UU Roots in Geneva
The Influence of Michael Servetus
"Servetus did not belong to any religious community, nor did he create one either. He was a lone ranger, a free electron ... But [ he ] helped change the course of the debate in a very meaningful way. " (1) There exists in the world today expressions of the spirit of Servetus wherever it is encouraged to ask questions and discuss religious and humanitarian ideas freely.
What was Servet’s influence? (2) In 16th century Europe in the time of Servetus, the most radical wing of the Reformation took shape, a wing which rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, part of which ultimately became called Unitarianism. Both Calvinists and Catholics persecuted these so-called heretics - and people like Michel Servet - who dared to openly challenge the dominant doctrines. It is understandable
why most of these reform thinkers who opposed the powers that be resigned themselves to silence. Yet there were two tolerant states in the 16th century: Poland, where an anti-Trinitarian Reformed Church became legal in 1565, and Transylvania, where King John Sigismund, the only Unitarian king in history, proclaimed the Edict of Toleration in 1568, the first state in the Western to declare for its citizens freedom of religion. In Poland in 1579, the anti-Trinitarians received support from the Italian theologian Fausto Socino and Socinianism, also spread to Western Europe.
Expansion of Unitarianism. The Socinian reform arrived in England and was actively preached during the mid-17th century and the adherents adopted for themselves the name of “Unitarian” in 1672. But the opposition in Parliament, allies of the Anglican Church, forced the movement underground. In the 19th, the Unitarians were able to organize many congregations throughout the United Kingdom , the British Commonwealth, from Canada to India and Australia. In the
United States, secularism and the concept of the separation of Church and State, allowed in the 18th century the rapid development of many branches Protestant liberalism and the inclusion in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 the principle of freedom of religion.
20th and 21st Centuries in Europe and America. By 1900 on the European continent significant Unitarian congregations had formed -- among other places -- in Germany, Holland, Italy and France, and in the areas now known as the Czech Republic and Hungary. In the 1980s an
additional Unitarian group was formed in France, called the l'Association unitarienne française (AUF) with the participation of the French-speaking Belgians and Swiss. An English-speaking group of Unitarian Universalists has existed in Geneva since at least 1985 and the European Unitarian Universalists, with headquarters in Paris, continues to ask the biggest questions about life, faith, and tolerance.(3 )
(1) Pasteur Vincent Schmid, of l’Eglise Prostestant de Genève, paroisse de la Cathédrale St. Pierre, « Michel Servet : Du bûcher à la liberté de
conscience,» Les Editions de Paris, 2008, p. 19, 169 ; (2) Roger
Sauter (Genève 1919-2007), l’AUF, see http://actua.unitariennes.over-blog.com; (3)
The History of UU Involvement with the United Nations
The Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) involvement in the United Nations can be traced to the early part of the 20th century. Both the Unitarians and the Universalists were active in the League of Nations Association and later closely monitored the creation of the United Nations. In 1946, the American Unitarian Association appointed Elvira Fradkin as an official delegate to the United Nations. In the 1950's, the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association adopted resolutions in support of the United Nations. In 1963, the UUA Principles and Purposes were merged into one document with marked similarity to the United Nations Charter (1945) and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
The UN Declaration of Human Rights
A close reading of the 30 articles of the Declaration shows how similar in spirit if not in actual text the Declaration is with our own 7 UU principles. It seemed therefore natural that one of the chief ways in which UUs chose to promote human rights has been through its UU-UNO Office in New York.