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TERM PAPER APPENDIX 4 (finally!)–Reflections on Our Colonial Involvement and Our Post-Colonial Distance


[If you just got here or stumbled into this blog, this is the last installment of sections from a term paper about the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines.  I think if you go backward to read all the posts, you’ll find all the sections except those I have chosen not to post.]

Appendix IV:  Reflections on Our Colonial Involvement and Our Post-Colonial Distance

It is worth noting that the UUA is an American Mainline Protestant denomination long dominated by elites.  We claim several dead presidents and have at least two buried in our churches. (Though the Universalist Church of America did have more class diversity from the Unitarians ever since their separate origins in America, as a movement the Universalists had been in decline and had much less wealth by the 1961 merger.)

According to Stanley Karnow, the Spanish American War had been “masterminded” by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (a Unitarian), among others, and the senator then advocated annexation.[ii]  In 1900, William Howard Taft (also a Unitarian) became the first American governor of the Philippines; later he became the U. S. President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Given our contemporary UU self-understanding of the UUA as a justice-oriented denomination, it is worth noting that American religious liberals were involved in the running of the Philippines, and hence from prospering from it as a colony.  Perhaps the ambivalence about admitting the Philippine church arose in part from a reluctance to look at our own movement’s connection to the colonial depredation of that nation.  These architects of the annexation of the Philippines leaders apparently kept their liberal theological values separate from their careers as advocates for colonial power.

Have we kept our distance from the Philippine church—either in not thinking Filipinos could find anything in our tradition that speaks to their experience, in not wanting to admit the UUCP to the UUA, or in not wanting to share, give, or  “impose” our American church practices and theologies on a marginalized group?   Perhaps, in the names of avoiding renewed colonialism and promoting the Philippine church’s authenticity and autonomy, we have been endeavoring to distance ourselves from our connections to the American colonial era in the Philippines.   Whether we can answer them or not, we carry such complex questions into new and ongoing relationships between UUs there and UUs here.

For further information:  The subjects of American colonialism and the Unitarians involved in the Philippines is addressed in Frederick John Muir’s book Maglipay Universalist:  A History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines (Annapolis:  Unitarian Universalist Church, 2001).

Muir in particular describes the early contacts between the American Unitarian Association (AUA) and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the Catholic breakway movement led by Father Gregorio Aglipay.  Aglipay visited the Unitarians here in the early 1930s, and the AUA president tried and failed to lead a strong relationship with that Philippine movement, which later affiliated with the Anglican Communion.

This paper keeps the focus on the later movement (the UUCP) with which present-day North American UUs have a living and growing relationship.

[ii] Stanley Karnow, “The Philippines,” Dissent Magazine, Winter 2009.


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