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The Meredith J. Sprunger Archive

Outreach Reflections

Lake Forest Conference of the Urantia Brotherhood, 6/19/86

We are living in an, age which is experiencing the exhaustion of the spiritual creativity of the renaissance and the reformation. Scientifically and conceptually we have left behind the horse and buggy technology and the geocentric universe view of our forefathers. It is generally recognized by the prophetic voices of our day that we are at the beginning of a new age. We are standing at the edge of tremendous potentials for human growth or human destruction.

The most creative minds of our generation are meeting with perplexity and frustration in attempting to solve the growing complexity and seriousness of our contemporary problems ranging from environmental pollution to human misery and destruction. The significance of the crisis of our age is seen in the fact that the spiritual supervisors of our planet have recognized the need for a new epochal revelation to restructure our planetary and universe views of reality and inspire us to new levels of material and spiritual growth. As a result we have the fifth epochal revelation in the form of The Urantia Book.

One of the most important responsibilities and opportunities of our planet today is bringing this new vision of reality to the peoples of the world. Each person who discovers The Urantia Book and recognizes its significance must decide what his or her role should be in this many faceted outreach mission. New revelation must always build on and, ideally, dovetail with the growing edge of evolutionary religion. When Judge Hammerschmidt gave me The Urantia Book some thirty years ago I had the sense that my entire life to that point had been prepared for this transcendent message. I knew that my life must be dedicated to building an interface between the fifth epochal revelation and mainline Christianity and the academic community of higher education. I spent years thinking about how this could be done wisely and effectively, experimenting with different methods, and developing literature for this ministry.

After years of bootlegging Urantia Book concepts it became clear to me not only that thousands of mainline ministers and academic people were doing the same thing (any one who is spiritually relevant today is presenting a view which is harmonious with. The Urantia Book) but that no amount of evolutionary eloquence is an adequate substitute for the revelation itself. I became convinced through experience that only the fifth epochal revelation itself had the integrated spiritual dynamics to bring a spiritual renaissance in our society. In 1979 we, therefore, organized and incorporated the Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book to serve as an aegis for such a ministry.

For the better part of thirty years I had hoped that it would be possible to introduce mainline ministers and professors of philosophy and religion to the book before it received national negative publicity from religious fundamentalists. To maximize this possibility I searched for an outreach methodology which would be personal, direct and quiet in introducing these people to The Urantia Book. The advent of the word processor made such a strategy possible. It appeared, all things considered, that the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church were generally the most progressive and open religionists to new spiritual insight. During the last several years we have sent personal letters with a pamphlet and an offer of a loan book to all the United Church of Christ ministers in the United States and the United Methodist ministers in the Northern Indiana Conference. From the 8,000 personal letters sent, we have had 330 ministers who wanted loan books. This 4% request for loan books was greater than the 1% which we anticipated. Around 25% of those asking for loan books purchased their own personal copy. There were 7 people who asked for gift copies of the book and 19 who failed to return the loan book after five follow up letters asking them to do so. This must have something to say about the ethical standards of clergy persons. We are most grateful to Undershepherds of Anchorage, Alaska who furnished the gift books and replaced all books lost by the Christian Fellowship.

Those of you who received our more detailed report on the responses we received from ministers recall there were both negative and positive comments. By far the largest number were constructive, appreciative and enthusiastic. For some of these pastors The Urantia Book has become a major resource in their preaching and teaching. We believe we have contacted a large enough sample of ministers to bring the existence of the book to the attention of most progressive mainline Protestant ministers in the years to come.

In addition to this clergy contact, a number of years ago we sent a similar mailing to around 100 theological professors in 25 to 30 theological schools. We do not know if these projects had any relationship to the American Academy of Religion's Consultation on The Urantia Book in November of 1985. The Consultation was initiated by Dr. John C. Meagher, Professor of Religion at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto and a former president of the American Academy of Religion. Certainly the Consultation gave the book visibility among all teachers of theology and religion in colleges, universities and seminaries. This event occurred earlier and was more positive than I had anticipated.

The fact that our second Consultation application was turned down indicates that there is some resistance to further exposure of.The Urantia Book in the American Academy of Religion. We asked Dr. James B. Wiggins, Executive Director of the American Academy of Religion, for further clarification. In a letter written on June 3rd he gave us the following information.

The AAR Program Committee wrestled hard with the issue of continuing the consultation on the Urantia Book. The decision was not easy nor unanimous, but it was clearly negative. Not the only reason, but a decisive one is the lack of public access to the text except through the Urantia committee. I have no doubt that other reasons were at work also, such that I cannot be encouraging you to apply for "Group" status in the future. If, however, you choose to do so, I can assure you that a thorough review will be made of the application.

Dr. Martin Marty, the newly elected Vice President of the AAR, did give me the names of the professors who were more prominent in the discussion of the Planning Committee in turning down the second Consultation. My own opinion is that we should actively pursue placing books in college and university libraries and stimulate a scholarly evaluation of the book which will promote an examination and study of the book in the academic community. When there is sufficient scholarly interest in the study of The Urantia Book, the American Academy of .Religion will seek to include it in their program.

Following our clergy project and the AAR Consultation we sent letters to the 5000 members of the American Philosophical Association enclosing a copy of my paper, "The Urantia Book and Religious Studies," and invited those interested to participate in a network of persons interested in a scholarly evaluation of The Urantia Book. We have received letters from around a dozen people, some nationally known authors, who have expressed such an interest.

Early in the year Peter Laurence called my attention to Dr. Paul Knitter's recent book No Other Name?. I discovered that it is a "milestone" book on the doctrine of salvation and ecumenical relationships, marking the growing edge of Christian thinking. I wrote Dr. Knitter, who is Professor of Theology at Xavier University, congratulating him on his seminal contribution to Christian theological development and suggested that he might like to examine The Urantia Book which presented views very similar to his thinking and enclosed my AAR paper. In March he wrote saying:

I take your recommendations very seriously, but unfortunately at the moment I cannot really act on them. Given the list of projects lined up before me and the present direction of my research (I'm trying to focus on Buddhist-Christian dialogue), I really cannot undertake any kind of a serious study of The Urantia Book. My acquaintance with it is only superficial--but positive, all the more so after your letter and AAR paper.

I would like to be informed of your work. Perhaps we might meet at the AAR convention in Atlanta.

In summary, I believe we have established reasonably wise and effective foundations for outreach ministry with Christian Churches and the academic community. We have accomplished our goal of introducing The Urantia Book to mainline Christian leaders and scholars before fundamentalists have given the book major negative publicity.

I believe it is important to encourage scholarly evaluation of The Urantia Book. Most Urantian literalists and fundamentalists will not be happy with the results but such critical research is basic to the exposure and acceptance of the fifth epochal revelation by progressive members of the major religions of the world. Just as higher criticism laid the foundations for the modern creative study of the Bible, so must scholarly evaluation of The Urantia Book open the way to the ecumenical study of the fifth epochal revelation by the growing edge of contemporary religion. From there it will filter down to the peoples of the world.

Decades, if not centuries, are required for this process but we should never cease working on the evolutionary, growing edge. I believe the next major steps required are twofold. First, we must continue interface activities from inside the religious traditions. Most present day professors and Christian leaders will not take the time to seriously read The Urantia Book until enough of their students or parishioners keep asking about or making comments concerning its teachings. Even then, the effect will be minimal.

The beginning of the real phase of bringing The Urantia Book into our religious culture starts when students of.The Urantia Book become theological professors and discreetly share the book with students; and when students of The Urantia Book become ministers and share the book with colleagues and appropriately prepared parishioners. There are numerous people with such life plans now. Among those who are planning to get advanced degrees and teach in theological schools is Philip Rolnick who just received his Master of Arts degree in religion from the Pacific School of Religion. His thesis, "The Relational Gospel: Its Implications for Human Family Life," already shows excellence in theological thinking. Among those planning to take seminary training and enter the ministry is Rebecca Marshall whose ability and maturity promise distinctive service in this high calling. The number of people in these categories will grow steadily in the decades to come.

Secondly, we must activate missionary endeavors from outside the religious traditions. Individuals and organizations functioning in this more historically characteristic type of missionary activity have been slow in getting started. This hesitancy is probably the result, first, of the cautious and conservative philosophy of Urantia Brotherhood regarding outreach activity, and second, because such missionary work requires greater courage, planning and resources. Few people have the personal or material qualifications to burn their cultural-religious bridges behind them and venture out in true missionary work unless they have a "home base" giving them personal and material support.

This kind of missionary activity, nevertheless, has the greatest promise for the future. The major organization today with this potential is the Jesusonian Foundation. Eventually such organizations will come into being and exercise the entire gamut of traditional missionary activities: they will develop literature to carry out their tasks; they will employ the various techniques and forms of communication, including specialized and mass media channels as such avenues become appropriate; they will send workers into colleges and universities to win and train leaders for the future; they will eventually establish churches or comparable religious institutions; and finally, if history is an accurate predictor, they will head up a religious movement which will become know as the newest of the world's religions.

As individuals and groups activate this twofold outreach mission we will experience many exciting and challenging events in the Urantia movement of the future. At present as we pause to reflect in this 31st year of the publication of The Urantia Book, all in all, from a historical point of view I think we are doing reasonably well in executing our responsibilities and opportunities. There are those who claim we have been far too conservative and inactive; and there are those among us who are worried because we have dared to engage in outreach ministry before we are adequately prepared.

Fortunately the future of the fifth epochal revelation does not depend on any indispensable individuals nor on any single organization. We are launched as a diverse and pluralistic movement and the future will be determined by the guidance of the spirit in many lives working both as individuals and in numerous organizations. This many faceted ministry will experience success as it actualizes attitudes and activities harmonious with the established way and will of Christ Michael and the Universal Father. We serve in a great movement with a difficult but glorious future!