son. Is it any wonder that the same congregation included rich and poor, white and black, and that Universalists were pioneers in ordination of female clergy, and prisoner rights. And any wonder that universalist churches sprung up unconnected in many places in the USA.
Universalism was never a faith for the complaisant or those needing a impressive and status church home - Various locals kept trying to made it illegal for Universalists to give testimony in court; other churches gave sermons and wrote books on the disrespectability of belonging to such a radical faith. Even Unitarians.
Universalists reached it's peak in the 1830s, with the change of the mood of the country, and some folks knocking on spiritualism's door. It was one of the few religious denominations that did not split prior to the Civil War. However it had trouble dealing with the cynicism of the 20th Century. And various theories of
Universalism was advanced. A humanistic Universalism in the 1910s - 1920s, a pan-religious view of Universalism in the 1940s-1960s.
To a certain extent, part of modern day Unitarian Universalism has adopted the pan-religious part of 1940s-1960s Universalism. However while we embrace the idea of Radical Inclusion, it is - as you may expect - hard to implement. Who is our brother (and sister)?: How do we treat those who persecute us? How do we treat people who aren't as successful or rich or educated as us? Or eat meat, or watch TV or shop at Wal-mart, or like Praise songs? Tough going to be inclusive.
There's more to Univeraslism than that - lots more. And you note I haven't done any of the theological steps to Universalism, I didn't even mention the J- or G- names (hey, I know the audience here) --but just to remind us, that Universalism of any kind is a difficult and still radical faith.