- Resilience and Religious Freedom (PDF) —Rev. Kate Landis—2017 Skinner Sermon Awardee
- Francis David, Reformation Unitarianism & Some of its significance for Contemporary UUs - Rev. James Ishmael Ford—First Unitarian Church, Providence, Rhode Island, January 27, 2013
- “The Road Less Traveled”—Rev. Sara Ascher
For someone who considers herself a homebody, and has had had her feet firmly planted in parish ministry for over 15 years, my passport has gotten quite a workout lately. I have traveled through Germany into Romania, via bus into Hungary and train into the Czech Republic and home again; then through Miami to Managua, Nicaragua and home again; then Washington D.C. into Guatemala City and then to Antigua via minivan and home again; through London and Nairobi into Bujumbura, Burundi and home again; most recently through Doha, Qatar to India and again through London to South Africa, then onto Rwanda and finally to Nairobi for a stay in Kenya. For the first time I have visas that are not merely stamped by immigration officials in an airport, but ones with official seals and fancy stickers that cover an entire page in my passport. Of course, my passport did not get the workout all by itself, I went along for the ride.
The travel was sometimes arduous and didn’t always go as planned or expected; several hours waiting in line at immigration and missing a flight or two; and of course, not always the best meals courtesy of the airlines. It wasn’t cheap and took a good deal of time. Traveling is fun, though, even after standing in an un-air-conditioned parking garage serving as airport security for over two hours waiting to go through immigration in Kenya. At the end of all the trials and the discomfort is an experience of something new. And for me, that is always worth some tribulation. After all, I’ve always been willing to go through a few bumps in the road for a new experience.
But the travel itself isn’t why I travel. Yes, it is nice to see different parts of the world, to experience new languages and cultures and foods; to see how others turn their “habitat,” as Stavans and Ellison writes in their article in the New York Times “Reclaiming Travel”, “into home.” But that is not why I go.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood,” writes poet Robert Frost, “and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” I grew up Unitarian Universalist, and that religious upbringing has made all the difference as well. Having been brought up UU I learned a few things. One of which is that the faith and stories and cultures of other peoples are ways in which to learn truth about life and humanity. Another was that our belief in the exploration of new ideas and asking questions was unique and not a small bit threatening to some. But one of the lessons that has stayed with me, that is in essence the reason I am a minister, is that this faith, this road which is hard to travel because it offers few answers, but provides companionship along the path of questioning, changes people for the better and in turn makes the world better too, if only one small neighborhood or congregation at a time. And I have learned through my trips that travel done respectfully, with an open heart and a mind ready to learn, is an act of faith, as a spiritual practice, a practice of my faith.
I believe, as Theodore Parker, 19th century Unitarian minister wrote, “Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere; its temple, all space; its shrine, the good heart; its creed, all truth; its ritual, works of love; its profession of faith, divine living.” I believe that this free faith, can live in all cultures, among all peoples. But here is the hidden difficulty in that idea, the sun does not shine the same in all places. Ideas, like sunshine, do not appear the same in all localities. So as a life-long Unitarian Universalist, believing that this faith is worth telling the world about and that the world is in need of its message of worth and dignity and interconnection - how do I reconcile that it doesn’t look the same here as it does in Transylvania or Uganda or Burundi or even California.
It is because of this need to reconcile the multiplicity of expressions of our faith that I now choose Unitarian/Universalist International work as my ministry. It is here I am stretched and challenged and learn first-hand how powerful this free faith is to others. I travel to countries and conferences meeting Unitarian and Unitarian Universalists from around the world to see how this faith I have devoted my life to is lived and expressed in other cultures among other peoples. Every time I visit a Unitarian or Unitarian Universalist congregation growing, thriving in a part of the world that I could hardly believe has even heard of this tradition and faith, I am challenged and my boundaries are opened. And I realize I am experiencing first-hand the faith I was taught as a child. Each story I am told of how this faith has saved the life of one person or how it is what a community has held onto for generations as their rock in hard times, I am reminded how privileged I am to claim this faith as mine and how powerful its truth is. We here in the U.S. and in the North East, in particular, can easily forget that because there is a UU congregation in nearly every town center or mere minutes down the road. We are not always aware that in many places in the world, believing differently than the dominant culture is still dangerous. We take for granted our ability to attend worship as we wish, when we wish and only if we wish. Even I fall into this trap: the church was my job, where I got caught in the minutia of day to day business of weekly worship and staff meetings, where I complained about how many evenings meetings I had and how many emails waited for my response. I, too, forgot that the reason we do all this, the reason we come together and hold worship, the purpose of why we join our voices and efforts in actions of justice, the intention behind sharing our stories and listening to one another is not just to socialize, not to bide our time until something better comes along. No, we do all this church stuff to grow and become better at being human and to make our corner of the world as good as we are able. What I am reminded of when I visit and talk with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists from beyond the U.S. is that my faith isn’t an afterthought, or just job, but something that drives much of my living if I pay attention. That can be the center of my life, if I am willing to let it be.
That is true whether on a Service/Learning Trip with the youth of my last congregation or sitting over tea with a newly forming congregation in Kigali, Rwanda.. In those moments I watch our faith come alive in the people I am with, I witness them put our values into action, watch how they welcome the learning and stretching of their selves and ideas of the world. “…we will need to reclaim some notion of the heroic:” continues Stavans and Ellison, “a quest for communion and, ultimately, self-knowledge.” I travel to help bring that process of self-discovery into being not only for myself, but for those I meet along the way. I travel to be part of moments of communion with others; to carry with me a sense of home, of spiritual home to U/U communities often isolated. I travel to live my faith in the world.
I am reminded of the grounding Unitarian Universalism gives me when I hear the reasons why each of the young men of the Burundian congregation I toured in 2014 became a Unitarian. I am reminded of the importance of religious freedom when I sit sharing a meal with our brothers and sisters in faith in South Africa or in India. For our faith invites them to think and question not only religious ideas, but political ones as well. It offers courage and a foundation upon which to fight and work for the betterment of the people of their community and country. In some cases, their connection to the church has helped them literally save lives, sometimes their own. Every time I get an email from one of our African congregations or from individuals trying to build Unitarian groups in South America or Indonesia, I realize how the mere fact of being Unitarian can be a mark against one. It is during late night conversations with Justine from Kenya and Inga in Germany I am reminded that being a religious liberal is far from an easy path, for in many places it remains not only the road less traveled, but often ridiculed and feared. Our celebration of diversity and welcoming of differences is not an easy path to live, but it is one that is worth the journey. My international work reminds me of this, offers me the challenge to keep going and comfort that there are those beyond these borders who are working towards the same ends as we are.
I travel to Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist congregations beyond the U.S. and will continue to do so, largely because as a minister of this tradition, of this beloved faith, I serve not just congregations, but the faith itself. I do that by offering my support and energy and money to those congregations struggling to bring a voice of freedom to places in which those ideas are but whispers. If my small efforts can assist Unitarianism to exist where we least expect it to, where it has the hardest time being heard, then I will consider that effort good.
In the end working with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists from around the world gives me courage and inspiration to continue the work of building a strong UU faith here in North America, to proclaim loudly that our faith has something powerful to offer anyone who is seeking a better way no matter their language or culture. That we believe all of humanity is worthy simply because we exist, that we are one and interconnected, that through our efforts the world and our own lives can be made better and together there is so much more to learn and know and understand.
“Our wandering is meant to lead back toward ourselves,” writes Stavans and Ellison, “This is the paradox: we set out on adventures to gain deeper access to ourselves; we travel to transcend our own limitations.” This is, this is why I travel.
- Nothing Short of Evangelism - Rev. Dr. Judit Gellerd
- Published in Quest for Meaning Vol. LXVII, No. 2 Jan 2012
In 1990, a hundred and thirty American and Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations formed one-to-one covenantal relationships with the same number of Transylvanian Unitarian churches. Later this Partner Church Program widened to involve close to four hundred churches on both sides of the Atlantic.
This has been especially important because Unitarians in Transylvania are a Hungarian minority within an oppressive Romanian state, not unlike the modern situation of Tibetans within China. Decades of communist totalitarian rule in Romania, with its policy of cultural ethnocide, martyred my minister father and demoralized the churches. On Christmas in 1989 a bloody revolution sparked by a Reformed (Calvinist) pastor overthrew the Romanian dictator, whose final plan was to bulldoze eight thousand villages in Transylvania. This plan failed because of his death, but the once prosperous ethnic Hungarian villages had already been economically crippled.
At that precarious time North American UUs were awakened by a call—my husband and I happened to be those awakening voices—to try to save the Transylvanian Unitarian tradition. In response, the Unitarian Universalist Association launched the Partner Church effort. I volunteered to bring life into a theoretical program, and I have been called an “evangelist” for this cause, which is facilitated and nurtured by our formal organization, the Partner Church Council. Today we witness deeply committed partner relationships between pairs of congregations, sponsoring hundreds of programs for mutual economic and spiritual revitalization.
Perhaps it seems odd that I would wear that description of myself as “evangelist” with pride. Evangelism is a notion and practice that ordinarily would not be part of Unitarian Universalist tradition. The Unitarian church is generally not an evangelical church. And yet, from my years of work with two times two hundred churches in the United States and Transylvania, I can only describe the resulting experience as a phenomenon nothing short of evangelism.
Take the Edict of Torda, a proclamation of religious tolerance issued in 1568 by Transylvania’s King John II Sigismund, a Unitarian. This decree bestowed on ministers a great collective and personal responsibility to evangelize: “Preachers everywhere shall preach the Gospel according to their understanding of it....for faith is a gift of God born from listening, and listening is through God’s word.”
In the traditionally action-oriented Unitarian Universalist church, however, the meaning of evangelism goes beyond pronouncement of the Good News, and beyond mere passive listening by the congregation. Through not only listening but also dreaming boldly, our faith will be awakened, prompting us to translate the Gospel into transformative service. The Good News for the church, therefore, will be about spiritual transformation through the power of meaningful action. Such a church is worth attending.
Many Unitarians practice only an inner evangelism, an inner mission, and don’t reach out. But Unitarians in Transylvania do not stop at preaching the Gospel; they put their words into work. This action orientation, translating the Gospel into service, is a strong Transylvanian characteristic.
Sixteenth century Unitarian leader Francis Dávid brought ethical, values-based Christian thought to light. “God’s word flows as the water and flies as a bird,” he wrote. “Nobody can raise mountains nor any impediments in its way.” The good news Francis Dávid preached is this: as humans, we have the divine potential to follow the example of Jesus, our ultimate ideal and teacher. And because we can, therefore we must. Ours is not a comfortable religion. It has the ultimate challenge of perfection. As another sixteenth century Transylvanian Unitarian leader put it: “The future will ask us not how many we are, but what values we represent.”
Later Unitarianism was dominated by an increasing social awareness and the struggle for freedom. A nineteenth century Transylvanian preacher expressed the spirit of his age: “The true minister is one who not only preaches the Gospel, but one who lives by it; one who not only reads the Bible, but gives it into the hand of ordinary people; one who not only encourages building schools, but himself takes up the shovel. To spread the Evangelism means to serve the process of moral, cultural, spiritual, material uplift of the people.”
Transylvanian Unitarians rejected a rigid dogmatism four hundred years ago. Our faith and church are not based upon authority and wealth, or powerful organization, but rather on the Gospel and the attraction of the human spirit to truth and justice. This message is just as relevant today, as progressive churches try to be non-dogmatic.
But some American Unitarian Universalists try not to even be religious. Being rooted in two quite different traditions (in spite of similar names: Transylvanian Unitarianism and North American Unitarian Universalism), I have an eye and an insight for both of these related groups.
Present day American churches in general appear as grand-scale businesses to an Eastern European, with their dozens of committees, sometimes involving half of the congregation in some leadership role or another. This large-scale involvement suggests empowerment of members to participate, to run, to own the church. But in many churches this virtue degenerates into power-games, militancy, flattering pride for the power-hungry, and ultimately pain and alienation for some members.
Why is the simple faith of the Transylvanians so compelling for the sophisticated, educated American Unitarian Universalists? Why does the encounter seem to fill a spiritual void on a large scale? A visiting Transylvanian minister intuitively answered this inquiry: “You Americans hold your faith far from your core.” Religious identity, cultural identity, is our core value in Transylvania. And though we are born into our faith, it never came cheap to practice our religion. Each generation had to fight for this basic right through- out four centuries. Ours is an active faith, an active existence against odds, against persecutions of all kinds— the cruelest being the communist oppression.
Transylvanian Unitarians take pride in having a coherent theological position which is positively formulated. Though we deny certain precepts, our theology is not denial but affirmation, clear cut and simply postulated. It is not abstract theory, but the very fabric of our living. My faith is an active faith. My religion is service to others through the transformative power of the Gospel.
We have always been aware that our faith will keep us. It did. Mine is not a narrow Unitarian apologetic. I am not talking about a Unitarian denominational membership. I am talking about faith, proclaiming the Good News, living the Gospel, and surviving by its power, by its empowerment. We have survived as Protestants under the persecutions of the Counter-Reformation, survived as Unitarians when we had been considered too radical, survived as Christians under the anti-religious reign of terror of communism.
Under oppression, denominational identity is somewhat less defined. The ultimate, shared goal—bringing forth the Kingdom of God—is not different for a Unitarian or a Calvinist or an Evangelical Lutheran, the three main minority churches of Transylvania. Each, both collectively and individually, has been an equally important link in a chain of Christian minority churches. We were able to survive only through a united spirit and sense of community. The weakest links had to be strengthened by others.
Today, this small Transylvanian Unitarian church of 80,000 members has become the clear spring where spiritually thirsty Americans make group pilgrimages seeking to recharge their souls and renew their hope. The late Peter Raible, a Unitarian Universalist minister, confessed:
I was not prepared for how holy the trip [to Transylvania] would prove to be. What is so transforming I found in no detached examination of our Transylvania movement, but in direct experience. To hear parishioners sing their long-banned national anthem as tears stream down their faces is before long to feel wetness on one’ s own cheeks. To sit in a worship service, not a word of which one can understand, is to feel the depth of the spirit flowing.
My pilgrimage, as I suspect for most Unitarians, did not strive to create a religious experience, but I found it again and again. The experience, simply put, was transformative. Whatever North Americans may have done on behalf of their peers in Transylvania is more than repaid by the religious experiences that have come to us by visiting there. We return, I think, more deeply grounded in our own faith, more consecrated to seeing our Unitarian Universalist cause continue on this continent, and more assured that our religion has much to give in the hard times of life.
American UUs might well value a focus that is grounded in deeper theological understanding, to better bring a heterogeneous group together. Perhaps the Unitarians of Transylvania can serve as one wellspring that might serve a thirsty faith. Transylvania’s virtues include deep rootedness, stability, and continuity, as compared with the familiar American experience of uprootedness, moving on, constant change and lost tradition. The stubborn stability of the Transylvanian church has been one of its main strengths during the past centuries.
The Partner Church structure, with the richness of its programs and interactions, offers a healthy cross- fertilization of ideas and models that have helped us experience a shared global awareness. Notice how this popular hymn that Protestants and Catholics sing expresses the most desired goal of today’s evangelism:
In Christ there is no East and West, in him no South or North,
But one great family bound by love throughout the whole wide earth .
This sentiment beautifully harmonizes with the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Today’ s world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate. Some could even exist in total isolation. But nowadays, what- ever happens in one region of the world will eventually affect, through a chain reaction, peoples and places far away. Therefore, it is essential to treat each major problem, right from its inception, as a global concern. It is no longer possible to emphasize, without destructive persecution, the national, racial, or ideological barriers which differentiate us. Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in consider- ing the interest of others.... For the future of [humankind], for a happier, more stable and civilized world, we must all develop a sincere, warm- hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.
I see a natural symbol of evangelism in the banyan tree. Religions and congregations everywhere are its far-reaching branches, which drop new roots around, to anchor, protect and feed the tree: the shared Good News. The stronger the new roots are, the stronger the tree will be, from which we all draw nurturing energy. And we are all connected by it.
Proselytizing, mere preaching and passive witnessing, might not be good news any more. But there is good news lived in a values-based Unitarian Christianity that is evangelical, though not in the tired old understandings of evangel- ism. Transformation, touching each person’s core with the true spirit of the Gospel, brings about fruits in action.
- Egy Az Isten: God Is One - Rev. Sara Ascher
I love to travel! I love entering new cultures, eating new food (well, most of the time), finding new fashion and listening to new languages and music ; I love seeing the past of a culture stand strong with what is new, where history and modernity meet, where architecture tells a story of a people’s progress. But really what I love most about traveling is the people you meet and hearing the stories of their lives.
Over the past months, thanks to Facebook and email I’ve been able to remain in touch with the Unitarian & Unitarian Universalist ministers I met last summer at the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. During that humid and hot week in the southeast corner of the Netherlands I heard many stories of many people from all over the world.
There were familiar stories of congregations struggling with issues of money and old buildings; stories of mistakes and triumphs. But mostly there were stories, very powerful, personal stories of how our free religious tradition is lived by people of many cultures and languages who somehow found the same path to truth that we have. These were stories of what our faith, our free liberal faith, means to those in cultures not quite as privileged and secure as ours. What I heard was that our faith is literally the foundation and source of the courage to speak for equality, for the rights of all and for the freedom of mind and body.
One such story goes something like this. There was a young girl about eight years old named Susanna. Her father was a Unitarian minister during the height of the Communist rule in her homeland of Transylvania, which for some time had been part of Hungary, but under the Communist era became part of Romania. The ethnic Hungarians were unpopular in Romania and suffered severe treatment from what we might call profiling and baseless arrests to oppressive efforts to abolish their native language. Of course, religion was a central element of life supervised by government appointed overseers, whose job it was to investigate and censor any message from a minister to their parishioners that might be construed as anti-government.
On a summer afternoon Susanna, playing in the family garden, watched as her father’s long time friend arrived for a visit from the part of Hungary not under Romanian rule. He brought two boxes with him. Susanna, curious to see what was in them, rushed into the house to peek inside. In one of them was a bunch of old smelly books, but in the other were several oranges and sweets not easily gotten because of the rationing of food. It had been so long since she had fresh sweet oranges and the smooth delicacy of chocolate melting in her mouth, she could not wait for the evening meal when they would all get a taste of these rare treats.
Later in the afternoon Susanna was sent to the shop to buy some beer for dinner. While she was in the store a police officer approached her and asked politely who was visiting her father. She answered a long-time friend. “And what did he have in those boxes he brought with him?” asked the policeman. Not wanting to have the rare and coveted treats confiscated Susanna said, “Oh, just some old books,” and then went on her way home with the beer.
When she got home and told her mother and father of the policeman’s questions they instantly became agitated and her father even shouted, “Why would you tell him such a thing?” There was a flurry of action, but it was not until much later that Susanna learned the reason for her parents’ fear and distress. Days later, after the family friend returned to Hungary without any trouble, Susanna’s father sat her down and told her that the books the friend had brought were banned by the government and had the police come to investigate what books they were, they could have been imprisoned for possessing anti-government material.
The books that were considered contraband were mostly religious texts and commentaries. Which, of course, is not surprising given that every sermon Susanna’s father and other ministers like him had been written and then sent for approval by the local government official no less than thirty days prior to its being preached. And there was also the chance that sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning was a spy of the government, ensuring that the edited and censored sermon was the exact sermon given, that the prayers and invocations and all other rituals and music offered in worship were in line with governmental ideologies and policies. For those ministers who defied these rules and strictures, the consequence of up to ten years in prison was waiting for them.
Given our own struggles for freedom of thought and belief we might think that this powerful impulse for religious freedom in Transylvania is merely a response to relatively recent circumstances; to the oppression of the Communists, but no. Certainly their most recent history has brought them enormous obstacles and challenges, as Rev. Harold Babcock writes, “In the last century alone, they survived World War I, the annexation of their country by Romania, the rise of Nazism and World War II, and the fall of the Iron Curtain. They endured the terrible years of Soviet Communism, culminating in the overthrow and execution of their Communist Dictator, one of whose goals had been to eradicate ethnic Hungarian culture in Romania; and they continue to endure the subsequent political and economic hardships of post-Communist Eastern Europe.” But the foundation of the Transylvanian Unitarians’ fight for free religious thought and the search for truth and knowledge and their belief in the oneness of God finds its roots in the mid sixteenth century.
In 1568 at the council of Torda in Transylvania, King John Sigismund issued a decree, “His majesty reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, or not, not one shall compel them, for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore (no one) shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching, for faith is the gift of God…”
The edict of Tolerance, as it was called, was the first of its kind in the western world. It allowed preachers to voice their beliefs freely; it permitted the members of a congregation to disagree, not only with one another, but with the preacher as well. Although King John died only a decade after this first declaration of religious freedom, his influence on the freedom of thought and belief has been long lasting. In fact, the edict of tolerance became the foundation for the long battle for religious freedom. It is from this decree that we established our belief in a congregation of free thinkers with differing theologies, philosophies and experiences who come together to celebrate and examine the mysteries and questions of life. It is King John we can thank for the free pulpit, where preacher and layperson alike has the freedom to speak from his or her experience of the Divine.
Even today, writes Linda Stowell, “There are no crosses or pictures of Jesus in Transylvanian Unitarian churches, because [though they consider themselves Christians,] their tradition is clear that Jesus was not God: “Egy Az Isten” God is One – is carved over almost every door. They are not exclusive, for they hold and live by the conviction of the Act of Toleration, that “Faith is the Gift of God,” and it is not for humans to impose on each other what should come from within.” Like us, they hold strong to the idea that though we are one in creation, in God, that oneness can be expressed, experienced and understood as varied from one person to another as there are types and species of creatures upon the earth. Though even modern day Transylvanian Unitarian worship might look and feel more traditional - using the Bible as a central religious text and Jesus as their primary prophet and moral guide, there remains a robust tradition of theological debate and exploration.
Babcock continues, “don’t be fooled by these traditional trappings (of the centrality of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus in particular) for the Transylvanian Unitarians are not stuck in the past. They are firm believers in religious freedom and freedom of conscience, in the use of reason in the interpretation of religious texts, and the practice of religious tolerance. They are open to change and innovation…They are liberal in the best sense of the word. Their ministers are well educated and intellectually curious.”
In fact, they are not much different from us Unitarian Universalists here in the United States. Their value of the individual pursuit of truth mingled with the power and purpose of community are the same we hold in this congregation. Even the Transylvanian Unitarian Catechism might be something many of us could agree with, “We do not call Jesus God, because we know that he was in reality a man . . . His real humanity is verified by his whole life. He was born, grew up in body and spirit, was happy, sorrowful, hungry, thirsty, suffered and died . . . After Jesus' death, his loyal disciples and followers took his body down from the cross and buried it in the tomb . . . His disciples and followers’ loyalty kept the memory of their master and teacher, and proclaimed his teachings . . . Our most important duty is to love God, to love our neighbors and to build the kingdom of God on Earth. In fulfillment of our duty we shall listen to voice of our conscience, we shall always choose good, truth and beauty, and we shall be loyal to these. If we lived in that way, our reward will be a restful heart, and peace among us.”
Freedom of the mind and soul is the foundation for our Unitarian Universalist tradition here in the US as much as it remains the foundation of Unitarianism in Transylvania. We celebrate the opportunity to not only share our thoughts about and answers to life’s big questions with one another, we also have the ability to invite others to share in the freedom to discover their own answers. We live in a time and a nation where we can gather in worship, believing differently than the person in the pew next to us and share our ideas and experiences with respect and without fear of ridicule.
The concept of freedom is a sacred one not only within our denomination but also within our nation as a whole. From the time of the birth of our constitution and bill of rights there have been those who have argued and fought for religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson, who, along with other Unitarians and Universalists, argued for religious freedom on the grounds that God ordained the mind of humanity to be free. Their insistence on the essential nature of this freedom ensured that our fundamental right to worship, as we each deem appropriate and meaningful would be upheld.
As Unitarian Universalists, we not only value the freedom of thought and belief, we fiercely protect it as a central and sacred principle of our faith. Freedom of the mind and of the spirit is exactly what we as religious liberals offer to the greater community. It is what we have fought for, and what we affirm as every individual’s right. Throughout our history, people have died in the battle for religious freedom. Most notably Michael Servetus, who was burned at the stake by John Calvin for his anti-Trinitarian views. Francis David, counselor to King John Sigismund, died in prison refusing to renounce his belief in Jesus’ humanity. Today across the globe there are everyday people, like you and me continuing to stand and fight for the freedom of belief and religious practice and expression. Our modern day religious freedom would not exist had it not been for those who gave their lives and for those still willing to sacrifice for the belief that it is every person’s right to experience, worship and name the Holy for themselves.
As the Rev. Morris Hudgins writes of our ties to Transylvanian Unitarians, “They are models of courage. They connect us with a past that we have often overlooked or forgotten. They articulate a theology that is connected to both the twenty first century and the sixteenth century. They remind us that freedom is a precious right in every era and in every place. They remind us that freedom is to be fought for and preserved. If we do not help others find freedom, we may someday have to fight for it ourselves. They link us with…our [forbearers]; as the world gets smaller and smaller we should not isolate ourselves from the people of the world, but look for the connections between us.