UU’s should consider a name change

Yesterday I was asked by a delightful young lady to attend her church, the “Evangelical Orthodox Church”.

“Oh, I don’t think I’d like that,” I said.

“No really,” she smiled back. “It’s not like that.”

“I’m not exactly into the Evangelical thing. Or the Orthodoxy for that matter… How do those two things even mix?”

“No, really, you don’t have to be an Evangelical, really! I’m not, and I go! And the Orthodox thing comes from some obscure history of the church. No one even pays attention to that stuff anymore.”

I shuffled my feat.

“Really?” I said. “Then what’s it like?”

“It’s a very welcoming environment. I’m sure you’d like it. We’ve got a bunch of people just like you.”

I stopped. “Like me? What do you mean?”

She tossed her hair back and laughed. “You know. Free thinkers. People who aren’t afraid to ask questions.”

“Well, thank you. But… it’s still a Christian church, right? I’m not a Christian, per se.”

“See, that’s what I’m telling you. You don’t have to be a Christian either. It’s a pretty magical place. You’d really have to come to the service to get a feel for what I’m talking about.”

“Gotcha. You know? Now that you’ve told me more about it, that actually sounds a lot like my church.”

“You go to church?” she said.

“Yeah. Shocked?”

“A little.”

I pointed. “It’s the Unitarian Universalist Church up there on the hill.”

“The what?”

“The Unitarian Universalist Church. You should come.”

“Oh.” She paused.

“Oh?” I said.

“I don’t think I’d like that.”

Is it just me? Does anyone else feel like we’re one of the most inappropriately named religions? The only religion that has NO THEOLOGY is named with TWO THEOLOGICAL TERMS. I find it extremely prohibitive when introducing the religion to others, and feel almost zero connection to the terms when attending services. What’s more, as one reads quotes from famous UU’s, one finds that we’re connected- not so much by a theology, but- by a chain of independent thinkers and social organizers.

Any suggestions for a name that would be more descriptive of the American UU movement?

It’s gonna sound cheesy, but here goes:

Institution of Spiritual Discovery?

Free Church?

Church of Open Minds?

Come on, you guys can do better. Whatcha’ got?


I believe in the duty to find the sacred, to chose for myself, and hold in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the responsibilities of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.

18 Responses to “UU’s should consider a name change”

  1. Toonhead Says:


  2. Kim Hampton Says:

    I’m on the opposite side……I think we should embrace our name and our heritage. There really is a reason we are named what we are….and it’s a shame that more people don’t know it.

  3. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    That’s a very valid point, Kim. I just wish we had a better name! Theology just isn’t what we’re about. It’s a lot to wrap someone’s head around AND it’s a mouthful! I’m afraid that people on the fence are less likely to try it because of the packaging.

  4. Steve Caldwell Says:

    Aaron wrote:
    “Does anyone else feel like we’re one of the most inappropriately named religions? The only religion that has NO THEOLOGY is named with TWO THEOLOGICAL TERMS. I find it extremely prohibitive when introducing the religion to others, and feel almost zero connection to the terms when attending services. What’s more, as one reads quotes from famous UU’s, one finds that we’re connected- not so much by a theology, but- by a chain of independent thinkers and social organizers.”

    Actually, I agree with Rebecca Parker’s assessment — we do have theology but we don’t explicit state what it is.

    The problem with our implicit theology is that it’s hard to explain to others and it’s hard to critically examine it through an anti-oppression lens.

    Check out this link to a young adult UU identity curriculum:

    Click to access uu_identity.pdf

    On pages 19-28, there’s a brief description of Rebecca Parker’s “theological house” description of UU theology.

  5. shaktinah Says:

    I disagree that UUs don’t have a theology. Maybe in the strictest sense of the meaning of theos that’s true, but we definitely have a shared set of beliefs that would constitute a theology. Standard systematic theology starts with the nature of God, then the nature of humanity, and then the relationship between God and humanity. We don’t necessarily all believe in God but we accept the “something greater,” the interdependent web. We also have a very well defined notion of the nature of humanity. We believe in inherent worth. That shouldn’t be taken for granted because not every faith tradition believes that. In fact some think humans are depraved. And lastly, we do have a concept of our relationship – as persons of inherent worth – with the interdependent web. As we are part of the web of existence, so what happens to others happens to ourselves. It’s the basis for our social justice work.

    I agree that our name is a little cumbersome, but it tells people exactly what we are. When people ask me what I believe, I usually start with our name.

    Unitarians believed that humans were made in the likeness of God, that they had the innate potential for Godliness/goodness and today we describe that as our divine spark, our inherent worth and dignity.

    Universalists believed that everyone is saved. Since most UUs believe that we build God’s Kingdom/heaven/paradise/the Beloved Community here on this earth, what universalism ends up meaning is that “no one is saved unless everyone is saved.” Any vision of the Beloved Community must include everyone.

    I love our long klunky name. 🙂

  6. rev. ricky Says:

    Aaron, I’m with you. The name is a detriment to our faith because it stands in the way of spreading our message. Leading with two words that nobody is familiar with moves us directly into a discussion of what those words mean: theological beliefs about God and Jesus and afterlife which are no longer central to our shared faith. However, the solution is not to change the name of the denomination, as you seem to propose, but to change the name of our churches. Rather than naming our churches “The Unitarian Universalist Church of .” Each church should find a name that really says something about the unique character of our faith and what people will find when they visit. And then simply add to the end of the name, “a Unitarian Universalist congregation.”

  7. serenityhome Says:

    There are some good examples of Rev. Ricky’s suggestion in our movement. There is Tapestry in Mission Viejo, CA, Pathways in TX, and Spirit of Life in FL.

    You bring up some good points regarding our name. Our name also gets linked in the minds of people with some other Uni faiths such as Unity Church and Unification Church. It’s an understandable confusion but it means we have to first distinguish ourselves from those faiths before we can begin to talk about our faith.

    An expansion to Shaktinah’s definition of Unitarian. While I agree with what Shaktinah said, the word Unitarian refers to a theological statement about God being One. This is the same position that Jews and Muslims claim about God, God is One. This was a statement of faith that opposed the Trinitarian position of God being three in one. Jesus is not a part of the Godhead, he was fully human. The Holy Spirit is not a part of the Godhead but rather the movement of God seen in the world. It is a clear distinction that Channing noted in his sermon on Unitarian Christians in opposition of Trinitarian Christians.

  8. robin Says:

    i can’t believe some of you are saying that we DO have a theology. we definitely don’t. we have a moral code of conduct that teaches us to treat people, the environment, and the world as a whole with respect, but one of the greatest things about our religion is that we DON’T have a theology. it allows us to embrace many more people. we encourage people to believe what is right for them. if we had theology we’d have to reject others or coerce them into our belief system.

    so i would like to call ourselves the “thinking friends of the world”. cheesy, yes, and certainly not catchy. but it’s descriptive. it implies our respect of not only people, but nature and justice and thought as well.

    okay, so maybe i’m not great at naming things either, but i think our new name would need to include something about friends and open thoughts/minds that implies that we care about more than just the people who are like us.

  9. shaktinah Says:

    Rev. Ricky, how would changing the names of our congregations help? The issue is when we describe ourselves to others. Even if the name of my church were different, I would still have to explain to folks what it means when I say I am a Unitarian Universalist.

    Robin, the word “theology” has become associated with belief systems that oppress.

    One response to that is to reject the word and say we don’t have a theology. That sill leaves us with the problem of defining ourselves to the rest of the world. One of the things that Peacebang has been talking about in her blog is how we continue to define ourselves in the negative. We’re NOT your grandmothers religion. We’re the UNcommon denomination. We’re NOT Christian. We DON’T have a creed. etc, etc. That’s alll great, but it doesn’t tell people what we DO believe in. When Buddhists explain their faith, I highly doubt that many start off with “Well, we’re NOT Christian.”

    Another response is to take the offending term, theology, and redefine it into something positive. We have a theology. Our theology says that humans are have the inherent capacity for goodness, and part of that is our ability to reason . Our theology says that we are an interdependent part of existence. Our theology tells us that we CAN’T reject others or coerce them because we believe in universalism and freedom of conscience.

  10. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    Shaktinah, please see the bottom of my post where I’ve started incorporating a UU Creed which defines who we are in the affirmative.

  11. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    I feel we’re starting ten points behind if we have to redefine EVERY SINGLE TERM as we approach people. (Okay, but it feels like that)
    Plus, the issue with the terms Unitarian and Universalism isn’t one of redefining- it’s that those terms no longer describe the composition or behavior of the congregations that exist.

  12. rev. ricky Says:

    shaktinah – changing the names of our congregations helps because people join churches, not denominations. The name of the church is the first thing people see in advertising, on signs in front of the building, and the first thing they hear when they ask “Where are you going Sunday morning.” Saying “I’m going to “Pathways Church” would avoid a lot of unnecessary conversation, and open the way directly to “Tell me about your church.” And that anser doesn’t have to include old theological labels but could be, “It’s a great place where people are encouraged to think for themselves and follow their own spiritual paths in a loving community based on shared values.” Adding the words “a Unitarian Universalist Congregation” or even “affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association” retains our tradition and organizational power with out making a big deal about it.

  13. shaktinah Says:

    Aaron wrote: please see the bottom of my post where I’ve started incorporating a UU Creed which defines who we are in the affirmative.

    When I said we shouldn’t continue to define ourselves in the negative, I didn’t mean those definitions weren’t true, only that we shouldn’t emphasize them.

    We are a creedless church, and for good reason. You can’t have a creed without violating freedom of conscience.

    Aaron wrote: the issue with the terms Unitarian and Universalism isn’t one of redefining- it’s that those terms no longer describe the composition or behavior of the congregations that exist.

    Well we have a difference of perception here because I think they very much define who we are.

    From my perspective, I’ve been aware of Unitarian Universalism for over twenty years, but I had no interest in joining it when I thought it was just a “social club for free thinkers.” I can be a free thinker all by myself. I started attending a UU congregation in order to stay more involved in social justice issues. And it wasn’t until I finally realized that we DO have a strong theological tradition (of freedom of conscience and universal inclusivity) that I actually signed the book. From my perspective, I need to know that we stand for something bigger than just us. As I said, I can be a free-thinker all by myself. And in fact, I think defining ourselves as “free-thinkers” is just another negative. Ie – “we’re not like those other people who believe all that stuff.” Yes, it’s true we’re free-thinkers. That still doesn’t tell people what we stand for.

  14. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    I think we’re all proud of our traditions of freedom of conscience and universal inclusivity. The problem is that UU’s are deficient if we’re a lesser organization if we’re just a ‘social club for free thinkers’ or a ‘social justice group’.

    As far as defining what we stand for, can’t you have a Creed that IS freedom of conscience? A creed that declares affirmatively our principles? I would argue that we currently operate under this creed, we just stink at articulating it.

    That’s why I tried to write the UU Creed above. In this way, UU’s can talk about who we are without defining ourselves in terms of others. I don’t follow that ‘free-thinker’ is a negative other than the sense that it can be contrasted to its opposite (closed) like any other idea. IE- black is not white.

  15. shaktinah Says:

    Aaron, namaste.

    I had trouble understanding your first paragraph. Could you rephrase?

    As for creed, it is a theological term that means something pretty specific. I have a blog post that details why we are non-creedal: http://www.wizdum.net/node/480

    Perhaps what you wish to create is an affirmation? In which case, I think you made a fine one.

    My objection to defining ourselves primarily as “free-thinkers” is that it is still reactionary. We’re still reacting against other groups of people and saying that we are not them.

  16. UU’s should consider a name change- Pt 2 « Aaron Sawyer’s DiscoverUU Blog Says:

    […] Aaron Sawyer’s DiscoverUU Blog A DiscoverUU Blog « UU’s should consider a name change […]

  17. tera little Says:

    Yes!!!! i’ve been saying that for years! i think a 10 syllable name is TOO long, and when i talk about my great church, and people ask, “which church is it?”, and i say ‘unitarian universalist’ i think they hear me to about ‘unitar-‘ then blank and say – oh, yeah, the unity church, i’ve heard of that. or universal life. or … and it gets into more (again) of who we aren’t, rather than who we are.

    Ricky, great idea about specific, meaningful names followed by ‘a unitarian universalist congregation (church).’

  18. Chris Bovington Says:


    I like your affirmation. Do you mind if I call it that? I’m not comfortable with the word “creed” yet. And I guess, since we all get to choose our own truths, I can call it that and you can still call it a creed. I don’t think getting bogged down in semantics is worth it.

    For the record, I think the UU name leaves a lot to be desired, but since we can’t seem to agree on that at a denominational level, I’m not going to get too upset about it if I don’t get my way.

    I’m still glad that people are talking about this, and I hope we keep raising the topic until we find a suitable solution. But at the same time I hope that we can keep it in perspective.

    But for those who are interested in continuing the debate, I have a suggestion. Rather than try to nail down a perfect name, why not brainstorm a huge number of words or phrases that we individually think capture something about what it means to believe what we do? Then maybe we could find which words or phrases speak most clearly to all of us?

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