Main Content

...though we are forced to dissent from them in matters of church discipline, yet our dissent is not taken up out of arrogance of spirit in ourselves, whom they see willingly condescend to learn of them, neither is it carrier with uncharitable censoriousness towards them, both which are the proper and essential characters of schism, but in meekness of wisdom... — from The Cambridge Platform

Unitarianism first appeared as an institutional movement in Poland and Transylvania, two countries some distance from Europe's centers of political and religious power. Far from authorities, dissenting religious communities were able to form pockets of resistance to dominant authority. Later, Congregationalism, which held to the idea that every congregation is its own ecclesiastical authority, flourished on the margins of the British Empire and would one day give rise to Unitarianism in America. How has our religious ancestors' relationship with power and authority shaped our religious identity as dissenters? How has it informed our understanding of social justice work?

This workshop explores how responses to political and religious power and authority have been integral to the development of our tradition. It offers a brief history of the Socinian movement in Poland, a theologically Unitarian movement that existed from 1565 to 1650. It explores the 1648 Cambridge Platform, a document foundational to our present day practice of congregational polity, which was developed as a response to the English Parliament's attempts to regulate churches during the English Civil War. The workshop also asks whether issues of religious freedom are social justice issues.

To ensure you can help adults of all ages, stages, and learning styles participate fully in this workshop, review these sections of the program Introduction: "Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters" in the Integrating All Participants section, and "Strategies for Effective Group Facilitation" and "Strategies for Brainstorming" in the Leader Guidelines section.


This workshop will:

  • Introduce participants to the Socinian movement and the Cambridge Platform
  • Examine our movement's historical relationships with power and authority and give participants tools to continue their examination to more fully understand contemporary Unitarian Universalist notions about power, authority, and congregational polity
  • Question the implications for and outcomes of social justice work that locates religious authority with individuals and with individual congregations.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn key ideas of the Socinian Movement in Poland and understand the context in which the movement evolved
  • Become familiar with the Cambridge Platform, its historical context, and how it is foundational to Unitarian Universalist polity today
  • Be able to define "congregational polity"
  • Recognize the ways that questions about power and authority are manifested in contemporary Unitarian Universalism and among contemporary Unitarian Universalists.

Like, Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact