A Religion For Greatness

The year 1992 was the generally recognized Bicentennial of Universalism in America, but it is an anniversary that actually came six years later. It was in October 1798 that the Universalist faith was institutionalized into an organization that endured until its merger with the American Unitarian Association in 1961.

Clarence R. Skinner was the pre-eminent social prophet of the Universalist Church during the first half of this century. His name is memorialized today in an annual award given at General Assembly to the sermon preached in our denomination that best exemplifies the social principles of Unitarian Universalism. During most of his career, Skinner was on the faculty at Tufts University. He came to this position from a career in parish ministry that had already established his political and preaching reputation. He eventually served as Dean of the Theological School at Tufts from 1938-1945, and his work influenced a generation of Universalist clergy. A pacifist during the First World War, a supporter of organized labor, a vocal defender of Sacco and Vanzetti, Skinner was frequently shunned by his colleagues because of his politics but always respected and admired for his honesty and integrity. As he approached retirement in 1945, Skinner offered his vision of the message that the Universalist Church had to present in his book, A Religion for Greatness. This reading comes from the chapter on racism, and it is presented as Skinner wrote it, without changing the male gender references that were common parlance at the time:

The religion of the unities and universals is (a) radical cure. It gets down to the roots out of which prejudice grows. It digs into the soil of man’s selfishness, superstitions, and distortions. It destroys the vicious partialisms which would lock men into divisive cells of race, denying them the common rights of humanity. This enemy must be routed on every front—economic, social, biological, and cultural. The only way to rout it is to supplant the fears and errors of partialism by a vigorous, realistic religion of universalism. For every denial we must make an assertion. Man must enlarge the borders of his consciousness to include the human race. We must think, feel, and act in universe terms, and thus see how petty and sinful are the partialisms of our lesser selves. We must welcome differences because life in a varied world is richer than life in uniformity. We must recognize the rightful place of color, shape, and history in a syncretic culture. If we “see life steadily and see it whole,” we can appreciate all the parts. The part becomes misunderstood only when we see it without relationships, as an end in itself. One race is no more necessary than one kind of tree or one kind of horse. Each has its own genius and each may contribute to a life that is “rounded, divine, complete.”

It is a time for greatness. There must be a religion for greatness to meet the need of the time.

About the Author

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