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In "What Moves Us," a Tapestry of Faith program
Nothing is so hard as to root out bad passions, to be upright, at whatever the cost, and to be benevolent and charitable under all provocations and difficulties. — William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)
This workshop introduces William Ellery Channing's Theology of Emotional Struggle and invites them to test the relevance of Channing's theological assessment of emotional struggle for our own Unitarian Universalist faith today. Channing has been called "the single most important figure in the history of American Unitarianism" and recognized as the man who gave "the liberal Christians of his day a party platform." He was the celebrated minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston for 39 years, and a renowned man of letters whose essays, sermons, and discourses during the 19th century sold more than a 100,000 copies in Europe and America. Channing affirmed human beings' kindred nature with God; he said we "know God through our own soul;" he celebrated our "likeness to God," and confessed he met "perpetual testimonies to the divinity of human nature." Channing's theology was a rational celebration of our rational nature. We celebrate his legacy to us as part of our rational liberal faith tradition. But we do not often peer behind his rational faith to examine his theological understanding that the route to moral perfection was through control of emotions. Channing believed that our ongoing personal, internal struggle to gain control over our tumultuous emotions, immoral feelings, wanton desires, and inappropriate physical passions strengthened our moral character. Emotional struggle, Channing insisted, was a major way to develop the moral perfection of our character. A spirit founded, in part, on the "crucifixion of selfish affections," Channing insisted, animates the "real beauty of religion" and all its harmonious sentiments, views, and desires. How do we reconcile the extraordinary positive message we take from his celebration of rational human nature as divine with his harsh pronouncements against his own unwanted emotional struggles and his harsh treatment of his own body that made him an invalid for life? What can we learn from Channing's theology of emotional struggle that is informative, insightful, and productive for faith development of our head and our heart today?
Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction.
Preparing to lead this workshop
Read the William Ellery Channing entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. Read Handouts 1 and 2 and Leader Resource 2. Use the questions that follow to help you understand the passages in Handout 2 and Leader Resource 2. You may wish to write your responses in your theology journal.
Leader Resource 2
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Last updated on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
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