The Shape of Integrity – January 2020

From Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, Senior Co-Minister

The early American Unitarians believed in Salvation by Character – the idea that we could save ourselves by living with integrity. This radical assertion overturned the prevalent Calvanist theology of predestination – that some were saved and others damned at birth; that character simply the revealed what God had pre-ordained. For this reason, Salvation by Character was a liberating theological assertion – freeing an individuated human to determine and shape their own destiny. It was however, and remains (as this ideal still lives in the fabric of our faith) a problematic assertion when paired with class and other social-strata consciousness. The early Unitarians tended to be well-to-do and white and they imagined that character was something that was built over time with education and the fine tuning of social practices, such as manners. You could imagine that church-goers were (as they can still be) judged for their ability to sit quietly, listen attentively, speak softly, and (depending on their social location) respond only when asked to respond.  

Contemporary Unitarian Universalists are doing the work to free ourselves from the weight of the baggage that has been heaped upon the original idea of Salvation by Character.  To do so, we work to reveal the true shape of integrity – a shape that is as diverse and various as the souls that seek it. Integrity can come in the shape of a monk seeking a still and quiet inner peace; it can come in the shape of a revolutionary for justice; it can be revealed in the face of poverty, youth or age; it can shine from black and brown skin, from green or brown eyes; it can be revealed in wisdom or struggle. Integrity is core deep, not surface, and it knits all the aspects of a person together.