Skip to main content

Unity

UNITY

UNITY is the largest movement in the New Thought tradition and shares New Thought's formative influences and general worldview. Founded in Kansas City, Missouri, by Myrtle Fillmore (18451931) and Charles Fillmore (18541948), a married couple, Unity is the second oldest and most distinctly Christian community within New Thought. The impetus to the formation of Unity was Myrtle Fillmore's recovery from tuberculosis through the use of mental healing rituals.

The founding of the movement occurred in 1889, one year after Myrtle Fillmore pronounced herself healed. The first venture for Unity, the periodical Modern Thought, began publication in 1889, and in 1890 the movement's original prayer ministry was establishedThe Society of Silent Help. In 1891 the name Unity was given to the Fillmores' enterprise, and the couple began publishing a new periodical, Unity, whose masthead bore what would become the traditional symbol for the movement, a winged globe. Concurrent with the initiation of the movement, the Fillmores studied with New Thought founder, Emma Curtis Hopkins (18491925), who had established a Christian Science ministry and seminary in Chicago, which was independent of the Boston-based religion of Mary Baker Eddy (18211910). Of the various influences on the Fillmores' religious development (e.g., Spiritualism, Vedānta, New England Transcendentalism), Hopkins's teachings were the most significant.

The movement's first formal institutional expression was the Unity Society of Practical Christianity (1903), and in 1906 Unity ordained its first ministersincluding Myrtle and Charles Fillmore. In harmony with the practice initiated by Hopkins and consistent with all other New Thought groups, from this time onward Unity has ordained women along with men and maintained a thoroughgoing egalitarianism with regard to all ecclesiastical roles and functions. It is notable that the majority of Unity ministers are women, making it perhaps the largest Christian community in which this is the case.

When incorporated as the Unity School of Christianity in 1914, Unity was a fully developed religious organization with an international outreach. Unity School's withdrawal in 1922 from the International New Thought Alliance and its initiation of its own annual convention the following year accelerated Unity's growth and development, soon making it the largest and most recognized movement within New Thought. It remains so to the present, with nearly one thousand ministries in more than sixty countries worldwide.

Unity is represented by two major corporate bodies, Unity School of Christianity, located at Unity Village, Missouri (just outside Kansas City), and the Association of Unity Churches in nearby Lee's Summit. The two groups are independent but work in harmony with one another. Unity School, which was originally founded by the Fillmores, publishes religious books and periodicals, serves as a retreat and education center, and operates the movement's prayer and healing ministry (Silent Unity, the successor of the Society for Silent Help). Governance of the school is vested in a board of directors, with a president and chief executive officer holding senior executive authority. From its inception to the early twentieth century, members of the Fillmore family have served as president of Unity School, with Connie Fillmore Bazzy, the founders' great-granddaughter, being the last member of the Fillmore family to hold the office.

The Association of Unity Churches, a successor to the earlier Unity Ministers' Association, was established as an independent corporation in 1966. The association is responsible for management and direction of the vast majority of the movement's congregations, supervising ministerial education, granting ordinations, sanctioning churches, and assisting in the placement of ministers. The association is governed by a board of trustees that is elected by representatives from member churches, regional organizations, and the board itself. Senior executive authority is vested in a president and chief executive officer.

In the 1990s, two Unity organizations emerged, independent of and in some tension with Unity School and the associationthe Unity-Progressive Council and the Federation of Independent Unity Churches. A related organization, the Universal Foundation for Better Living, bases its teachings on the works of the Fillmores, although it affirms no formal linkage with the Unity movement.

Important to Unity has been its publishing enterprise. Although all of Charles Fillmore's books have remained in print, during the latter part of the twentieth century, Unity School began to reduce its list of titles, eliminating some of the movement's classic texts. Its periodical list has also shrunk, so that Unity now publishes only two magazines, Unity and Daily Word. By far the more popular is Daily Word, a prayer manual for each day of the month, initiated in 1924. Another important periodical, Wee Wisdom, Unity's children's magazine, was discontinued in 1991. First published in 1893, it holds the record as the longest continuously published children's periodical in American history.

In addition to the books by Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, Unity School has remained committed to the publication of Lessons in Truth, by H. Emilie Cady (18481941), a homeopathic physician and student of Hopkins. First appearing in serial form in Unity magazine in 1894, Lessons in Truth is Unity's all-time best-seller and the most widely circulated book in all of New Thought. Together with the works of Charles Fillmore (most notably Christian Healing [1909] and Metaphysical Bible Dictionary [1931]), Cady's book is the primary source of Unity's theological system.

The system itself is largely consistent with the general principles of popular religious idealism found in New Thought as a whole and, like other New Thought groups, Unity allows individuals and affiliated churches significant freedom in matters of belief and practice. Although decidedly Christian in its terminology and self-affirmation, Unity has no formal creed or doctrine. This has led to considerable variation in teachings and practices within the movement, with some congregations de-emphasizing ideals and practices deemed significant to the founders. This phenomena has become especially noticeable since the 1980s, largely due to the appeal of various New Age teachings to Unity teachers and ministers. Despite the evident diversity in the movement and the appearance of nontraditional teachings in individual churches, a number of beliefs can be specified as foundational and generally accepted throughout the movement. Derived from the works of Cady, Charles Fillmore, and other representative thinkers, the more important beliefs are:

  1. The ultimate basis of existence is mental (God as Mind), and all material/physical conditions are secondary to and products of mental states and conditions.
  2. God (Divine Mind) is understood as supremely good (the Good) and the ground of perfection.
  3. God (the Good) is omnipresent and, as a consequence, evil (typically referred to as "error") is unreality.
  4. As spiritual beings, humans are innately divine and one with God. This innate divinity is referred to variously as the Christ within, the superconsciousness, and the Christ Mind.
  5. Through realization of their innate divinity and appropriation of ideas in Divine Mind, humans are able to transform their lives, replacing negative states and conditions with positive ones.
  6. Individuals have full freedom in matters of personal belief.
  7. Christian doctrine, idealistically interpreted, is nor-mative.

As with New Thought as a whole and individual movements within the tradition, Unity has received little scholarly attention, although it has received more attention than other New Thought groups, such as Religious Science, Divine Science, and the Universal Foundation for Better Living. In this regard, encyclopedias and general texts on new religious movements and religion in the United States often have brief sections on Unity. There are no critical histories of the movement and no significant scholarly treatments of its theology. Unity has published a biography of Myrtle Fillmore and two nonscholarly histories, all of which are generally reliable in terms of facts and data. In addition, a book by Hugh D'Andrade and two by Neal Vahle, although written for a Unity audience and largely informed by perceptions and understandings of Unity insiders, supply helpful information not found elsewhere. The chapters on Unity in Charles Braden's Spirits in Rebellion (1963) and J. Stillson Judah's The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America (1967) remain the best critical sources on the movement.

See Also

Fillmore, Charles and Myrtle; Hopkins, Emma Curtis; New Thought Movement.

Bibliography

Bach, Marcus. The Unity Way. Unity Village, Mo., 1982. Sympathetic but reliable sketch of Unity's history and teachings.

Braden, Charles S. Spirits in Rebellion: The Rise and Development of New Thought. Dallas, 1963. See chapter on Unity. Now dated, but highly detailed academic history of the movement from founding until the early 1960s.

D'Andrade, Hugh. Charles Fillmore: Herald of the New Age. New York, 1974. Sympathetic but reliable biography of Unity's cofounder. Contains historical information not found elsewhere.

deChant, Dell. "Myrtle Fillmore and Her Daughters: An Observation and Analysis of the Role of Women in Unity." In Women's Leadership in Marginal Religions: Explorations outside the Mainstream, edited by Catherine Wessinger, pp. 325350. Urbana, Ill., 1993. Study of Unity's theological supports for female leadership and the institutional structures of the Unity School and Assocaition of Unity Churches.

Freeman, James Dillet. The Story of Unity. Unity Village, Mo., 1954. Sympathetic but reliable history of Unity by major leader of the movement.

Harley, Gail M. "Unity in the Harmonial Family." In America's Alternative Religions, edited by Timothy Miller. Albany, N.Y., 1995.

Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America. Philadelphia, 1967. See chapter on Unity. Now dated, but well-documented academic study of the history and teachings of the movement from its founding until the early 1960s. The most sustained critical analysis of Unity's teachings yet published.

Simmons, John K. "The Forgotten Contributions of Annie Rix Militz to the Unity School of Christianity." Nova Religio: Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 2, no. 1 (1998): 7692. Study of the impact of a major theorist from the movement's formative period.

Teener, James W. "Unity School of Christianity." Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1942. Hostile critique of the movement, but rich in historical data unavailable elsewhere.

Vahle, Neal. Torch-Bearer to Light the Way: The Life of Myrtle Fillmore. Mill Valley, Calif., 1996. Although written for a Unity audience and largely informed by perceptions and understandings of Unity insiders, supplies helpful information on the cofounder that is not found elsewhere.

Vahle, Neal. The Unity Movement: Its Evolution and Spiritual Teachings. Philadelphia, 2002. Although written for a Unity audience and largely informed by perceptions and understandings of Unity insiders, offers a reliable study of the movement's history.

Witherspoon, Thomas E. Myrtle Fillmore: Mother of Unity. Unity Village, Mo., 1977. Sympathetic but reliable biography of Unity's cofounder. Contains historical information not found elsewhere.

Gail M. Harley (2005)

Dell deChant (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Unity." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Unity." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/unity

"Unity." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/unity

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.