Unitarian Universalist Association


Boston, MA

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Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray

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The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is an organization of congregations descended from earlier liberal Christian congregations characterized by their liberal attitude towards religious teachings and belief in promoting left-of-center values and societal causes. Unitarian Universalists emphasize the “diverse” sources of their teachings, which include world religions and secular philosophy, and say that they have “no shared creed,” but rather a “shared covenant” that allows their members to “believe more than one thing.” Unitarian Universalists consider “the existence of a Higher Power” one of several “important questions” which their members reflect on, but do not necessarily affirm. 1

The UUA engages in a wide range of left-of-center political activism, which it justifies on the basis of the Unitarian Universalist church’s philosophy of “deeds not creeds,” as well as what it calls “the spiritual practice of taking a public position in support of justice,” or “public witness.” The UUA promotes redistributing wealth and restructuring the economy to reduce disparate outcomes, and advocates for increasing environmental regulations. The association also opposes the enforcement of immigration laws, supports increasing immigration into the United States, and promotes left-of-center views on race relations and law enforcement. UUA supports expanding access to abortion, and calls left-of-center gender ideology “a spiritual gift.” 2

The UUA solicits donations from members and supporters, using the money to support its congregations and fund its activism. 3


The Unitarian and Universalist churches were originally two separate liberal Protestant Christian denominations. Efforts to merge the churches, including some proposals that involved other similar denominations, started in the mid-1800s, but the first successful initiative was the National Federation of Religious Liberals, formed in 1908. The federation included the Unitarians and Universalists, as well as the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The federation disbanded when the Free Church of America was formed in 1933 to try to bring all liberal churches in the United States together. The effort was not successful, and the Free Church movement was defunct by 1938. 4

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Unitarians and Universalists made another effort to unite, and formed the Council of Liberal Churches to combine the religious education and public relations efforts of the two denominations. By 1955, the churches had agreed to merge, and the first meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association took place in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1961. 5


When the Unitarian and Universalist churches merged in 1961, they had a combined membership of more than 151,000. Membership increased steadily, peaking at more than 177,000 in 1968. After that, membership declined until 1982, reaching a low point of less than 136,000. Membership then grew throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, exceeding 164,000 in 2009. Since then, membership has declined and stagnated, remaining in the 150,000 range for most of the 2010s. 6

When UUA membership started to decline in the early 2010s, church leaders looked to capitalize on shifting societal values to bolster recruitment. In his remarks to the association’s board, former UUA president Peter Morales suggested that the church become more actively involved in the “culture-change business,” and said that “our theology prepares us to embrace” left-of-center activism. Morales also suggested that the association could benefit from the concurrent decline in evangelical denomination memberships, calling “the evangelical slide” an “amazing opportunity.” 7 However, as of 2020, UUA membership stood at less than 153,000 – a drop of more than 10,000 from 2010, and only slightly more than the church had at the time of its founding 60 years ago. 8


The UUA sponsors several projects which cite Unitarian Universalist beliefs as their justification for promoting left-of-center policies and societal causes. One of these is “Side with Love,” which has organized activism in support of the Affordable Care Act, low-income housing, and other left-of-center economic initiatives. The organization says that its goal is to “name what we are for and against,” with support for far-left policies such as race-based government handouts considered “siding with love” and opposition to these policies considered “siding with the violence of white supremacy.” In January 2018, the organization drew attention to its name change from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Side with Love,” claiming that “disability rights activists within Unitarian Universalism” had complained about the alleged “exclusionary and ableist” connotations of the word “standing.” 9

Love Resists is a UUA campaign which opposes aggressive crime prevention strategies and the incarceration of criminals, as well as the practice of granting bail for money. Love Resists has endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement. The campaign also opposes the enforcement of immigration laws and the deportation of illegal immigrants. 10

UU the Vote is the UUA’s voter outreach and mobilization initiative, which provides resources for UUA congregation members conducting phone and text banking campaigns and using their congregation spaces to host election-related activities. UU the Vote also provides activism instructions. 11 In the lead-up to the 2020 general election, the organization provided a list of guidelines which it said would prepare congregations for the COVID-19 pandemic and unspecified circumstances involving “fascism.” These included making congregation facilities accessible to protesters, including rioters avoiding law enforcement, as well as having a system in place to direct congregation members towards protests. 12

The UUA operates a “College of Social Justice” that offers training programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities for left-of-center activists. Created in 2012, the college targets high school students, young adults, ministers, and seminarians for recruitment. It partners with a large number of left-of-center immigration activist groups, labor organizations, and voter mobilization initiatives. 13


In 2017, UUA president Peter Morales resigned due to controversy within the UUA over his decision to appoint a white man to replace the outgoing head of the association’s Southern region, who was also a white man. Christina Rivera, a Hispanic member of the UUA board of trustees, claimed that she had been considered for the position but was turned down. Rivera accused the association of “racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy.” Morales, who himself is Hispanic and succeeded the association’s first Black president, initially released a statement defending himself and condemning “self righteousness” and “hysteria” in response to the incident. He also cited statistics showing that the number of minority staff and managers at UUA had increased by a few percentage points over the previous decade. However, he soon apologized for the statement, claiming that it had “made things worse,” and resigned. 14  The UUA elected Arizona pastor and immigration activist Susan Frederick-Gray to replace Morales. 15


The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, which manages Unitarian Universalist activism projects, received more than $9.3 million in contributions in 2020. This was a significant increase from 2019, when the organization received just under $7 million in contributions. In 2020, the committee spent more than $4.8 million on salaries and distributed more than $1.1 million in grants. 16


  1.             Beliefs & Principles. Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  2.        Justice & Inclusion. Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  3.       Friends of the UUA. Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  4.             “Timeline of Significant Events in the Merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Churches During the 1900s.” Harvard Divinity School. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  5.         “Timeline of Significant Events in the Merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Churches During the 1900s.” Harvard Divinity School. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  6.             “UUA Membership Statistics, 1961-2020.” Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  7.        Michelle Bates Deakin. “UUA membership declines again.” UUWorld. May 23, 2011. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  8.         “UUA Membership Statistics, 1961-2020.” Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  9.        “Announcing Sided with Love.” Side With Love. January 10, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  10.          “Love Resists Campaign.” Unitarian Universalist Association. Accessed May 28, 2021.
  11.      UU the Vote. Accessed May 28, 2021.

    Home Page

  12.             “Congregational Asset Mapping Tool – COVID-19/Fascism Version.” UU the Vote. Accessed May 28, 2021.

    Congregational Asset Mapping Tool – COVID-19/Fascism Version

  13.        About Us. Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. Accessed May 28, 2021.

    About Us

  14.     Adelle M. Banks. “Unitarian Universalist president resigns amid diversity controversy.” Religion News Service. March 31, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2021.

    Unitarian Universalist president resigns amid diversity controversy

  15.        Adelle M. Banks. “Unitarian Universalists elect first woman president.” Religion News Service. June 27, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2021.

    Unitarian Universalists elect first woman president

  16.             Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. IRS Form 990. 2020. Accessed May 28, 2021.
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Unitarian Universalist Association

24 Farnsworth Street
Boston, MA