Report of the Commission of Unity and Comity (1929)

Another document. Note the stated rationale for including Unitarians.

Report of the Commission on Comity and Unity (1929)

On the General Convention page of the LEADER for March 3, 1928 appeared an article by the Chairman of the Commission on the “Doings of the Commission on Comity and Unity” since the Hartford Convention. It covered two important conferences, one with representatives of the Congregational and the Christian Commissions and one with the Unitarian Commission.

As was states in that article, we were invited to counsel with representatives of the Congregational and Christian Commissions, who were endeavoring to work out a plan for the virtual amalgamation of their respective bodies. They believed we would not be interested because the avowed basis of the proposed union was not only the spirit but almost the very language of the basic principle of the Joint Statement adopted at Omaha and Hartford, viz. — that vital unity grows out of the acceptance of the Christian way of life as the unifying power, with freedom in subsidiary matters of doctrine and ceremonial practice. While the plan contemplated an actual demoninational [sic!] fusion in which we could no join, we rejoiced that is had been made possible by the ideal of unity which we had part in shaping and proclaiming to the Christian world. Since that conference the negotiations between the Congregational and Christian fellowships have been made public. The newspapers of May 4 reported the adoption of the proposed plan of union with the Congregationalists by the convention of the Christian body at Richmond, Va. If these two bodies decide to effect organic union, it will be on the platform that we had a share in establishing.

The other outcome of this conference was a plan to have the Chairmen of the three Commissions there represented call a wholly unofficial gathering of representatives of various denominations, conservative as well as liberal, to see how far the principles of the Joint Statement might be considered a real basis for the closer fellowship of forward looking Christians. That at once brought to the front the question of including the Unitarians. The representatives of our Commission very clearly states that our common attitude towards this question was the acid test of the genuineness of our professed adherence to the basis of unity which the Joint Statement announced. Until the Unitarians has been given a chance to join us we were unwilling to go further, not because our adoption of the Joint Statement was contingent on the Unitarians’ acceptance of it, but because setting up an anti-Unitarian test would be invalidating the very essence of the Statement and an act of self-stultification. The members of the other two Commissions agreed, and the chairman of our Commission was asked to interview the Unitarian officials and ascertain their attitude toward entering such a larger conference was was proposed.

After a number of personal interviews with Dr. Cornish, now President of the American Unitarian Association, with Dr. Eliot, former President and former chairman of the Unitarian Commission, a meeting of a small group representing both bodies was held in Boston on February 20, a brief account of which is given in the LEADER article already referred to. A proposed conference was explained to our Unitarian friends and we expressed the earnest hope that they would accept our invitation to participate. We urged the opportunity it offered of fostering a principle of unity that combined fellowship with freedom and was in accord with their genius was well as ours. They agreed to accept the invitation and to send delegates when such a conference should be held.

Our Commission has been in close touch with leaders of other Churches interested in the great problems and opportunities in connection with the subject of Christian Unity. Its members hope to have some share in whatever forward movement results from past efforts. Whatever happens will be largely the outcome of the spirit and pronouncement of the Joint Statement.

Respectfully submitted,
Frederic W. Perkins, Chairman

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 45, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on “Report of the Commission of Unity and Comity (1929)

  1. Ya know: I was happy to understand it in context, but this definition via Wikipedia fleshes it out:

    Comity is a term used in international law (and in the law governing relations between U.S. states) to describe an informal principle that nations will extend certain courtesies to other nations, particularly by recognizing the validity and effect of their executive, legislative, and judicial acts. This principle is most frequently invoked by courts, which will not act in a way that demeans the jurisdiction, laws or judicial decisions of another country.

  2. This report brings to mind one of the great “What ifs?” of Universalist history. What if the Universalists had opted for merger with the Congregationalists and the Christians?(O’Kellyites, sometimes called Christian Connection, not Disciples of Christ also Campbellites). At the church I once served in rural Ohio, I still had a few older members who wished we had merged with the Congregationalists and Free Christians.

    I guess with this “what if” we are indulging in pure fantasy. But I think Universalism would have remained more Christian, but eventually had its identity totally sub-sumed in the eventual United Church of Christ merger. Who really rembers anything about the religious identity of UCC predecessors like the O’Kellyites, or the German Evangelical Synod, etc.).

    Derek

  3. I’m with you, Derek. Of couse, between keeping the name and losing the faith*, or keeping the faith but losing the name, let the name go. As it is, Universalism in the UUA is often quite different from — if not opposed to — its ancestry, and Universalist Christianity can be found beneath the surface of other denominations.

    (*Personally and historically, my understanding of Universalism as a theology is rooted in the Christian revelation. I am as interfaith as can be, and I don’t mean to offend by any means contemporary UUs, but I have a very specific context for how I’ve come to learn of a loving God and what I understand Universalism to be. End Disclaimer.)

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