Confessions of a Seminerdian

February 27, 2018

As I finish the final semester of studies for my Masters of Divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary, I’m diving deep into our Unitarian Universalist (UU) heritage through courses specific to UU History and UU Theology.

I fear we sometimes lose track of that heritage as we fight for the contemporary issues that move us so deeply. What I’ve learned, though, is that knowledge of our spiritual and theological ancestry brings greater resonance and greater strength to all that we strive toward today.

I’ve always been proud, and deeply moved, by the fact that Michael Servetus (1506-1553) – one of the great figures from our past – was considered so radical in his views that he was burned in person at the order of the Calvinists and in effigy at the order of frustrated Roman Catholics.

Servetus is one of the earliest figures in a long line of theological heroes and heroines who challenged the idea that humanity was born into original sin and lifted up, instead, the idea that we are born into original blessing.

It’s hard now to imagine what it was like to live under that weighty, Calvinist world view with Hell as a near certainty. It’s even harder to imagine the soul-broadening relief that must have come with an embrace of the alternative view offered by our theological forbears. Some of their names may be familiar: Joseph Priestly, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a few.

In recent weeks I’ve especially enjoyed discovering the woman theologians of that same 19th century era – figures that may, sadly, be less familiar. While women like Margaret Fuller and Olympia Brown are likely to be lifted up in any discussion of UU history, it’s Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) who has become my personal favorite.

In “On the Equality of the Sexes,” written in 1790, she says to her male readers, “Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours; the same breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us.” And later, “Strange how blind self love renders you men; were you not wholly absorbed in a partial admission of your own abilities, you would long since have acknowledged the force of what I am now going to urge.”

What Murray goes on to “urge” is Eve’s admirable search for knowledge in contrast to the weakness of character found in Adam – not to mention Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon.

I find echoes of Judith Sargent Murray and Michael Servetus’s radical call for new perspectives – and new action – in the presence of Cedar Lane youth and staff at last week’s rally against gun violence at the Capital. I see it in the church’s call for us to join the March for Our Lives on March 24. Remembering the names of these great  ancestors – and so many like them – can only make us stronger and better prepared for the challenges of our own times.

Norman Allen
Intern Minister