Baltimore Sermon

Using these principles, Channing begins to outline the tenets of Unitarian faith. He starts with the issue of the Christian Trinity. He thinks it's preposterous to say that God exists in the form of three separate but equal parts. He does not think that Jesus was fully God. Channing argues that nowhere in scripture does the word God refer to more than one entity. He calls on Unitarians to worship God like Jesus did. He believes worshipping Jesus and placing greatest emphasis on Jesus misses the point of the faith Jesus was trying to convey. He believes that Jesus was sending praise to the Father, who is God. Channing challenges his opponents to find one instance "where the word God means three persons."

Channing proposes that the masses give this priority to Jesus because it is so much easier to worship a human god. Its easier to relate to a diety that suffered and bled on the cross, as well as regularly feeling a variety of human emotions. Channing chastises traditional Christian theology that divides God into these three parts and makes Jesus the most appealing third. He disagrees with the view that God is simply the third that instigates justice. He correlates Christian idolization of Jesus to the Catholics' veneration of the Virgin Mary; both lacking scriptural support and thus should be omitted.

For Unitarians, the Trinitarian view undermines the value and importance of the Cross. If Jesus was always in full contact with God, how could he have suffered on the cross? If one believes in the Trinity, says Channing, one eliminates the possibility of Jesus' suffering during the crucifixion. Thus, one can't understand the extent of sympathy in Jesus' suffering. The story of Jesus possesses even greater power when one realizes the pain that a human Jesus felt. Also, one can't begin to feel the patience and love of Jesus if one views him in the illogical tradition of being fully God. Thus, Jesus is a separate and utterly inferior being to God.

The next key point in Unitarian doctrine as preached by Channing, is the moral perfection of God. Channing says that most Christians generally see God as being above the moral law by which most humans live. Unitarians think this is a ridiculous viewpoint. They believe that no other entity is more full of moral perfection than God. Everything he does is perfectly just. "God is infinitely good, kind, benevolent...not to a few, but to all...every individual, as well as to the general system."

This was quite a different view from those popular for the time, specifically the Calvinist view of the elect and the feeling shared by many denominations that they or America in general had special favor in the eyes of God. The doctrine of the elect stands in opposition to the view that God loves everyone and its up to the individual to repent and turn to God. Also, saying that God loves America more than other countries would not be in accordance with Channing's ideology, as every system is loved equally by God.

Next, Channing explains that God's subsequent mercy is in perfect balance to his judgment. The two opposing ends are in harmony. God's judgment is repeatedly delayed, but ultimately the sinner must repent and turn to God or else he will eventually suffer the punishments described in the Bible.

Basically, Unitarians believe that God is very much a parental figure. They believe that he has a deep concern for all of his children. He longs for all of his children to improve and he adjusts his teachings to each child according to the child's capacity and situation. The Father takes great joy in seeing each and every child's improvement and he readily accepts any child who repents and turns to him. But he is also ready to justly punish the children that never make the effort to improve themselves.

After painting this parental picture of God, Channing turns his focus back to Jesus. He explains that Unitarians don't place salvation in the hands of Jesus. They believe that God is "originally, essentially, and eternally placable and disposed to forgive," and that Jesus is a representation of God's love rather than atonement for the sins of all humans. Channing supports his statement with reason by explaining how ludicrous it is to think that God could suffer at all. It is equally off base to think that one is forgiven not by the grace and love of an all-powerful God, but by a substitute that supposedly offsets all of one's sins. Thus, Channing believes, most people essentially think "Christ came to change God's mind rather than their own;" most people believe that God is inclined to punish everyone for sins committed before they were even born; most people believe that even an infant already has tendencies towards a sinful nature; most people think the goal of Jesus' life was to change God's mind and let some humans into heaven. Channing believed "the highest object of his [Christ's] mission was to...communicate holiness." Thus, Christ showed us how to live and how to worship God. He taught us how to live morally right lives and to focus on God the Father. Essentially, Jesus was sent to teach human how to become holy.