A theological tempest is brewing within the nation's most liberal denomination, with critics charging that the 'Unitarian Universalist Association has lost its spiritual moorings and has no room for those who disagree with its liberal politics. A group of disgruntled church members plan's to launch the American Unitarian Association, reclaiming the name of one of the UUA's predecessor organizations in an effort to fuel a "restoration" of the tradition that flourished in 19th-century New England.
The Boston-based national church, meanwhile, has filed suit in federal court against the fledgling movement, claiming that the UUA still owns the name American Unitarian Association, even though the name largely went out of use when the UUA was formed 40 years ago. "They're trying to steal our identity," said John Buehrens, the UUA's president, "and they're not going to get away with it."
In many ways the new group is no different than other renewal groups in Lutheran, Catholic or even Jewish circles. But for the UUA, whose only creed is that there is no creed, the dispute is testing its cherished belief in religious tolerance and room for all. When the UUA was formed in 1961, it united Unitarians, who do not embrace the trinitarian view of God, and Universalists, who believe that a loving God would not condemn human souls to eternal punishment. Many members linked their liberal theology with liberal politics, and the UUA emerged as an ultraliberal voice on gay fights, women's issues and antinuclear campaigns.
Such a broad worldview led many of the church's 216,000 members to delve into alternative religions, or to eschew religion altogether. Critics say they are left with a church with little or no real theology. "It has become utterly relativistic," said David Burton, a Virginia attorney and co-founder of the reform movement.
So Burton and about 20 others were to gather outside …