Skip to main content

The Spectrum of Free Will vs. "Doomed to be Saved"

1n 1961, the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated, and a new religion was born.

We're still sorting out that marriage, figuring out the structural issues, cultural issues, and then there's theology. Much of Unitarianism and Universalism was co-mingled long before consolidation, but I think that the area where there's still deep dissent is found in where you place yourself on the spectrum of Free Will vs. Mandatory Universal Salvation.

It's a fun thing, because I have noticed that even the UUs who do not believe in a post-death heaven or hell can really get really het up about this. Even the atheists! It is a fun discussion, because either way, you're arguing for something good, you know?

On one side, you've got the Free Will thinkers, who tend to align themselves more with the Unitarian side of our theological history. Because God is good, God would not make someone be saved (go to Heaven, be reunited with God, etc.) against their will.

On the other side are the "No, I mean LITERALLY Irresistible Universal Grace" folks who say that because God is good, God would not allow anyone to not be saved. They would be "dragged kicking and screaming into heaven" to quote Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed's wonderful sermon, himself quoting Rev. Rev. Gordon McKeeman. The Universalists.

Wait. Pause. Go watch this sermon if you haven't watched it before. Life-changing, for some of us. 

"It is NOT LOVE if there is no choice!" argue the Unitarians. "God can REJECT your rejection, because Love overcomes all!" argue the Universalists.

And the arguments go back and forth, with no resolution except for those busy arguing their case. As it should be. Some arguments are too good, too powerful, to ever fully end.

And I am greatly oversimplifying to imply all Unitarians prioritized Free Will or that all Universalists prioritized Literally Irresistible Universal Grace. Frances Power Cobbe was a British Unitarian, who, in a sermon at Clerkenwell Unitarian Church in 1873 coined my new favorite term, "Doomed to be Saved."

"(As Matthew Davenport Hill) once said to me,'I believe in the aggressive power of love and kindness, and in the comparative weakness of every obstacle of evil or stubbornness which can be opposed thereto.' We do not think man's evil can, in the long run of the infinite ages, outspeed finally God's ever pursuing mercy. He must overtake us sooner or later...Every human soul is 'doomed to be saved,' destined by irrevocable divine love and mercy to be sooner or later, in this world or far off words to come, brought like the Prodigal to the Father's feet."   -- (from The Hopes of the Human Race: Hereafter and Here, Frances Power Cobbe)

Doomed to be Saved! Doomed to be Saved! Well, that phrase is enough to make the Free Willers start foaming at the mouth while the Grace folks start salivating with joy, isn't it?


Popular posts from this blog

Don't Trust Your Instincts, or, "Well-Meaning People Can Exacerbate Big Problems"

My evangelical friends talk about being "convicted." That moment when you hear or read a message and like an arrow, it dives into your heart, and you know that you have been guilty, and you have some growing to do. At the very beginning of my learning about Bowen systems theory, the professor was laying out the basic idea: that we all feel anxiety, and when we do, we act (often in unhealthy ways) in order to lessen our anxiety. And in an unhealthy system with emotionally immature people -- a family, a business, a church -- one person's anxiety can trigger the anxiety of others. Here's a great primer on that. Really great. Like, watch it 20 times in a row. Or every morning as you drink your coffee. (I'm not kidding. I think your life would be better. Consider it a spiritual practice.) So back to my conviction moment. The professor went on to talk about how when we see someone who is "vibrating" with anxiety, our instinct is often to rush over,

The Most Controversial Thing I'll Write All Year

Back when you were a kid, you learned a lesson. It was wrong. And it's time for you to unlearn it. You learned that you were responsible for other people's feelings. Not that you should care about other people's feelings. (You should.) Not just that you should be sensitive to other people's feelings. (You should.) But you were taught that you were actually responsible for other people's feelings. It happens in almost all homes, even the loving ones. In abusive homes, it's more blatant. If Dad is unhappy, you get hit. So you learn that it is actually your responsibility to keep him happy, or there would be consequences. But even in non-abusive homes, it happened. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  You are not responsible for other people's feelings. That's their job. And in fact, you are crossing their boundary if you try to control their feelings. They get to decide how they feel about something, not you. They may decide that you

Me and My Collar

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it's time I let you know what you might see. When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one "collar week," to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes. After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, "How do you manage the power?" In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient's room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff. With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying. I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, to