Raven is the pen name used by previous editor of the printed Universalist Herald, Rich Koster.
THE TORCH OF INCLUSIVENESS
Someone familiar with the history of the Universalist Church in America may wonder what I mean when I suggest that our movement's brightest days lie ahead. Am I saying I hope to see some sort of re-creation of the Universalist Church of the 19th Century, one that revives the original focus on challenging the Christian doctrine that some or most people born on this planet end up at death going to some place of eternal pain and suffering?
Well, no and yes. I am fully aware of that reasonable sentiment which suggests the victory of historic Universalism lay not in the organizational growth and prosperity of the UCA but rather in the absorption of its principal message by certain other groups and churches. And so, by this reading, the continued triumph of the Universalist movement may then be envisioned, not in a new group, and certainly not in a mutiny from the UUA, but in the wider and fuller acceptance of a Universalist view of the nature and destiny of humankind.
So no, then, I don't see a new group or a mutiny in the ranks. But yes, I do see a revival of our original focus on challenging the doctrine, whether Christian or otherwise, that there will be a Great Divide of all people who ever lived on earth, with some going to eternal Heaven and the rest going to eternal Hell. And, more important than that, I do see the Universalist movement as once again picking up the torch of inclusiveness and once again holding forth the shining light of our common humanity, our common spiritual connectedness, and our common destiny.
I believe this is going to happen because the need for that challenge is greater than ever. I alluded to that need in my recent article on "The New Fundamentalism", and I wish to emphasize it again here. What people believe does have an impact on how they live; and no matter how much true love and compassion they hold in their hearts, men and women and children who go to churches where they are continually told that all people who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior will go to hell surely will reflect that teaching in their behavior toward other people.
I am reminded of a man in the church I pastored not far north of Kalamazoo. I loved the man! He was a crusty old fisherman, LJ., who made his living netting for trout and walleye in northern Lake Michigan, and then he had retired with his sweet wife, Florence, to own a resort on one of our lovely Michigan lakes. Our children loved to go there and affectionately called the Strayers "Grandma and Grandpa Gun Lake."
LJ and Florence had two sons, and one was a born-again Christian with a heart-felt anxiety about the eternal destiny of his father. Never mind that there was an emotional gulf between them, a chasm of estrangement that cried out to be healed and closed over. And wasn't that the matter they needed to deal with! But easier it was, for the son to keep Dad at arm's length and commiserate about his fate after death!!!
So we had a Father-Son banquet and these two men were there together. As I was walking around greeting folks the son motioned me over and in a hushed whisper he told me that he was afraid his father was going to go to hell and what was I doing about that? I replied by saying that I surely did not agree that his Dad was going to hell, and please don't even suggest such a thing, and meanwhile why not try to get closer to him before he died.
I imagine the most humanist and agnostic streams of the UUA see absolutely no reason to challenge and engage people who believe things like this son evidently did. Live and let live, and let everyone follow their own spiritual path. If some people wish to hold such ridiculous notions in their heads, why is that any of our business?
But I don't see it that way. For one thing, I have always seen the realm of ideas and beliefs as a vital arena for discussion and debate, and if what we say has no effect on the person we're debating it may have an effect on someone who is watching and listening, especially the kids, the ones whose minds have not yet petrified.
Or do we want a whole new generation of children growing up to think that by the will of God they alone are on their way to the promised land while everyone who has a different belief, or a different lifestyle, or merely a different spiritual path, is on their way to eternal suffering? That kind of thinking is what lead inevitably to hell on earth.
The End of It All
In a Letter to the Editor, Charles Henry asks, "Why a separate Universalist publication?" That's a good question and I trust there will be some others who will quickly venture a response.
There are some who say that the decline of Universalism as a theological proclamation during the 20th century was offset by the quiet absorption of Universalist views among other churches and spiritual movements. The assumption is that there are lots and lots of closet Universalists hiding in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and even Episcopalian circles, to name just a few.
My take on this thesis is that if it is true then all these hidden Universalists need to come out of the closet now and join the fight against the Great Divide and Exclusivist theologies that quite frankly are winning the day.
Another reader commented to me privately on what she saw to be some fairly conservative Christian language in a certain Universalist website. While that is not the direction we wish to take the Herald, we will certainly recognize as allies in this fight any group, any community, or any spiritual leader who takes a clear position that all humanity shares a common destiny after death.
If you are a humanist who holds that we all die totally and finally, body and mind and soul, and there is no future existence for anyone after death, then we count you as our comrade in arms.
If you are an evangelical Christian restorationist who holds that the crucifixion of Jesus was the sacrifice for sin that ultimately brings eternal life to all people, then you are our ally as well.
If you see in the Herald a more lively interest in the Christian part of this campaign, it is for good reason.They are the ones we wish to save, the people we hope to convert.
Just saying that might certainly be enough to provide a clear rationale for a separate Universalist publication. But then saying it is not the same thing as doing it, and we might be quick to admit that there are other worthy goals that are reason enough to continue the Herald. Such as being a support to the vocal Universalist remnant and celebrating our heritage such as it is.
Not long ago I ran across a fellow I had not seen in 42 years, since we were in Church School together in a conservative Reformed church. Since then I had moved and he had not and the fact was evident when I told him about my wife. You see, my wife is a Unity minister, and when I told Darwin that she is, his quick response was, "Looks like you have some work to do.” Meaning, you'd better get her to believe in Jesus or when the end comes you'll be in heaven and she'll be in hell, and you sure don't want that, now do you? And I have no doubt my old friend was sincerely thinking I would agree with him.
But he's wrong, of course! I am open to changing my mind on a lot of things, but never on my conviction as to the end of it all. Whatever it is, final death or new life, we'll all be there.