Suggestions for Reform of the Christian Universalist Association: A Message by the Founder

In 2007, I founded the Christian Universalist Association (CUA), with the help of a diverse team of twelve other ministers and evangelists. I had spent the previous two years building a ministry to connect a wide diversity of people throughout the United States and around the world who believed in Christian universalism. During that process, I identified religious leaders from across the denominational spectrum — especially Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Unitarian Universalist Christians — who believed in the importance of coming together to teach that God’s judgment upon sinners is limited and that all will be saved in the end.

Christian Universalist Association logo

The Christian Universalist Association was intended to be a broadly ecumenical umbrella organization for people with that belief, including both liberals and conservatives and a wide range of Christians of various denominations. Our focus was the Biblical teaching of the ultimate reconciliation of all souls and the temporary and reformative nature of hell or divine judgment (e.g., see Luke 15:4, 2 Cor. 5:19, 1 Tim. 4:10, Phil. 2:10-11, 1 Cor. 15:22-25, 3:12-15, Mark 9:49) — an interpretation of Christian eschatology called “restorationist universalism.” The CUA also emphasized the Biblical teaching that humans are children of God, called to grow up into greater perfection in Christ (e.g., see Gen. 1:27, John 10:34-36, Acts 17:28, Rom. 8:16-17, Heb. 2:10-11, 12:5-11, Luke 6:40) — a vision of salvation that goes beyond mere faith in Jesus as Lord to the higher callings of discipleship, sanctification and theosis, or being made more divine in God’s image.

From the beginning, the CUA was inclusive of marginalized people and rejected a spirit of hatred or harsh judgment toward anyone. However, our organization did not take positions on controversial social, cultural, political, or moral issues. We did not see ourselves as a specifically liberal or progressive religious organization, and in fact, many of the CUA’s founding leaders were Baptist, Evangelical, or Charismatic Christians and had generally conservative views. I, myself, was an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Latter Rain movement at the time — a version of Pentecostalism in which many people had come to believe in restorationist universalism and theosis, but still held a high view of scripture and accepted most of the teachings of orthodox Christianity.

The Rise of Unbiblical Teachings in the CUA

I served as executive director of the Christian Universalist Association through the end of 2010, and then continued serving on the board of directors through the end of 2017. As the years went by, the CUA has gradually tended to become more liberal and less orthodox in its beliefs and membership — and I feel that this transition has really accelerated during the past few years, after I stepped down from the board.

From what I have seen, this is part of a larger trend among people who identify with the Christian universalist movement or who participate in online communities associated with it. Some of the movement’s most prominent online influencers, for example, frequently post harsh criticisms of Biblical Christian teachings and organized religion in general. Some of the movement’s largest Facebook groups have become filled with posts and comments expressing views that bear little resemblance to what is taught in the Bible, causing many sincere Christians to feel uncomfortable and out of place. This has caused breakaway groups to be formed, in which only conservative Christians are welcome.

Today, a significant percentage of members of the official CUA Facebook group disagree with some of the most important Christian beliefs and promote unbiblical alternatives. Some members seem to be using the CUA’s online gathering place as a platform for the wholesale deconstruction of Christianity and rejection of its core teachings, not simply a more inclusive interpretation of the scope of salvation. To my surprise and disappointment, this has been accepted by most of the moderators — some of whom themselves express similarly unbiblical or post-Christian ideas and philosophies — while conservative Christian universalists have increasingly felt unwelcome or only marginally included in the CUA, and have expressed these concerns both privately and publicly.

As I have been serving as one of the admins of the group, I have tried privately to encourage the moderators to shift the prevailing dialogue to be more in alignment with Biblical Christianity, but my efforts in this regard during the past couple of years have been mostly unsuccessful. I also discussed some of the problems in a meeting with the CUA board, but after initial receptivity to my concerns, I felt that both the CUA leaders and myself came to believe that our views were too far apart on some key issues, and no further action was pursued.

However, as I have thought more about these things in recent months, I decided that I think the CUA is too meaningful of an organization to just sit back and watch it be inundated by pernicious heresies — and that as the founder, I have a responsibility to use my unique voice to make suggestions for reform. Therefore, I wrote this article to organize my thoughts and go on the record publicly about how I see Christian universalism and the current situation in the Christian Universalist Association, and as a basis for further frank but respectful dialogue with the CUA leadership. I hope the board of directors will take my suggestions seriously and take action to restore the organization to something closer to its original vision and mission.

I would like to emphasize the importance of thoughtful curation of the public image of the organization and its beliefs and priorities. The CUA Facebook group is the primary entry point for anyone interested to engage with the CUA’s theology, philosophy, and community. For the CUA to be effectively fulfilling its mission, most of the content in that group should reflect the belief system of a Bible-based Christian universalism — the type of universalism that the average Christian would be willing to consider with an open mind, rather than dismissing it as the beginning of a slippery slope of leaving Christianity.

Despite being founded to serve as the most prominent institutional voice for an interdenominational, Bible-based Christian universalism, the Christian Universalist Association seems to be abdicating its important role to uphold this way of thinking in the public square, rather than actively engaging in mainstream Christian apologetics from a universalist perspective. As a result, I find it increasingly hard to disagree with Christians who contend that universalism tends to lead people astray from the faith — and this saddens me, because rejecting the doctrine of eternal hell is what has enabled me and many others to become more strongly supportive of most of the rest of Christian orthodoxy.

Among people associated with Christian universalism, there is a constellation of ideas that are growingly popular, which go against the teachings of the New Testament. Although most of these ideas are not officially promoted by the CUA — and in some cases contradict either the letter or the spirit of the CUA’s statement of faith — there seems to be little opposition by the organization’s leaders to their acceptance and spread within the CUA community, and in the Christian universalist movement at large. Most notable among these ideas are the following:

  • Marcionism: The idea that the God of the Old Testament was excessively judgmental or evil, and that Jesus taught us to worship a different God, in opposition to the Jewish religion, based entirely on love and acceptance of everyone and everything. This antisemitic, “love only” view of God and Christ is an ancient heresy which is being revived by New Agers and some progressive Christians today, with varying degrees of awareness and sophistication, and it forms a major part of the foundation of some of the other heresies described below. Although Jesus reinterpreted some things in Judaism to emphasize God’s fatherly love and compassion and to soften the rough edges of the Law of Moses, emphasizing universal morality rather than Hebrew nationalism and legalism, he was nonetheless a Jew and did not reject either the God of Israel or the laws and teachings of the Hebrew scriptures in general. Nor was Jesus only about love and acceptance: Like the Hebrew God, he demanded repentance for sin (e.g., Matt. 4:17, 5:29-30, Luke 5:31-32, 13:1-5), and often expressed judgment upon the wicked (e.g., Matt. 10:14-15, 23:33-36, 24:48-51, 25:31-46).
  • Ultra-Universalism: The idea that there is no hell at all, and everyone goes directly to heaven when they die — even terrible sinners who have not yet repented and turned to God and Christ. Some people base this on the idea that Jesus Christ has already atoned for everyone’s sins and taken the punishment thereof, and therefore everyone is already saved. Some teach that the wicked will be transformed into goodness immediately after death, and therefore will be in a heavenly state that they themselves didn’t choose based on their beliefs and actions. Ultra-Universalism was first taught by Rev. Hosea Ballou in the 1800s and caused tremendous controversy within the previously restorationist denomination called the Universalist Church of America. Ballou’s idea prevailed among most Christian universalists of that era, causing the Universalist Church to decline and eventually exit from Christianity, merging with the Unitarians in 1961 to form the largely post-Christian denomination called the Unitarian Universalist Association. It’s not surprising that acceptance of Ultra-Universalism would lead to total deconstruction of the Christian faith, because Jesus taught so frequently and passionately about the reality of hell for the wicked in the afterlife (e.g., Matt. 13:36-43, 25:41-43, Mark 9:42-49, Luke 13:22-28, 16:19-25), and this idea was confirmed by Peter, the chief of the apostles (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:18-20, 2 Pet. 2:4-9), as well as other New Testament writers (e.g., Heb. 10:26-27, Rev. 14:9-11).
  • Rejection of the reality of Satan and evil spiritual powers: A trendy and seemingly “enlightened” idea among people rejecting orthodox Christianity today is the notion that the only spiritual powers that exist are good, and that God has no adversary competing for influence over our souls. Some people say that there is nothing we need to be saved from at all, except perhaps our own ignorance, and that evil is nothing more than lack of knowledge of God and the truth. Many universalists are inclined to reject the existence of Satan and the metaphysical reality of evil because they don’t want to believe that there could be negative outcomes in the afterlife, even temporarily — in other words, this ties in with Ultra-Universalism. If there is a devil or negative spiritual forces at work in our world, then the danger exists that they could continue to affect us after death. There is also a growing tendency of progressive Christians to reject the supernatural in general — and the existence of evil spirits is one of the most noteworthy examples of a supernatural worldview. The reality of spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan, is taught repeatedly throughout the New Testament: the temptation of Jesus by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11), the casting out of demons or negative spirits who can enter people’s bodies and minds (e.g., Mark 5:1-20, Luke 4:31-37, Matt. 10:1, Acts 19:11-20), and comments by Jesus and the apostles on evil spiritual forces and Jesus’s mission to defeat them (e.g., Matt. 10:28 or Luke 12:4-5, John 12:31-33, Eph. 2:1-6, 6:11-12, 1 John 3:8).
  • The afterlife as universal consciousness, not resurrection: It is also becoming increasingly popular to deny the teaching of the Bible that God’s plan is to restore each individual human being to an eternal identity, both body and soul, through the resurrection of the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:12-22). Instead, growing numbers of people are teaching that our spiritual destiny is the extinguishing of the individual self, merging with the all-encompassing consciousness of God, much like what Eastern religions believe, rather than the Biblical Christian belief in the resurrection of each individual person. Many who embrace this idea also have positive views of reincarnation and see no problem with the loss of identity that it would bring, seeing this as part of a process of becoming one with the universe rather than a separate and distinct being. Whether or not reincarnation exists, the Christian vision of an eternal whole-person identity for each individual means that we shouldn’t embrace it as God’s plan; and the idea of heaven as a disembodied state of oneness or nirvana is more similar to Buddhism and the ancient heresy of Gnosticism than Biblical Christianity.
  • This-worldly salvation rather than focus on the afterlife: Many Christians are shifting the focus of their faith away from the afterlife entirely, and claiming that the true message of Jesus was about changing this world according to progressive morality and social justice (as defined by 21st-century liberals), rather than what happens to us after we die. This “progressive Christian humanism,” as it might be called, is rapidly gaining market share among liberal Christian intellectuals, and in my opinion is driving much of the exodus from Biblical Christianity. It has caused the politicization of the gospel and is provoking followers of Jesus — on both the left and the right — to become increasingly polarized along culture-war lines. Christian universalism, in its Ultra-Universalist form, is unfortunately contributing to this problem by making people believe that because we all supposedly enjoy the same outcome in the afterlife, it’s not important to think about whether our actions and choices might be sending us to heaven or to (a temporary) hell. Instead, we should focus on fighting for our own worldly agendas, for the triumph of whatever social outcomes here on earth that we happen to prefer. However, this is the very temptation that Jesus was offered by Satan, to pursue a this-worldly, politically oriented salvation, rather than the eternal salvation of our souls (see Matt. 4:8-10 or Luke 4:5-8). Instead of trying to win earthly power by force or persuasion, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” and accepted to be condemned to death for his faith (John 18:36).
  • Preterism: Often a corollary to worldly focused, humanistic interpretations of Christianity, preterism is the idea that all the “end times” prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled — not literally but in a symbolic way — and that there will be no literal return of Christ, no Day of Judgment, and no Millennial Kingdom of God on Earth. Although it’s true that some of the prophecies of the end of the age were pertaining to the destruction of Israel in the first century, there are other prophecies that were not fulfilled at that time, and have only been fulfilled in modern times (e.g., Matt. 24:14) or remain yet to be fulfilled in the future. The resurrected Jesus Christ has not yet made an appearance that is generally visible to humanity, as Jesus said he would (Matt. 24:23-27); and the world today remains full of evil and suffering — despite the often tragically counterproductive efforts of Christians throughout history to create heaven on earth — meaning that the Biblical visions of God’s Kingdom transforming this world remain as future hopes and expectations, to be accomplished through divine intervention (e.g., see Rev. 19:11-16, 20:1-3, 21:1-5). Though expressed with poetic symbolism, these teachings were meant to be taken seriously rather than minimized. Relegating the apocalyptic expectations of early Christians to some kind of vague, metaphorical, humanistic fulfillment is to diminish the testimony of the resurrection and God’s plan to redeem our world from its existentially fallen state.
  • No free will, everyone is predestined to be saved: This idea tends to go along with Ultra-Universalism — but whether or not people believe in a temporary condition of suffering in the afterlife, many are rejecting the Biblical teaching that we must choose to repent of our sins and follow God and Christ in order to be saved (e.g., see Rev. 3:19-20, Matt. 16:24-27, John 3:16-19). Instead, they teach that human beings have no free agency, and that some version of predestination is true — a version which might be described as “Calvinist universalism.” Whether instantaneously after death, or sometime later on, all sinners and unbelievers will automatically be saved and go to heaven, not through their own choice to accept Jesus and become his disciple, but by God overriding their own freedom to choose good or evil, heaven or hell. This is different than Biblical Christian universalism, which respects human free will and argues that all souls shall be wooed by a loving God (Matt. 23:37, John 12:32) until they freely choose to return home to our Heavenly Father (Luke 15:11-24). The Biblical view makes human existence more meaningful, whereas universalist predestination turns human souls into robots and removes the significance from our choices.
  • Cheap grace, anti-works view of Christian identity: Another idea related to Ultra-Universalism and predestination is the notion that everyone is saved and goes to heaven entirely by God’s actions, not through any actions of our own. This “grace only” view rejects the importance of sincere discipleship and choosing to do good works as part and parcel of what it means to be a Christian. Instead, we should focus entirely on our faith in what Jesus did, and we don’t have to do anything in our walk with God, merely rest in the knowledge that we are saved. This tends to lead people to believe it’s okay to do anything they want, and that we shouldn’t have to uphold any particular standards or live a self-disciplined life to be accepted by Christ as a disciple. People with a “cheap grace” mentality often avoid participating in organized religion and are critical of churches, especially those with high expectations of members. These views are in sharp contrast to what was taught by the apostles and the early church (e.g., Jas. 2:14-19, 1 John 1:6, 1 Pet. 1:14-16, 2 Pet. 1:5-8, Gal. 6:7-8, Rom. 12:1-2, Acts 4:32-35, Heb. 10:24-25).
  • Antinomianism: Consistent with the spirit of Marcionism, this is a specific manifestation of the philosophy of cheap grace, focused on rejection of all religious laws or rules. Many people today advocate the idea that true Christianity is supposed to be about total freedom for believers, without any prescriptions or restrictions on behavior except the commandment to love your neighbor. They base this on Jesus’s criticism of the excessive legalism of the Pharisees and Paul’s criticism of Christians who believed they should be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. However, what antinomians aren’t willing to admit is that Jesus and his apostles did not completely reject the practice of religious law and specific expectations of behavior among Christians. Instead, they emphasized the moral essence of the Law and simple requirements for righteous living, while rejecting a technical spirit of legalism (e.g., see Matt. 19:16-21, Rom. 13:12-14, Gal. 5:13-21). This issue was discussed among the apostles, who collectively decided to take a middle-ground position between the legalists and the antinomians, as described in Acts 15.
  • Libertine views of sexuality: Along with antinomianism typically comes the rejection of traditional religious limitations on sexual behavior, whether that be how to identify and present oneself sexually, who to have sex with, or in what type of relationships and circumstances a Christian might engage in sexual activities while sincerely striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and his church. Transgender identity and self-presentation, homosexual relations, and fornication (premarital or extramarital sex) have all been frowned upon by believers throughout Judeo-Christian history — but growing numbers of Christians today believe that such identities and activities should not only be tolerated, but affirmed as good and celebrated. Some go so far as to exclude or condemn the majority of Christians who still hold to the Biblical and historical understandings. I will return to this subject in the section below.

All of these ideas tend to be supported, to varying degrees, by an emerging faction of Christian universalists who are becoming increasingly vocal and influential online. From what I have seen in its Facebook group and elsewhere, the Christian Universalist Association today is excessively influenced by this overall worldview, which I would call a post-Biblical and somewhat post-Christian form of universalism. To the degree that CUA leaders may reject these ideas, they don’t seem to be doing much to push back against them in public statements and actions. I find this troubling and existentially detrimental to the mission of the CUA.

All of these ideas tend to be supported, to varying degrees, by an emerging faction of Christian universalists who are becoming increasingly vocal and influential online. … To the degree that CUA leaders may reject these ideas, they don’t seem to be doing much to push back against them in public statements and actions.

The CUA’s Stance on Sexuality and Gender Identity

First of all, let me say clearly that I believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people. I strive to put this principle into practice in my own life, while at the same time having a high regard for the teachings of the Bible.

It is not my purpose in this article to present an in-depth commentary on issues of sexual morality or LGBTQ identity. I usually prefer to say little about the subject, to avoid unnecessary conflict among good people who may disagree about such controversial and often deeply personal issues, and because I would rather leave these matters between each individual and God. However, of the ten problematic ideas described in the list above, only one of them has been officially endorsed by the CUA: a libertine view of human sexuality in general and affirming/endorsing LGBTQ relationships and identities specifically. Therefore, because the Christian Universalist Association has taken an official stance on this subject, I feel the need to address it in somewhat greater detail.

In a doctrinal statement on “Human Diversity,” which is published in the “Beliefs” section of the CUA website, the Christian Universalist Association states the following:

While much of the Church, today, reads Scripture as condemning anything but a traditional “Adam & Eve” style of relationship, we don’t see that in Scripture …

The entire argument that “the Bible teaches against homosexual relationships” is based on the Christian Church’s historic lack of understanding that there are only two types of Law; Works & Justices. The Justices that speak to sexual sin are talking about the abuse and cheating that does accompany some sexual relationships … These have always been sinful, and remain so under the New Testament. The Works that spoke to sexual sin were talking about sex in relation to idol worship, God’s desire for the Hebrews to multiply — which only happens through heterosexual sex, and the purity teachings of the Law — which were teaching tools that humans were expected to fail. …

The Works, including those about sex, expired 2,000 years ago.

The same article also states that Christian opposition to transgenderism (“the body of one gender, but the mind of another”) is likewise “based on an incorrect interpretation of Scripture.” These ideas are further developed in a much longer position paper by the CUA on sexual and gender issues, which endorses a radical reinterpretation of scripture asserting that nearly every passage of the Bible that seems to take a cis-heteronormative position has actually been misinterpreted — a theory that even many liberal Christians would find it difficult to agree with.

On a more practical level, all new members of the CUA are required to pledge to reject “any bias” or “discrimination” based on “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” — implying that members are expected to agree with the ordination of actively LGBTQ clergy in their denomination, same-sex marriage conducted by their church, and widespread availability of gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for people who identify as transgender. CUA ordained ministers are furthermore required to sign a Ministry Leader Code of Conduct which states, in its Sexual Misconduct Policy, that “God’s gift of sex can be embraced, responsibly, by all people, whether partnered or single, lay or clergy. A complete and responsible sexual ethic embraces the beauty of relationships among people of many sexual orientations and gender identities.”

There are three problems with the CUA’s position on these issues:

  1. Jesus encouraged his followers to practice celibacy unless they adhere to a strictly conservative interpretation of marriage (Matt. 19:3-12). In keeping with this teaching, the Apostle Paul encouraged celibacy instead of marriage, except for people who find it too difficult to abide by it (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Although Jesus was prone to hyperbole, and his remarks on marriage and celibacy might therefore have been exaggerated or not meant to be taken literally, it is safe to say that he believed that people should observe certain standards of chastity that are much stricter than what today’s liberal Christians would prefer.

  2. The Hebrew Bible rejected sex outside of marriage (Exod. 22:16-17), homosexual relations (Lev. 20:13), and transgenderism (Deut. 22:5), and the apostles of Jesus Christ decided to uphold the Old Testament teachings about sexual morality and encouraged Christians to follow them. At the Council of Jerusalem, the apostles considered the question of whether converts to the new faith should be required to keep the Law of Moses. They decided that most of the Jewish laws — even circumcision — could be abandoned, but that some of the purity teachings of the Law, most notably those pertaining to “sexual immorality,” as well as a few religious dietary restrictions, should still be followed (Acts 15:1-6, 22-29). This historic decision by the co-founders of Christianity is contrary to the CUA’s claim that all the Old Testament purity laws have “expired.” In keeping with this decision, Paul criticized the libertine approval of same-sex relations, which apparently was common among pagans in the Greco-Roman world, when instructing new Christians in the churches he planted (e.g., Rom. 1:21-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-13). There is no evidence to indicate, as the CUA suggests, that a distinction was made by the apostles between sexual abuse or infidelity specifically and the Jewish concepts of sexual sin in general, which they seem to have holistically reaffirmed. Notably, however, the early church did not attempt to enforce Old Testament penalties upon people who violated these teachings, because they were inspired by the compassionate spirit of Jesus, who forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery while also telling her to “leave your life of sin” (John 8:2-11).

  3. The New Testament teaches that mental illness may be caused, in some cases, by spirit possession (e.g., see Mark 5:1-15). Anyone who takes the testimony of the early Christian church seriously would have to be open to the possibility that gender dysphoria — the disturbing mental condition of feeling oneself to be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or vice versa — could be an example of this phenomenon. Uncritical acceptance of transgenderism seems unwise, in light of what the Bible has to say about people’s minds being susceptible to interference or attachment by spirits who are not their own self. At the very least, a Christian organization with a high regard for scripture should remain neutral on the subject, rather than endorsing transgender identity as something that Christians must approve of.

Throughout history, Christianity has been united in teaching that God’s plan is for two genders, male and female, to express their gender identity consistent with their biology, and to express their sexuality only through marriage between a man and a woman. Only recently have some Christians begun openly disagreeing with the clear and consistent teachings of the Bible on this subject. On other controversial social issues that have divided Christians historically, such as slavery, or in modern times, such as the role of women in the church, both conservative and liberal Christians have found evidence in the New Testament to support their position (e.g., see Col. 3:22, Philem. 1:8-17; and 1 Tim. 2:12, Rom. 16:1-7). But not a single verse of Judeo-Christian scripture affirms the modern-day progressive beliefs about sexual liberation and LGBTQ Pride. Therefore, Christians who take the progressive position on sex and gender identity are relying entirely on their own personal opinion of what they believe Christianity should teach, rather than what its founders and scriptures actually do teach.

That being the case, should LGBTQ people, same-sex couples, and openly LGBTQ clergy be welcome and accepted in the CUA? Yes, that has always been the CUA’s position, from the very beginning of the organization, and I have always agreed with that position. My co-founder Rev. Kalen Fristad (United Methodist) and myself, and the founding board of directors (representing denominations as diverse as Quaker and Eastern Orthodox, in addition to Charismatic Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, and more), believed in creating an inclusive umbrella organization, in which various types of Christians could come together despite their differences of opinion on issues that did not pertain to the theology and eschatology of Christian universalism. We accepted LGBTQ people, couples, and clergy as members of the CUA from its inception in 2007 — and we also accepted the many Christians who held to traditional Biblical teachings about sex and gender identity.

Gradually, over the years, cultural/moral conservatives were made to feel less and less welcome in the CUA. At the beginning, we only required members to agree to a Non-Hatred Pledge, meaning that they agreed to show Christian love toward everyone, even people who may be living in ways they disagreed with. Later on, this was expanded into the current Nondiscrimination Pledge, and CUA ministers were required to agree to additional language which excludes Christians with conservative views of sexual morality. These developments are inconsistent with the original vision and mission of the organization.

We accepted LGBTQ people, couples, and clergy as members of the CUA from its inception in 2007 — and we also accepted the many Christians who held to traditional Biblical teachings about sex and gender identity. Gradually, over the years, cultural/moral conservatives were made to feel less and less welcome in the CUA.

The reason I started the Christian Universalist Association in the first place was to try to create a broad-based, ecumenical umbrella for all Christians of all denominations and cultural traditions who believe that God’s plan is to save everyone through Jesus Christ in the fullness of time, rather than condemning anyone to eternal hell. The position the CUA has taken in recent years on sexuality and gender identity has nothing to do with Christian universalism and serves only to exclude the majority of Christians in the world from feeling welcome in the CUA — regardless of whether they believe in universal salvation, which is supposed to be the distinguishing doctrine of this organization. The current CUA position excludes all the following people:

CUA only on the left
The CUA today: Only on the left side of the spectrum?
  • Most Catholics
  • Most Eastern Orthodox Christians
  • Most Evangelicals and Pentecostals
  • Most Restorationist Christians (Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, etc.)
  • Many mainline Protestants

Is it really a good idea for the CUA to take such an exclusionary stand on a side issue that does not pertain to its core mission? Or does the CUA consciously intend to be an organization that only really includes progressive Christians?

Restoring the Original Mission of the CUA

CUA in the center
A reformed CUA: On neither side of the culture war?

Throughout its history, the Christian Universalist Association has wisely avoided mixing religion with politics — a choice that I think makes it much more likely that the CUA could again represent many different types of Christians who believe in universal salvation. In recent years, however, the CUA has waded deep into the culture wars by taking certain religious positions that are just as divisive as anything political. I believe this has harmed the mission of the CUA in ways that the organization hasn’t yet become fully aware of, but that it’s still possible to undo most of the damage. Some of the changes needed are as simple as what to emphasize and allow on public platforms such as Facebook, while others are a matter of revising official doctrine and policy.

I wish it hadn’t been necessary to write and publish this article. Critiquing the beliefs and policies of groups I belong to is not something I enjoy doing, and I usually avoid it unless I feel it to be necessary for the wellbeing of the group and its members. I do not have a dogmatic or argumentative spirit by nature, and I generally think it best to include a wide range of opinions in churches and religious organizations — as long as there is a clear, uniting mission and belief system.

The problem I see with the Christian Universalist Association, as it has developed in recent years, is that it has largely abandoned its original mission as an inclusive umbrella organization for all types of believers in Christian universalism, and instead seems to be in the process of becoming a new denomination specifically for cultural and spiritual progressives, who may or may not agree with most of the tenets of Biblical Christianity. I disagree with that shift of the CUA, and I hope it’s not too late to persuade the organization to return to its original purpose as a broad-based ecumenical Christian association centered on belief in the salvation of all people through Jesus Christ.

If the CUA decides to embrace this mission again, I have a few specific suggestions for how it could move toward that goal:

  1. The Christian Universalist Association should guide the discussion in the CUA Facebook group toward Biblical Christian universalism and universalist-oriented views of Christianity in general, and away from the various unbiblical, heretical, and divisive ideas that are too often being promoted there. This may mean appointing some new moderators or instructing existing moderators to do their job differently. It may mean expecting moderators or other trusted stakeholders in the CUA to post more content themselves, consistent with the CUA’s statement of faith. It may also mean making some changes to the rules of the group, to reflect a clearer purpose and scope of discussion.

  2. The Christian Universalist Association should change the cover photo (i.e., the large banner image at the top of the page of its Facebook group) to contain text proclaiming the CUA’s belief in the salvation of all people through Jesus Christ, rather than its existing text, which is about opposing hatred and discrimination based on various identity groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, the rainbow circle in the image should be replaced by something more unifying for all members of the group, such as the CUA logo, because the rainbow is a well-known symbol of the LGBTQ movement. The current cover photo gives people the impression that the CUA is primarily focused on promoting progressive social causes, but that was never supposed to be the CUA’s mission, and it likely functions (whether intentionally or unintentionally) as a way to keep conservative Christian universalists from feeling welcome in the organization and its online community. Furthermore, the published rules of the group already prohibit hate speech and bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and other identity groups, so the cover photo text is redundant, and could be used more effectively to promote the CUA’s religious beliefs.

  3. The Christian Universalist Association should remove or revise any articles or statements on its website and other public-facing communications channels that take a position on sexual and gender identity issues, beyond simply affirming that the CUA is welcoming/inclusive of everyone who believes in Christian universalism, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.

  4. The Christian Universalist Association should amend its Nondiscrimination Pledge to use language that is more broadly inclusive of kind-hearted Christians with a wide variety of views about sexuality and gender identity. One possible rewrite of the Pledge could be something like this: “I affirm that all people should be treated with Christlike respect and dignity, regardless of their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, age, class, nationality, political or religious views, or any other characteristic of human diversity. I do not support or engage in hatred or bigotry against any type of people for any reason.”

  5. The Christian Universalist Association should amend its Ministry Leader Code of Conduct to remove any language that requires CUA ordained ministers to affirm specific points of view about sex outside of marriage or LGBTQ sexuality or gender identity.

As of now, it may be unlikely that the CUA would implement all of these suggestions, because most of its current leaders seem to have a different philosophy than I do about the meaning of inclusion, which beliefs are non-negotiable, and who should be on the inside or the outside of the Association’s circle of fellowship. But I have not yet given up hope. If they do decide to reconsider the CUA’s position and become a bigger tent again, I think the organization could have a much greater impact in bringing people together around the teachings of Christian universalism and spreading this hopeful interpretation of the Gospel to greater numbers of Christians of many different denominations. If, on the other hand, the CUA continues down its current path, I think it will likely end up as a very small progressive denomination which will have little impact among Christians in general, and which will have forfeited much of the purpose for which it was created.

As the primary founder of the organization, I thought I should weigh in on this existential question and share my views about which way I hope things will go in the future. I look forward to seeing how the Christian Universalist Association decides to present itself, going forward, and whom it decides to include: Only progressives and people who doubt or reject many of the teachings of Biblical Christianity? Or a broad spectrum of Christians, including more orthodox and conservative believers? I pray that the CUA will align its destiny not with one faction of the present-day culture wars, but with the timeless truths and long-term best interests of Christianity as a whole.