Dear Decision Makers Within the New Thought Movement:
By this, I’m referring to the decision makers in Unity, Center for Spiritual Living (aka formerly Religious Science, and Science of Mind) Divine Science, Universal Foundation for Better Living, the independent churches and centers affiliated with International New Thought Alliance, Global New Thought, and Affiliated New Thought Network.
Formerly, I belonged to several Evangelical organizations serving in various capacities. About three years ago, I stumbled upon literature by many authors affiliated with Unity and I began a quest to learn more on what was considered during the publishing dates of those material as “Practical Christianity.” At that time, I had already grown weary of the theological doctrines of the Evangelical and mainstream Christianity that I was on the verge of either walking completely away from my faith or pursue what was considered the “Universalism Christian” movement. When Rob Bell published his book Love Wins, I observed with horror the overall reaction from the mainstream Christian community and that was in a lot of ways the final nail to the coffin of my already fragile faith with that doctrine. Reading materials from the Unity Movement literally resurrected my faith in a Higher Power.
To visit such centers was a very challenging and confusing time for someone like myself. I was learning to release the guilt of my decision to leave my church background while embracing the core belief of those shared by the likes of The Fillmores, Dr Emilie Cady, Dr Butterworth, Dr Ponder, and Bishop Barbara King (she had her own form of Practical Christianity rooted from the Unity Movement) In addition, I visited the Unity Centers as they were in the middle of a transition period of re-naming their centers from “churches” to “spiritual centers.” Since I was studying other New Thought authors such as Joseph Murphy, Emmet Fox, Judge Troward, Neville, and Ernest Holmes, I visited a few Religious Science centers which were also transitioning to “Center(s) for Spiritual Living.” I’ve asked and inquired from all the ministers from both organizations of my interest to learn more about “Practical Christianity,” and for the most part was given either a vague answer or a basic runaround to the question. What made it more confusing was during a visit to a Unity Center in San Francisco, the then current minister Rev Sonia Milton made a snide comment to her congregation (or “community”) how she “never picked up a Bible in her life” to which the congregation rewarded her with a standing ovation. At that point not being aware of the “re-branding” process, I left there with the initial conclusion that there was more than one denomination with Unity in the name. (And yes, I did confuse Unity with Unitarian Universalism)
I toured around to different locations in the San Francisco Bay Area with the Unity name. At one location, I entered their bookstore and inquired about books published by the older Unity authors like Butterworth and even Fillmore and the bookstore worker had never heard of them. (And obviously with such a response with that worker, there was none of their publication in the current inventory) There were copies of The Secret, publications by Esther and Jerry Hicks, Doreen Virtue, and A Course In Miracles,but no copies of The Bible nor the aforementioned authors. While researching a New Thought website, I discovered a Temple of Practical Christianity located in Oakland. They were on the opposite end of the spectrum as they used hymns, wore traditional religious robes, and musical accompaniment with a pipe organ. Though they did have the publications I was looking for at their bookstore, I did not find myself as a fit there either. I later learned that this was actually a Unity Church based out of Oakland before they split from Unity in the 1950s, and they had not changed their worship format since. Finally I stumbled upon a Unity which retained the “Unity Church” name. Visiting there was like a time warp to a period of the past. The average age of the attenders was like 70-75. Their bookstore’s inventory had a balance of the Unity authors as well as books from Virtue, Hicks and ACIM. I began to attend there on a regular consistent basis. And now I currently serve in the capacity of Platform Assistant during Sunday Services.
Meanwhile I also sent online messages to others online who identified themselves as one who practiced Practical Christianity including a Dr Charles Smith who abruptly disappeared after a few phone calls and email exchanges with him. In addition, I was able to contact Rev Guy Lynch who runs a “Practical Christian” internet radio call in show, and a Licensed Unity Teacher Mark Hicks whose Truth Unity website is committed to presenting the early foundational teachings and publications from the Unity Movement. I had a brief exchange with Laura Roy who directed me to Universal Foundation for Better Living, or UFBL which was also a Unity based organization that split from Unity.
Eventually after attending the Castro Valley Unity Church on a regular basis and attending Wednesday meditations hosted by CSL Ashbury Heights, I learned more in detail about the rebranding process both Unity and CSL participated in. I can see and understand that the powers that be and the decision makers from both organizations wanted to tackle the issue of declining attendance. The question I ask is was that rebranding process really necessary? To rename and attempt to uniform Unity as “Unity Spiritual Center,” while renaming and presenting what was formerly Religious Science as “Center for Spiritual Living” to me trivializes both distinctive movements. It was my understanding that both organization went through this process through the same consulting firm. Based on the materials, this firm emphasized that both organization shared the New Thought roots, yet the distinction between both organization has become blurred. If Asia as a continent can be equated to what is called “New Thought,” and the different countries within Asia would be the different organizations within NT, for example, Unity is to China as Religious Science is to Japan, let’s say here in the states, restaurant sales have declined, so an organization governing Japanese restaurants hire a consultant. Meanwhile another organization governing Chinese restaurants hire that same consultant. This consultant comes up with a plan: in order for the customer to be able to identify the restaurants as they would a Mc Donald’s he bestowed the organization of Chinese restaurants the name “Asian Dining Centers” while bestowing the organization for Japanese restaurants “Centers for Asian Dining.” Can you see the potential confusion this can create? Yes, Japanese and Chinese has linguistic and cultural similarities, but there’s still distinctions unique to both. Likewise, Unity and Religious Science (and Divine Science) are rooted in New Thought, but they too have their distinctions.
Now let me return to the fact that I pointed out two instances of a split within the Unity Movement. (kinda ironic isn’t it? a “split” within a movement/organization with the name "UNITY") Universal Foundation for Better Living or UFBL was founded by Rev Dr Johnnie Colemon. She was the first African American minister ordained as a Unity minister back in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, she split from Unity and created UFBL. Dr Barbara King, whom I mentioned earlier was a part of that movement and created her own ministry. It saddened me to learn of the plight that the teaching and faith that Unity supposedly advocates is tainted as a result of the lack of reconciliation on Unity’s behalf regarding race relations.
On a Facebook based Unity Study group, someone from a Colorado based Center for Spiritual Living brought up the topic that he was in full favor of the rebranding process because one of the primary emphasis or point was the outreach to the LGBT community, and how he refused to acknowledge that New Thought was rooted in Christian Science because of the current stance Christian Science holds regarding LGBT issues. While I voiced my concern that the rebranding does little to acknowledge the foundational roots of the movement while failing to commit in outreaching people of color, and placed an emphasis that New Thought also included organizations such as Hillside and the UFBL, his response was a disturbing, “I don’t care as long as they accept US (gays).”
Now I wouldn’t make an issue of race if it wasn’t for a basic premise/tenet of the New Thought Movement: that EVERYONE is Divine. If an organization keeps a low priority to advocate and teach a faith as empowering as NT to a group of people based on either their race and/or culture, how does that reinforce the basic tenet that EVERYONE is Divine?
When the What is New Thought? documentary came out, I saw how the foundational beliefs of NT influenced the personal development industry, addiction and recovery, and even some of the mainstream Christian mover and shakers like Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and Norman Vincent Peale. A preacher who was notably absent and excluded from that list was Reverend Ike. (Internationally known black preacher) And BTW, the only panelist of Asian descent amongst over 20 speakers was Faith Rivera.
My plea to the New Thought organization is to place emphasis on the training of new ministers and teachers, NOT to place emphasis on marketing or rebranding. To focus on outreaching to the younger adult population of ALL colors, to actually create ministries to countries outside of the European and American continents. I contacted Unity School about their Religious Studies program which they were eliminating, sharing with the contact person my desire to spread the teaching to Southeast Asia. (Specifically Singapore) His response was that Seicho No Ie is based out of Japan. If you truly believe that EVERYONE is actually Divine (or Christ Conscious for those Practical Christians) then practice what you preach/teach by outreaching to EVERYONE, not just the westernized civilizations.
And those who choose to practice Practical Christianity or Christian Metaphysics should NOT have to apologize to those “Spiritual, but not religious” members of the New Thought Movement. And yes, that includes those who want to acknowledge their roots in the Christian Science. You shouldn’t have to apologize because you want to acknowledge the Christian Science roots.
And no one should have to.