Sunday March 19, 2017: The Doctrine of Love

Prelude: Mango Thoughts in a Meatloaf Town
Rev. Meg Barnhouse, First UU, Austin, Texas


Hosea Ballou saidMan, being not only a religious, but also a social being, requires for the promotion of his rational happiness religious institutions, which, while they give a proper direction to devotion, at the same time make a wise, and profitable improvement of his social feelings.” And so we gather here, not only to practice our religion, but to support each other.

Chalice Lighting Drawn Together – Jennifer Leota Gray

We come together every week bound not by a creed,
Or a mutual desire to please one God or many Gods
Yet we are drawn together by a belief, that how we are in the world,
Who we are together matters.
We light this chalice, together in the knowledge
That love, not fear, can change this world


Gathered here in the mystery of this hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit draw near.

Seven Promises

Let us create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths,
for we honor minds that question, hearts that love and hands that serve.
Let us live lightly on the Earth, beginning with our church community,
for we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Let us embrace others both near and far in hope and compassion,
for we lift up the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation,
for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.
Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change,
for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Let us respect individual religious paths, even those we do not understand,
for we aspire to accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.

Story: Muddy Children adapted from Janeen K. Grohsmeyer in A Lamp in Every Corner: Our Unitarian Universalist Storybook

Hosea Ballou was born just before the American Revolution on the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains in New Hampshire. His father, who was a Baptist minister, moved there a few years before Hosea was born. One of the first lots in the town was set aside for the first minister, which turned out to be Hosea’s father. Hosea had 10 brothers and sisters, but his mother died when he was only 2.

The Ballous lived in a one-room house. Hosea and his brothers and sisters had no shoes, and like most pioneer families, they had to raise all their own food, or kill deer, turkeys, and other wild animals. Their clothes were homemade, from homemade cloth. There was no school, and even though their father was a minister, there weren’t many books, just the Bible, a dictionary, and an almanac. They couldn’t afford candles for light in the evenings. He studied by the light of chunks of pine wood, like Abraham Lincoln later, and wrote on birch bark with leftover bits of charcoal from the fire.

None of this was unusual. Except in the cities, like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and some plantations in the South, where there were brick and stone houses, roads, stores, and books, even libraries, most people lived in one room houses or log cabins, farmed for a living, and didn’t have much that they or a neighbor couldn’t make. Most people that lived around here then lived the same way. But children growing up then were about the same as today in many ways.

The story is told that Hosea loved playing in the mud. He liked it when it was soft and squishy, and he liked it when it was thick and sticky. If it didn’t rain quite enough, that wasn’t a problem. Hosea would carry water to the dirt and create glorious mud puddles all of his own. He liked to poke sticks into puddles and see how deep the mud was. He liked to make mud pies and to build mud dams. He liked to jump in puddles hard with both feet and make the muddy water splash really high, so that the mud splattered all over his brothers’ and sisters’ clothes, and he loved to step in puddles v-e-r-y slowly, so that the mud oozed up just a little bit at a time between his toes.

His older sisters took care of him. His sisters, who did the laundry, didn’t like having to scrub all that mud off Hosea’s clothes — or off everybody else’s clothes, either, after Hosea had stomped in a mud puddle extra hard. Then Hosea’s sisters went to their father and said, “Father, please tell Hosea to stop playing in the mud.”

“Hosea,” said his father, very sternly, “you should not play in the mud.”

“Why?” asked Hosea.

“Because,” said his father, “just as we try to live a good life, to be kind to other people, and to follow God’s plan, we try to stay clean.”

“Yes, Father,” Hosea said, and after that day, he did indeed try to stay clean.

But it wasn’t easy. He stopped stomping in the mud puddles on purpose, and he stopped making mud pies, but sometimes the mud was just there. Then he had to walk through the mud to get across the yard to gather the eggs from the chickens. He had to walk in the mud to feed the pigs. And sometimes, when he was already muddy from doing his chores, he played in the mud, just a little bit, and got even muddier.

His sisters went to their father again and said, “Father, please tell Hosea to stop playing in the mud.”

“Hosea,” said his father even more sternly, “you must not play in the mud.”

“Yes, Father,” Hosea said. He was sad, because he had truly tried not to get muddy, most of the time anyway. “Are you very angry with me, Father?”

“I am disappointed in you, Hosea, and I am a little angry with you.”

Hosea hung his head and kicked at the dirt with his toes, then he dared to look up, just a little, to ask, “Do you still love me?”

“Hosea,” said his father, and his father didn’t sound stern anymore, “I will always love you, Hosea, no matter what you do.”

“Even if I get muddy again?”


“Even if I get really, really muddy?”


“Even if I get mud all the way up to my eyebrows and between my fingers and my toes and in my hair?”

“Even then,” his father said with a smile. Then he added, very stern again, “But remember, Hosea. You must try to stay clean.”

“I’ll remember, and I’ll try,” Hosea promised, and he did. He stayed clean, most of the time anyway. As he grew up, he stopped liking mud quite so much, but he still liked to ask questions about what and how and why.

“Father,” Hosea asked when he was a teenager, “how can it be that our church believes that God will let only one in a thousand people into heaven, even if many of the others lead good lives?” His father didn’t have an answer for that question.

“Father,” Hosea asked, “if I had the power to create a living creature, and if I knew that the creature would have a miserable life, would suffer and die, and then go to hell and be miserable forever, and I went ahead and created it anyway, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? And would I be good or bad?”

His father didn’t have an answer for that question, either. Hosea had to find his own answers. So he read the Bible. He went to some Universalist churches and asked more questions there. When he was nineteen, Hosea decided that he believed that God would let everyone into heaven, good and bad.

“How can you believe that?” asked his father. “How can you believe that God would let bad people into heaven?”

“Because, Father, I remember what you told me when I was small. I believe that even if God is disappointed with people, or a little angry with them, God will always love them and want them to be happy, no matter what they do, and no matter how muddy they are.”

Offering and Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Song: Various systems men have form’d – Hosea Ballou

Various systems men have form’d, In days of old and modern times;
Religion by their arts adorn’d, In many lands and many climes.
Turn ye the page of history o’er, Learn all the wisdom of the world;
Their present creeds, and those before Are in a maze of error hurl’d.
To bind the God of boundless grace, Has been the aim of Pharisees;
Arm God against the human race Measure and fix his firm decrees.
While millions in a proud pretence Of holy worship, heavenly zeal;
Their neighbours burn’d in its defence, Nor for their sufferings could they feel.

In gods of vile despotic reign, Tyrannic despots would believe;
Who could delight in endless pain, Nor feel compassion to relieve.
Thus earthly kings and priests have join’d, And form’d the awful league abhorr’d;
With edicts chain’d the human mind, And shut the kingdom of the Lord.
But thanks to God our eyes behold A light far brighter than the sun;
A day the prophets long foretold, Of which the ancient poets sung.
His boundless love doth God reveal, In Christ the head of ev’ry man;
His grace shall all the nations heal, This is the gospel’s glorious plan

Hosea Ballou wrote almost two hundred hymns, and only one is reportedly still being sung. The hymn we just sang was one that has fallen out of use, perhaps for obvious reasons. Hymnbooks from his time contained words, but not tunes – people sang the hymns to one of the tunes they knew that fit the meter, and the tune we used was Winchester New, which was more than a hundred years old back then, but is still being used now. It is also the tune that was used for “Tranquil Streams That Meet and Merge”, a hymn written for the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists in 1963.

Reading: from A Treatise on Atonement by Hosea Ballou

The belief that the great Jehovah was offended with his creatures to that degree that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many centuries. The error has been fatal to the life and spirit of the religion of Christ in our world; all those principles which are to be dreaded by men, have been believed to exist in God; and professors have been molded into the image of their Deity, and become more cruel than the uncultivated savage! A persecuting inquisition is a lively representation of the God which professed Christians have believed in ever since the apostasy. It is every day’s practice to represent the Almighty so offended with man, that he employs his infinite mind in devising unspeakable tortures, as retaliations on those with whom he is offended. Those ideas have so obscured the whole nature of God from us, that the capacious religion of the human mind has been darkened by the almost impenetrable cloud; even the tender charities of nature have been frozen with such tenets, and the natural friendship common to human society, has, in a thousand instances, been driven from the walks of man.

But, says the reader, is it likely that persecution ever rose from men’s believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man? Undoubtedly; for had all professors of Christianity believed that God had compassion on the ignorant and those who are out of the way, how could they have persecuted those whom they believe in error? But, with contrary views, whose who professed to believe in Christ, who professed to be the real disciples of him who taught his disciples to love their enemies, have been the fomenters of persecution; they have persecuted even unto death, those who could not believe all the absurdities in orthodox creeds. It may be asked, if those animosities did not arise from pride, ambition and carnal mindedness? I answer, yes; and so does the God in whom persecuting Christians believe, for they form a God altogether like unto themselves; therefore, while they vainly fancy they are in the service of the true God, they are following the dictates of pride and unlawful ambition, the natural production of a carnal mind; and atonement is the only remedy for the evil.

Music: I Ain’t Afraid – Holly Near
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley Choir

Hosea Ballou and the Doctrine of Love

Hosea Ballou’s great contribution to American universalism was to lay out in detail the idea that religions that believe people are wicked, so wicked that only a great sacrifice can save them will encourage people to believe that other people can and even must be punished, or at least made to behave – so that we must be afraid of what people will do in the name of their God.

In a predominately Christian culture, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there is not one Christianity, and that there have always been many different interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and the Bible. The dominant religious culture has a way of making us feel that we are some crazy new cult, and completely wrong, when what we believe is based on ideas people have thought through in many places over many centuries. Hosea Ballou was one of those people. He lived in a time and place where all truth was thought to be in the Bible, but he saw that how the Bible was interpreted, the “various systems”in his hymn, made all the difference, and that the system most used in his time was one that led to bad results. He was able to explain that to his contemporaries in a way that changed American religion, not just Universalism.

Ballou was born just before the American Revolution, in 1771, and grew up the youngest of 11 children of Baptist minister Maturin Ballou, who had moved from Rhode Island to the New Hampshire frontier, in 1768. His great-grandfather, a Huguenot also named Maturin, was one of the founders of Rhode Island.

To understand where Hosea Ballou was coming from and what he objected to in Christian teaching, the “various schemes” in his hymn, it helps to understand what religion was like on the American frontier where he grew up, and how it got that way.

Very early on in the history of Christianity, the church and state became intertwined. For three hundred years, the early Christians were a persecuted sect, and most heads of the church were killed by the Roman authorities. That all changed in 313, when Constantine became the Western Emperor, converted to Christianity, and, with the Eastern Emperor, declared religious tolerance. But the Roman Catholic church became the official religion. Councils were called, bureaucracies were built, and Roman Catholicism and the Roman Empire became co-dependent, each reinforcing the others’ policies. Catholic theology was set: Jesus was God, and it was necessary that he be sacrificed to save people, who were born evil, in original sin. As the Empire dissolved, Roman Catholicism continued to be the official religion in the kingdoms that followed, and expanded through the Dark Ages to the farthest reaches of Europe. The Church was a great landowner, and the church and the nobility together ruled.

This all lasted a thousand years and more, but by the time the American colonies were founded, it was falling apart. Starting in the 14th century, many priests and laymen had begun to question recieved wisdom, had translated the Bible into the vernacular, and had started to interpret Christianity for themselves. Luther and Calvin had founded the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, and Henry the 8th had removed the Church of England from the Roman heirarchy. The Reformation spread throughout Germanic Europe. These churches had split off from Catholicism, but they were still the churches of the state, with the head of the government being the head of the church in place of the Pope, although some Calvinist churches like the Church of Scotland and the Dutch Reformed elected their own leaders. Each ruler of a state or sometimes even city, chose its religion, and everyone was expected to follow it, or leave. When governments changed, you could suddenly find yourself expected to be Lutheran instead of Catholic, or Reformed when you had been Lutheran.

Meanwhile, starting before the Reformation, hundreds of other protesting – Protestant – sects had been formed. The Hussites, the Mennonites, the German Brethren, the Moravian Brethren, and many other small German sects formed all over central and western Europe. Called the Radical Reformation, they were rejected by the Lutherans and the Calvinists as heretics, and often driven out of wherever they lived on pain of death, as the Mennonites were from Switzerland, and the Calvinist Huguenots had been driven from Catholic France. They were not part of the state churches, generally met in people’s homes, and moved, sometimes a long way, to gather in towns that tolerated them. There were similar movements in England. And, since there was much more disagreement on theology, and more churches tied in with various governments, many more Christians were imprisoning other Christians, or burning them at the stake, for their beliefs, as well as more wars being fought over what religion would be in control of a territory. This went on for several hundred years, in the British Isles and on the Continent, in the middle of which the English began to settle North America.

In American history, we usually hear about the 17th century, Pilgrims and the Puritans and then jump to the Revolution, with mentions of Ben Franklin and the Quaker settlement of Pennsylvania on the way, and perhaps the Baptists of Rhode Island. The Pilgrims were Calvinists who had left the Church of England, the Puritans Calvinists who wanted to reform it, and in the Southern colonies, the Church of England was established just as it was, Catholic without the Pope. Catholics were banned everywhere but Maryland. This was not so much because of their theology, but because of the political danger of their loyalty to the Pope. New Amsterdam was settled by the Dutch Reformed, and the small Swedish colony that became Delaware by Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish Lutherans. Scots Irish, who were Scots Presbyterians who had been sent to Ireland by the British to make it Protestant, began coming in droves. By the beginning of the 18th century, thousands of Germans were coming, mostly to Pennsylvania, and they were both Reformed and Lutheran, but also from many of the sects of the Radical Reformation.

Those sects fell into two groups:

Pietists, like the Moravian Brethren, emphasised studying the Bible in small groups, laymen governing the church, the importance of living according to your religion, not just believing, and kind and sympathetic treatment of nonbelievers. Methodism, which began in England, also grew out of Pietist beliefs.

Anabaptists, who included the Amish and Mennonites, were similar, but went farther – they believed that baptism did not save you, but was a ritual that only adults who had thought through their beliefs should do. They also, like the Quakers, condemned oaths, using courts for disputes between believers, bearing arms or fighting, even in self-defense, and holding government office.

The Pietists and Anabaptists mostly believed, as did the Catholics, that everyone could be saved. The Lutherans believed that some people had been chosen by God to be saved, but that others could, also, if they accepted the grace of God and lived according to the rules.

The Calvinists maintained that every person was born “totally depraved”, in original sin, the old Catholic doctrine, but added that God had chosen only a few to be saved, many to be damned, and that there was nothing a person could do about it. All the established churches except the Lutherans were Calvinist, as well as the English Baptists.

The Quakers rejected all theology, and believed that Christianity was not a scheme of doctrine to be believed, but an experience to be entered into, and a life to be lived. George Fox said “I told them all their preaching, baptism and sacrifices would never sanctify them; and bid them look unto Christ in them, and not unto men; for it is Christ that sanctifies. Then they ran into many words; but I told them they were not to dispute of God and Christ, but to obey Him.”

All of these people came together on the American frontier, which in the 1730s was only about a hundred miles from coast. In New Hampshire, the frontier was also just to the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains, and Richmond, where Ballou grew up, was not settled until the 1750s. There were few ministers outside the towns and cities along the coast, although people built churches and met. Moravians, Mennonites, Reformed, German Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Quakers, English and Welsh Baptists, small Pietist groups, among others, met and mingled, and in the 1730s both ministers and lay missionaries traveled the frontier, preaching in houses and churches wherever they were welcome. Even in areas with officially established churches, churches and ministers were not provided, and the old control of local government by church and state together fell away. People experimented with religious communes. German Baptists founded Ephrata, a commune near what is now Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with a printing press for hymnals and religious books, and the first Bible printed in American, which was in German. The Moravians founded communes in Pennsylvania and in North Carolina. George De Benneville, who was the first universalist minister in America, had lived in Germany and been influenced by Pietists, came to Pennsylvania in 1740. In the 1740s, George Whiteside and John Wesley, both Anglicans who founded Methodism, were sent to Georgia, but ended up preaching through all the colonies in a movement that became known as the Great Awakening. They, and all the traveling ministers, were often abused, and sometimes beaten up. We are used to thinking of the Founding Fathers meeting in Philadelphia and planning a new country, but all along the frontier, people who had grown up in many religions and societies were living together and reinventing religion and government. Almost all of them were Protestant, and had come to believe in free thought, individual conscience, and the freedom of the press and speech so that ideas could be shared. In the years before the Revolution, there were dozens of petition from all over Virginia, for instance, for freedom of religion.

So this was the religious world Ballou was born into, one with many competing ideas, where people listened and often changed their beliefs, and where much of Christianity, including the church he grew up in, taught the basic evil of people.

Ballou grew up during the Revolution, and two of his older brothers became Universalists, although their Calvinist father never agreed. Ballou, like most ministers outside the established churches, didn’t go to college or seminary, but began preaching and was ordained at the first Universalist General Association meeting in 1793.

An early biographer, Oscar Safford said:

Mr. Ballou was one of the most radical of reformers. While other reformers assaulted depravity in human nature, he aimed his blows against the imagined depravity men ascribed to the Divine Nature.

A few stories handed down about Ballou:

Ballou was riding the circuit in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist preacher, argiung theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, “Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I’d still go to heaven.” Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, “If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you.”

— adapted from the Rev. Elizabeth Strong

Ballou was riding the circuit again when he stopped for the night at a New England farmhouse. The farmer was upset. He confided to Ballou that his son was a terror who got drunk in the village every night and who fooled around with women. The farmer was afraid the son would go to hell. “All right,” said Ballou with a serious face. “We’ll find a place on the path where your son will be coming home drunk, and we’ll build a big fire, and when he comes home, we’ll grab him and throw him into it.” The farmer was shocked: “That’s my son and I love him!” Ballou said, “If you, a human and imperfect father, love your son so much that you wouldn’t throw him in the fire, then how can you possibly believe that God, the perfect father, would do so!”

—told by the Rev. Linda Stowell

And when someone asked Ballou how God could show such grace even to people who were bad, he responded by asking: If your child falls down and gets all filthy, and you wash them and get them clean clothes, do you love your child because they are now clean, or did you clean your child because you love them?

Ballou saw that believing that we, and others, must be made clean before they could be loved had led to everyday judging, discrimination and injustice, as well as persecution and even enslavement.

Ballou was not in the first generation of Universalists, or even the second – John Murray came to America when Ballou was three. But he was the one who consolidated Universalist thought, and became a leader in was is now called the Second Great Awakening, another round of religious revival that begin about the time Ballou was ordained and went on for a generation, and led to the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements. As Safford also says:

We hopefully note that he is no wild enthusiast deprecating intelligence. He is no fanatic, under control of a familiar; he assumes no private right of interpretation. He boldly affirms simply that he has discovered a forgotten sense in God’s Word. He appeals for the decision of his cause not to hot hearts but cool heads.

He wins his cause. He did not, it is true, immediately capture literary Boston; but he won rural New England, and literary Boston soon afterward unconsciously espoused his cause. He did not, it is again true, drive Calvinism completely out of the field; but he fatally wounded it, and no one fears it now as it limps toward its own place.

Hosea Ballou: a Marvellous Life-story By Oscar Fitzalan Safford 1889

Today, the extreme Calvinism that claimed only a few could be saved has faded away, and the liberal and mainstream Protestant churches have almost all adopted the Universalist idea that God is Love and that people are basically good, not evil. But much of Catholicism and the evangelical Christian churches still preach the idea that Ballou condemned: that people are born sinful, and that a violent sacrifice was necessary to save them. This idea still leads to what he pointed out, “that persecution … rose from men’s believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man” and those still as he says “[persecute] those whom they believe in error.”

We as Unitarian Universalists still believe in what we now call the “inherent worth and dignity of every human being”, “justice, equity and compassion”, and that our punishment or salvation comes not in a hereafter, but in the results of our actions in the here and now, whether or not we still believe in the concrete God that Ballou believed in. I think his greatest insight was not just that people were good and would eventually be either saved or punished by the consequences of their actions, but that people who believed otherwise were constructing a religion that would bring misery to themselves and the world.

I’m going to end with part of a guest editorial from this morning’s Charleston Gazette by James White,a a professor at Concord Univerity:

Twentieth-century America, for all its flaws, was an era that bent the arc of history toward more justice and greater equality. Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans suffering from a great economic depression, facing rising fascism and headed back toward world war that we Americans had nothing to fear but fear itself.

Roosevelt told us that we should cherish freedoms not only from government but freedom from want, a freedom to be attained with government as our tool. He led a country to reject fear and embrace civic engagement.

Working across partisan, ideological, religious and other differences, Americans, with and through our government, subdued totalitarianism, expanded civil rights, reduced poverty, protected the environment and put a man on the moon.

Today, we elect, accept and excuse leaders who tell us to be afraid of those who look, speak, love and worship differently. Our leaders tell us to fear government, which will tax and regulate us. Our leaders assert that taxation is theft and that we need to understand, embrace and venerate self-interest.

Our leaders declare that we can no longer afford to give everyone a decent start, including things like local, well-equipped schools, fairly compensated professional teachers, quality extra-curricular activities, a clean environment and good health care.

Contemporary leaders say that raising taxes and regulating behavior will cause our current employers to flee and dissuade other job creators from coming here. Our leaders tell us to be very, very afraid: We need to accept under-funded schools, limited opportunities and a poisoned environment because not only barbarians but also big government are at our gates. We need to hunker down with our own property, build big, beautiful walls, militarize our borders and be thankful for whatever weapons we were able to stockpile before the government got them, too.

I don’t know what Jim White’s religion is, but he is certainly speaking to a doctrine of love and not fear. I often feel very alone in my beliefs, I *am* afraid of what my fellow citizens will do in the name of their God, and out of fear. It is hard for me to remember to act from love and to not be afraid. But seeing these words from Jim White in my morning paper, and being in this community, give me hope.

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;

or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.

Silent Meditation

Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go


Hosea Ballou said”There is one inevitable criterion of judgment touching religious faith. Can you reduce it to practice? If not, have none of it.”

Let us go forth and practice love.

The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.