THE bicentenary of the Unitarian Toleration Act - which removed
penalties against Nonconformists who did not recognise the Trinity
- was marked last month by the 5000 Unitarians in the UK.
The chief officer of the Unitarian General Assembly, Derek
McAuley, said: "The most significant effect of the Act was that it
aided the emergence of Unitarianism from the shadows. The name
'Unitarian' could now be used in public without fear. Unitarianism
was now a distinct and separate movement within Dissent rather than
being purely an intellectual position held by individuals."
The Act removed penalties against those who were deniers of the
Trinity and had not been given toleration under the Toleration Act
of 1689, and the Blasphemy Act of 1698.
Unitarians in the UK had now moved on from defining themselves
as against the Trinity, Mr McAuley said, and some members of the
movement today were Trinitarians. The movement now focuses on the
"oneness of God and the oneness of humankind", he said.
"We have no set dogma. I have never heard a sermon against the
Trinity in my lifetime. People join us from other Churches: people
who are no longer prepared to sign up to a creed."
The Movement has many historic listed buildings, which came from
the Dissenting tradition and are used as meeting houses.
Congregations are small, averaging about 20 members in each. Many
of the buildings and congregations are concentrated around the
industrial cities of the North.
"In the UK, our tradition is constantly evolving," Mr McAuley
said. "We advocate civil and religious liberty. Our commitment to
religious freedom stems directly from our own experience.
"Blasphemy legislation remains in place in many parts of the
world, and is used - and abused - to harass political and religious
dis-sent, and sometimes to settle personal disputes. An accusation
of blasphemy is particularly pernicious and dangerous. It is
difficult to refute, and the public can be easily inflamed by
emotive rhetoric. Justice is rarely done, even if the accused is
cleared by the secular legal authorities."