Unitarian and Universalist ideas have emerged in different places and among different peoples ever since the first century of the Common Era.
In the early Jesus movement and early church, a diversity of theological ideas existed. However, when Christianity became the state religion about 300 years after Jesus died, things changed. A series of church meetings or “Councils” were called by the Emperor Constantine, who wanted a common creed for all the lands he ruled. So in the 4th century these Church Councils declared the theological winners and losers, then wrote and edited the creeds used in many Christian churches to this day. Ideas different from official church doctrine were labeled “heresy”- which comes from the root “to choose.”
Unitarian and Universalist ideas and communities continued to pop up through the centuries in various places, but these religious ideas were often deemed “too radical” and such communities were stamped out by prevailing religious authorities. Still, as Unitarians and Universalists searched their Bibles or their own experience to try to confirm various church doctrines, they kept coming to new conclusions.
Early Unitarians claimed God is one (not three or a Trinity). Later Unitarians claimed Rabbi Jesus was not God but an enlightened human being, healer and teacher, and that his presence and teachings (not the Biblical “miracles”) were what distinguished him. Early Universalists claimed that there is no hell; they felt God’s love and mercy are wider than humans could comprehend, and all people would be reconciled to God at death.
In North America, Universalists started organizing in the 1790’s and Unitarians became a distinct group in the 1830’s. The two groups were aligned in many ways, but did not join to become the Unitarian Universalist Association until 1961. Unitarian Universalists affirm that “revelation is continuous”- in other words, we can always find new insights. Our congregations now embrace people of many theological backgrounds and conclusions, who choose to join together to support lives and communities of meaning and purpose.