Unity is a good example of Hoge et al.'s second option for liberal churches of a church without authority. As the authors suggest, Unity views the Bible as a resource rather than a final authority, and requires less commitment financially and programatically. In addition, Unity's current organizational structure also provides the ability to flex to meet the needs of the community.
The question of authority, however, requires a more nuanced understanding than Hoge et. al. provide. It cannot be argued that Unity has no authority at all, especially since Unity beliefs are so widely accepted among participants surveyed. What Unity lacks is the perception of authority, as shown in the frequent claim that Unity has no dogma and no rules. This perception stems from the fact that Unity does not claim authority but places it with God and the individual. The church is merely a resource, acknowledging that individuals have everything they need within themselves. As Barbara says, it's not authority but influence that Unity has over her. The authority belongs to God, whom she can reach within herself. The ultimate authority and responsibility, then, belongs to her as an individual. But the church is necessary and helpful to individuals as a place where they can learn how to get in touch with the God within themselves. In fact, if a church is able to help a person have an experience of God, the church will gain legitimacy — and authority — for that individual because of the experience. In turn, that individual will be more open to the teachings of the church. So rather than being a church without authority, it appears that Unity has been successful largely because it is a church without the perception of authority.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.