God is good and is present everywhere, but Unity’s understanding of God is not the God of traditional Christian theology. For Unity, God is an impersonal or universal principle; a power present throughout the universe; intelligence; or love.
Headquarters: Unity is headquartered at Unity Village, a 1,400-acre incorporated municipality in Lee’s Summit, 20 miles southeast of Kansas City, Mo.
Leadership: J. Thomas Zender was elected president in 2001. He is the first president of Unity not related to the Fillmore family. Eight trustees manage the corporation.
Publications: Unity is one of the largest religious publishing houses in the Midwest. It mails approximately 34 million pieces of literature annually. The Daily Word, a daily devotional magazine, is distributed to more than 175 countries. The U.S. circulation is 1.3 million. Unity Magazine, an inspirational magazine, has a U.S. circulation of 27,000. Unity House also publishes books, booklets and audio-visual products.
Membership: Unity does not release official membership figures. Rather than counting membership, Unity counts the approximately 34 million pieces of mail sent out each year as an indication of its ministry. There are nearly 1,000 Unity churches worldwide, up from 444 churches in 1984.
Silent Unity: In addition to its publications, Unity operates a 24-hour, 365-day prayer ministry at Unity Village and in 10 other countries around the world. Silent Unity receives more than 2 million requests for prayer assistance each year.
Basic Ideas of Unity: Unity gives fives basic “ideas” to describe its beliefs. They are:
1. God is good and is present everywhere, but Unity’s understanding of God is not the God of traditional Christian theology. For Unity, God is an impersonal or universal principle; a power present throughout the universe; intelligence; or love. Unity may describe God using personal terms, such as Father (because Jesus described God as “Father”), but God is always impersonal. The Trinity is defined as Infinite Mind, Idea and Expression.
2. People have a spark of divinity within them, called the Divine Spark or Christ Spirit. Since we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and God is good, humans are inherently good. There is no room for evil or sin in Unity’s theology. Illness and disease are real, but not necessary; we can avoid them by right thinking as a child of God. Because we are free creatures, we make “errors” in our activities and decisions. Satan is humanity’s lower self, the result of wrong thinking.
3. Jesus Christ is the Example or Wayshower who helps us avoid “errors.” Unity distinguishes between Jesus, the man, and Christ, a description of the Divine nature in every person. Jesus realized his divine nature, or his Christ spirit. Unity may speak of Jesus Christ as our Savior, but only in the sense that his teachings save us from misusing God’s gift of love. Each person should follow Jesus’ example to work out our own salvation (Phil 2:12). Salvation is the perfect realization of the Christ spirit, which resides in every person. Unity accepts reincarnation or the belief that a person may have to live many lifetimes before finding God. Every person must choose his or her own path to God. “If God is everywhere, all roads must lead to Him!”
4. Prayer heightens our awareness of connection with God-Mind and brings wisdom, healing, prosperity and everything good. Prayer puts God first in our minds. By thinking and praying positive thoughts (as in the “Word for Today”), we focus on life, love and inner joy that are hidden in our divine natures. Unity has no creeds, calling itself “an open-ended religion.”
5. Truth is the goal—not just knowing Truth, but also living it. Truth may be found in many sources, but no one can be certain he or she has found all Truth or final Truth. Good ideas, noble thoughts and worthy beliefs are accepted, wherever they are found. The Bible is an accepted source, but it is not read or interpreted literally. Unity seeks inner or metaphysical teachings to find the “real” meaning behind the literal words.
Maurice Smith, retired staff member of the Interfaith Witness Department, reminds us: “Although Unity students and Baptists use many of the same theological words, those words often carry entirely different meanings. Those different meanings might not seem apparent to the casual reader of each other’s literature. But there are indeed many basic differences between Unity beliefs and the doctrines that Baptists cherish.”
Gary Leazer is the founder and president of the Center for Interfaith Studies, Inc. His primary areas of research have been the New Age Movement, the occult, sects and the world religions.
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