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History of the Unity Movement

We, Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore, husband and wife, hereby declare ourselves, our time, our money, all we have and all we expect to have, to the Spirit of Truth, and through it, to the Society of Silent Unity.

It being understood and agreed that the said Spirit of Truth shall render unto us an equivalent for this dedication, in peace of mind, health of body, wisdom, understanding, love, life and an abundant supply of all things necessary to meet every want without our making any of these things the object of our existence.

In the presence of the Conscious Mind of Christ Jesus, this 7th day of December, A.D. 1892.

— The Dedication and Covenant of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, Founders of the Unity School of Christianity

When Charles and Myrtle Fillmore signed their Dedication and Covenant in 1892, it is unlikely that they imagined the impact their organization, which they called Silent Unity, would have on numerous individuals throughout the next century. The Fillmores' belief in a loving and generous God, the healing powers of prayer, the joy of spirituality and the presence of the spirit of Christ in every person stood in stark contrast to the traditional "fire and brimstone" Christianity of earlier in the century. Yet it seemed to strike a chord that resonated in the hearts of many Americans. Silent Unity, which began with the Fillmores' desire to help others through prayer, grew into a worldwide 24-hour prayer ministry which answers more than two million prayer requests each year. The success of Silent Unity is noted by Marcus Bach (1982), a religious scholar and former Protestant minister, who wrote that, "People were calling Silent Unity as if they had gotten hold of God's unlisted telephone number" (p. 90).

But the Unity ministry is not completely silent. While Silent Unity was Myrtle's brainchild, communication through the written word was the forte of Charles. The birth of Unity as an organization, in fact, is dated from the first publication of Modern Thought in 1889. The magazine eventually became Unity, and in 1996 reported a subscription rate of more than 83,000 throughout the world. Daily Word is published in English, Spanish, Braille and 12 other languages, and has more than 1.1 million subscribers. Unity also publishes pamphlets and books, which are sold in more than 800 Unity centers, churches and satellite branches throughout the world. In addition to literature from Unity Publishing Company, browsers in Unity bookstores will also find other relevant spirituality titles, such as Deepak Chopra's Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, or James Redfield's The Celestine Prophesy.

As Unity's optimistic philosophy of healthy-mindedness and trust in God's divine plan gained strength, the organization flourished. The Unity Society of Christianity was incorporated in 1903, and now operates the Unity School for Religious Studies as well as an extensive retreat ministry. More than 1,000 have been ordained as Unity ministers, and an additional 800 are licensed teachers. Classes are held at the organization's headquarters in Unity Village, Missouri, a 1400-acre incorporated community just outside of Kansas City. While Unity estimates worldwide membership at 80,000, outreach through publishing and Silent Unity has made the Unity philosophy an supplementary faith of thousands of members of other religions. This impact is evident in Unity's claim that only 4 percent of those who use Silent Unity and read Daily Word are affiliated with a Unity church (Jafolla, 1997).

The Fillmores are remembered by Unity biographers and academic historians as individuals who dedicated everything they had to the search for truth. Whenever they found a kernel they longed to share it with others who were also on their path. But like most religious organizations, the Fillmores and Unity are not without controversy: major philosophical differences with traditional Christianity led to cult labels and charges of heresy, and Charles Fillmore was at one time confident that his healthy-mindedness would lead to immortality. Nevertheless, the Fillmores appear to have been genuine, sincere, caring and dedicated to their quest. According to Unity historians, the 1892 dedication and covenant was a secret known only to the Fillmores and God until it was discovered in 1942 among Myrtle's papers. To believers in the Unity philosophy, the covenant was just another bit of proof: not only of the Fillmores' personal commitment, but also that God will provide for those who dedicate their lives to the truth.

This chapter provides a brief history of the Unity movement, including its relation to the broader New Thought movement and a discussion of some of the philosophy's basic beliefs and practices. In addition, the flexibility of the movement is illustrated with a discussion of how Unity has made changes to accommodate negative feelings and New Age beliefs. Finally, the chapter concludes by showing how New Thought philosophy has been incorporated into mainline religions and secular society.

© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.