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Unitarians celebrate ‘emergence from shadows’

02 August 2013

by a staff reporter


Life-long Unitarian: Elizabeth Gaskell

Life-long Unitarian: Elizabeth Gaskell

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."

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