Hi Friends —
You are likely familiar with the well-known phrase "Unity is a link" because it is part of a paragraph that Unity inserts as a preface into many of its classic Unity books. This paragraph is important—extremely important—because it is the first thing readers see when they open many, if not most, Unity books. This paragraph forms the reader's first impression—and likely the most permanent impression. That is why we need to consider how it has been used, who wrote it and why, what sources were used and what it means for us today.
I have found three “versions” of the paragraph since it first appeared in the 1960s. Its earliest use that I found was in the late 1960s when it appeared as a preface to a book published by Unity by Newton Dillaway. It was used with one minor change until the late 1990s, when it was substantially changed. We do not know who originally crafted the original 1960s version nor do we know who rewrote the 1990s version. I would be grateful for anyone who knows who wrote and rewrote the paragraph. Click here for a deeper dive into the three versions
Altogether, the three versions contain five sentences. Although each sentence was “written” by Charles Fillmore, they were selected by our unknown editor from five different paragraphs from at least two different Fillmore writings. That is to say that Charles Fillmore never wrote any of the versions of the paragraph used as a preface in many Unity books. Click here to see the five paragraphs from which the editor drew when crafting the 1960s version and the 1990s reworked version. Reading the underlying sources of the five sentences gives us a better insight into what Charles Fillmore really said, what the 1960s editor was trying to convey and what the 1990s rework was intended to change.
So what does this mean for us today?
It goes without saying that we need to support our Unity Archives. Jolene Clark and Karren Scapple came though this week with information that was essential for us to understand our history. They worked diligently and shared what they found. Unity is hosting a tour of the Unity Archives this Friday as part of our 2023 Fillmore Bible Society Gathering. I hope you can join us.
We need better scholarship. Compared with other religious movements, Unity is young, and somewhat immature in its scholarship. Last August I attended the annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion hoping to find at least one researcher interested in New Thought or Unity. I did find one person who was interested, from UC Santa Barbara who does some research in metaphysical religion. But the fact is that nearly all researchers view New Thought as an historically finished era no longer relevant to contemporary religion. We sent dozens of people to the Parliament of World Religions, held the same time as the ASR meeting. The way forward is for those who have credentials from accredited universities to research, write and participate in organizations such as the ASR.
We need active participation from the field ministers and ministries. Many people, like Michael Perrie, have studied and stored information that is not available in the Archives. We need a way to collect and store the work that is all too often in stuffed in church closets and personal papers of retired or deceased ministers. It’s important, as the African Americans in Unity project shows. Michael came through with insights that aren’t documented in the Archives. Which leads me to my final recommendation ...
We need a conversation. The change that was made in the 1990s is another sign that Unity is bifurcating into two groups, what I refer to as Fillmore Unity and Universalist Unity. In some respects that is healthy—it reflects an evolution to accommodate universalist beliefs that is growing within Unity. But the bifurcation is a real problem that needs to be addressed. The paragraph discussed here is used as a preface to Fillmore texts. And the changes to the preface can be perceived as minimizing or marginalizing Fillmore teachings and those who hold them dearly.
I’m trying to address all four concerns. Many see TruthUnity as an archives, which it is, but not nearly what the Unity Archives could be. Some of you see me as a scholar, which I’m not, but scholarship is my passion—I love rummaging the library of the local seminary, taking classes and being able to study and write. I’m grateful to be able to do that. I also love meeting and learning from people in Unity, and I have an interview lined up next year that will be a real treat for all of us. Finally, as many of you know, I love to have long conversations with friends and fellow ministers, regardless of what you believe or where you stand on Fillmore teachings. You are my friends. After many years, I feel inside the tent. Unity is a sacred canopy, broad enough to include everyone.
Sunday, October 29, 2023
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Three versions of “Unity is a link”
The words used in this paragraph have been published by Unity in three versions. The first version says
“UNITY is a link in the great educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ; our objective is to discern the truth in Christianity and prove it. The truth that we teach is not new, neither do we claim special revelations or discovery of new religious principles. Our purpose is to help and teach mankind to use and prove the eternal Truth taught by the Master.”
This version was used as early as 1967 (Consent, by Newton Dillaway), 1969 (Live Youthfully Now, by Russel Kemp) and 1995 (Contact magazine, Association of Unity Churches).
The first and second versions are nearly identical. The only difference is that “mankind” has been replaced with “humankind” sometime in the late 1990s.
This 2nd version was used in publications released in 2001 (Unity magazine, May/June issue), 2005 (Unity magazine, January/February issue) and 2007 (Mysteries of Genesis).
The third version was a major rewrite. It reads:
“The Unity Classic Library is guided by the belief of Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore that “whatever God has revealed to man in one age He will continue to reveal to him in all ages.” The series projects Fillmore’s vision of Unity as “a link in the great educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ” to help and teach humankind to use and prove eternal Truth.”
We find it published in 1999 (Lessons in Truth), 2000 (How to Let God Help You), 2000 (The Prayer Way to Health, Wealth, and Happiness), 2007 (Teach Us to Pray), and 2007 (The Twelve Powers).
We see several significant changes with version three. First, The opening phrase “Unity is a link” has been subordinated to an inference that truth is found in all religious traditions and at all times. Second, it is no longer Charles Fillmore’s definition of Unity. Rather, it is his “vision of Unity”. Third, the truth taught by Unity is no longer the “truth in Christianity”. According to version 3, Unity now teaches “eternal truth”.
Let’s look at the sources to see what the Unity editors are trying to convey.
Sources of "Unity is a link"
The sources for the paragraph we know as “Unity is a link” were uncovered and sent to me from two sources. Rev. Michael Perrie, founder of The Way of the Christ Ministry, revealed the source right away and pointed out how the Fillmore quote has been edited and some of the actual words of Charles Fillmore from 1915 have been clearly changed, yet still attributed to him as a direct quote. Jolene Clark, Archivist and Rev. Karren Scapple, Ph.D., assistant archivist at Unity Archives worked diligently and were able to trace each sentence to particular paragraphs including the previously unknown 1928 source. That demonstrated how reading the source paragraph provides each sentence with a context that would not be apparent by reading the combined sentences as a whole. The following interpretations are my own, but we would not have the sources without Michael, Jolene and Karren. We owe them a ton of thanks and gratitude.
“whatever God has revealed to man in one age He will continue to reveal to him in all ages”
The following paragraph is from “The Foundation and Object of the Unity Work”, an address delivered at the dedication of the new building at 917 Tracy Ave, on New Year's Day, 1915 and published in Unity (magazine), Feb 1915, page 88, paragraph 6. I have emphasized the sentence that appears in the Fillmore quote.
One of the fundamentals of Truth is that whatever God has revealed to man in one age he will continue to reveal to him in all ages. Spirit-Mind is omnipresent—immanent in all creation—and it must be that the same law that inspired Moses and Isaiah, quickened the understanding of Paul and demonstrated its perfection in Jesus Christ, is here with us. "Lo, I am with you alway."
This sentence, whatever God has revealed to man in one age he will continue to reveal to him in all ages, was inserted sometime in the 1990s. What it conveys is that “Truth is universal.” Truth is found in all religions in all ages. And all religions convey truth to human beings the same way—by revelation. The spiritual teachings of Moses and Isaiah contain the same truth as those of Paul and Jesus.
Why was it inserted in the 1990s, and why was it placed first in the reworked paragraph? It was, I believe, inserted to justify Unity’s heterodox teachings which were considered “irregular” by many of the orthodox denominations. If God is revealing Truth in all ages then God continues to reveal Truth today, even to new religious movements like Unity. The sentence was placed first, I believe, to justify the shift in Unity teachings away from using Christian metaphors to using metaphors and teachings found in all world religions. Both reasons are justifications. The theological term for justification of belief is known as apologetics, and this is clearly such a case.
“UNITY is a link in the great educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ”
The next sentence is also from “The Foundation and Object of the Unity Work”, published in Unity (magazine), Feb 1915, page 89, paragraph 3. Again, I have emphasized the sentence that appears in the Fillmore quote.
The object of this school is the redemption of the human race. It is a link the great educational movement augurated Jesus Christ, which not only taught the Truth, but demonstrated also. The greatest of all the philosophies of life is Christianity. It is the Science of Life, which the foundation of Jesus Christ’s doctrine, and not revealed exoteric Christianity. There an esoteric Christianity, which the letter of the text does not convey.
What we can gather from this paragraph is why Charles Fillmore insisted on “linking” Unity to Christianity while most other New Thought movements focused on mental science. If universal truth—the fundamentals of truth—is revealed in all religions, the truth taught and demonstrated by Jesus Christ is special, according to Charles Fillmore in 1915. The teachings of Jesus present a science of Life that make esoteric (read metaphysical) Christianity the “greatest of all philosophies” and are not revealed in the outer expressions of religion, Christian or otherwise. In other words Charles Fillmoe bet the future of Unity on its linking to Christianity.
Why did the original editor who wrote the statment include this line? I believe it is because the editor was a bit of a marketing expert. He knew, better than most ministers know today, that people want to place goods and services in categories, even religious services. Placing services in categories enables people to compare alternatives and distinguish differences. While mental science may sound fashionable and new, it was and continues to be, like astrology, tarot and other New Age interests, little more than an interesting idea, nothing one would commit their life to. This statement is also an example of apologetics. It says to the prospective reader of a classic Unity book “We are metaphysical Christians, this book will show how our understanding of Jesus can change your life.”
our objective is to discern the truth in Christianity and prove it.
The third sentence is also from “The Foundation and Object of the Unity Work”, page 90, paragraph 1.
Then the object of this school to discern the truth in Christianity and prove it. We do not bind ourselves to precedents in our study of Truth, nor its demonstrations. We know, however, that what has been done by man can be done again, under like relations—merely matter of finding the law. The claim of religion to miracles is either ignorance or chicanery. Jesus and his followers did not work miracles—they applied laws in a field of mind beyond the range of average men. These laws constitute what called esoteric Christianity, or the doctrine of the mystics. The time has now arrived for all men to come up higher. The Lord of the Universe has prepared the opening of all mysteries to the most humble citizen.
Having stated that all religions teach truth but that the truth of esoteric Christianity is special, Charles Fillmore declares the object of Unity school is the discernement and demonstration of those special teachings of Christianity. He declares Unity to be free of the “precedents” of established religion, particularly claims of producing miracles. He embraces the “doctrines of the mystics” and invites all people, particularly the most humble, to join.
This is clearly an example of apologetics—justifying ones beliefs and teachings in theological terms. It may also explain why the highlighted sentence was included in the orignal preface to Unity books. It is a very abbreviated version of what we would refer to today as an “elevator pitch”—a statement of what the service is, who it is for and how it is different from others providers of the same service. It establishes why one would want to buy and read this book.
The truth that we teach is not new, neither do we claim special revelations or discovery of new religious principles.
The fourth sentence is also from “The Foundation and Object of the Unity Work”, page 88, paragraph 5.
The Truth which we teach is not new, neither do we claim special revelations or discovery of new religious principles. The Scriptures of all religious people tell of Truth, but none have a complete revelation. Truth broadens to man’s consciousness with the enlargement of his mental capacity.
Heresy, in theology, is the act of disseminating false teachings. This statement may be a further example of apologetics, claiming that since Unity does not teach anything new it cannot be accused of heresy.
But most likely Charles Fillmore is making a subtle reference to Mary Baker Eddy and her Christian Science church, which explicitly claimed and defended their special revelations. In other words, Charles Fillmore was not only positioning Unity in relation to the established denominations, he was also distinguishing it from Christian Science, what was in 1915 an enormous religious movement.
If so, it would explain why the editor who crafted this preface to Unity books would have included it. The market for metaphysical Christian materials was certainly attractive to many in Christian Science as well to those in mainline churches who had rejected fundamentalist beliefs. Neither group would be attracted to a movement with special revelations that may wind up being false. Nor would they want to face a huge learning curve in order to practice what Unity has to offer. By declaring that Unity does not teach anything new, the editor may be signaling to the prospective reader that there are commonalities between what they presently know and what Unity teaches.
Our purpose is to help and teach mankind to use and prove the eternal Truth taught by the Master.
Unity School of Christianity is an independent educational institution. It aims to teach mankind to apply the doctrine of Jesus Christ in all the affairs of life. Its purpose is not to found a new church or sect, but to help and to teach men and women of every church — and also those who have no church affiliations—to use and to prove the eternal Truth taught and used by the Master.
Charles Fillmore’s message in this paragraph is clear: Unity does not compete with the existing denominations by establishing churches. Rather, Unity carries on the educational movement without regard to anyone’s church affiliation. That is clearly apologetics. But by the 1960s, when the first version was developed, Unity had already established hundreds of churches and were clearly competing with the denominations for membership. So we certainly know why the preface did not include “its purpose is not to found a new church or sect.”
Regardless, the editor did include the final phrase—”to use and to prove the eternal Truth taught and used by the Master.” This sentence, and the two sentences preceding it in the original version, were replaced in the 1990s revision with “to help and teach humankind to use and prove eternal Truth.”
Why would that change occur? I believe it was done for the same reason the opening sentence was inserted—to justify the shift in Unity teachings away from using Christian metaphors to using metaphors and teachings found in all world religions. The sad result is that the new language, still implicitly attributed to Charles Fillmore, declares that the eternal truth taught by Unity, whatever that may be, is no longer limited to that used by the Master.