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Disrupting Unity Workshop

1. The Unserved Flock

A religious movement begins with the following condition:

A social group exists (the unserved flock) with identifiable religious needs that are unserved by incumbent providers (churches and their ministers)

  1. What was the social group (unserved flock) that was attracted to the Unity movement?
  2. What were their religious needs?
  3. Who were the "incumbent providers" (churches and their ministers) and why were they unable to provide for the religious needs of the flock?

What about Unity today? Is it the same flock? Have the religious needs changed? How does Unity satisfy those needs? What are the alternatives?

Here are several passages from The Household of Faith that illustrate the religious needs that were "unmet by incumbent providers":

Chapter 1: The Faith of the Fillmores

  1. Physical Healing. p. 9: "He sought for a religion that would heal." That the need for physical healing was not provided by established churches is the predominant theme of the story of Unity.
  2. Confidence of Salvation. p. 17: "They were overcomers through faith." This implies that the problem of "faith versus works" had not been resolved. How does one know if he or she is saved? Max Weber said that Calvinists believed that the saved would show signs of prospering. This passage indicates that the sign of being saved was overcoming lower states of consciousness.

Chapter 2: Charles Fillmore's Early Years

  1. Desire for culture. p. 20: "his childhood was 'romantic but crude and unprofitable.'" This passage indicates that frontier religion was inadequate to satisfy the need of educated people.
  2. Calvinist religion. p. 25: Charles introduced to Transcendentalists, who challenged the orthodoxy of the Calvinists.
  3. Intellectual curiosity. p. 28: "American pioneers ... gravitate together to discuss the literary and philosophic matters that interested them. Charles attached himself to such a group." Literary and philosophical groups self-organized because the established church found it difficult to operate in a frontier setting.

Chapter 3: Truth Comes to Myrtle Fillmore

  1. Freedom from religious fear. p. 29: "Her religious training was strict." Evangelical Methodism has swept across the country from 1800-1850. It's message was one of fear and many people who came to Unity declared that they were "escaping Methodism."
  2. Economic stability. p. 39: "A period of depression now set in in the affairs of the Fillmores. The failure of the mine was followed shortly by the collapse of the real-estate boom in Kansas City. Charles and his family were left with no financial resources at all and were actually in debt."
  3. Freedom from unexpected illness. p. 39: "In the meantime, Myrtle underwent a spell of severe sickness... now, when the family was having its hardest financial struggle, the tuberculosis returned more virulently than ever."

Additional Information:

The following is from an academic study I conducted in Spring 2014:

What are religious needs? Stark and Finke are correct in their claims in the Micro Foundations of Religion that religion exists because: (a) "Rewards are always in limited supply, including some that simply do not exist in the observable world." (88), (b) "When available natural means are of no avail [to acquire their desired rewards], humans search for other means to achieve their goals. The supernatural, as conceived of by human beings, holds the potential for gaining rewards unobtainable from any other source" (90) and (c) "In pursuit of rewards, humans will seek to exchange with a god or gods" (91).

Why are they unserved by incumbent providers? The disruption model says that they are unserved because they do not have the time, money or education to utilize the religious product offered by incumbent providers. In The Churching of America 1776-2005, Stark and Finke support this model with their analysis of the difficulty of obtaining religious benefits in frontier regions. They write,

By definition, a frontier is an area of new settlement and rapid population growth. As a result, frontiers are populated with newcomers and strangers ... in areas where people are constantly passing through and where most people are strangers and newcomers, it is very difficult to sustain organizations of any kind, be they churches, fraternal lodges, or political clubs... frontiers will be short on churches, and long on crime and vice, simply because they are frontiers (pp. 35).