Our religious teachers, ministers and lay-men alike—from Thomas Jefferson to William Ellery Channing to Adlai Stevenson—have urged us to honor always the primacy of conscience over any external authority which we believe to be immoral... Thus it is natural that some of our young men must regard military duty as a violation of their deepest commitment. And if for some reason their draft boards do not recognize them as having legal C.O. status, they are answerable primarily to their own conscience still. The Unitarian Universalist Association must support them in their moral stand and religious conviction. — Dana McLean Greeley, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1961-1969
On October 16, 1967, Arlington Street Church held a public, interfaith worship service, during which over 300 draft cards were collected, in direct violation of federal law. Some young men chose to burn their cards during the service. Michael Ferber, a lifelong Unitarian and a graduate student at Harvard at the time, was subsequently indicted along with four others for conspiracy to resist the draft. Ferber was tried along with pediatrician Benjamin Spock and William Sloane Coffin, Jr. in one of the notable events of the draft resistance movement during the Vietnam War. All were convicted, although the conviction was overturned on appeal a year later.
The Vietnam War was divisive for many Unitarian Universalist congregations. While some congregations actively supported draft resistance, provided sanctuary for draft resistors, and worked to help young men establish conscientious objector status, many Unitarian Universalists did not support overtly political actions like the one at Arlington Street Church. This workshop explores the questions that faced Unitarian Universalist congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) during the time of the Vietnam War, highlighting dilemmas that recur for Unitarian Universalists: How do we handle political dissent or witness in the context of congregational life? Are we able to live with a plurality of political and social opinions within our congregations? What is the appropriate way to "honor always the primacy of conscience over any external authority which we believe to be immoral," as Greeley says in the quote that opens this workshop?
To ensure you can help adults of all ages, stages, and learning styles participate fully in this workshop, review these sections of the program Introduction: "Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters" in the Integrating All Participants section, and "Strategies for Effective Group Facilitation" and "Strategies for Brainstorming" in the Leader Guidelines section.
This workshop will:
- Explore Unitarian Universalist resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War by highlighting events at Arlington Street Church (Boston) on October 16, 1967 and responses that followed, as well as actions taken by the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 1967 and 1968
- Consider how congregations decide to take public stances on political issues
- Provide opportunities for reflection about public, political statements made by congregational leadership and/or the Unitarian Universalist Association.
- Learn about the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) public stance on the Vietnam War and the military draft, by examining General Assembly resolutions against the war and in support of conscientious objectors and draft resistance
- Learn how the UUA and some congregations supported the young men who resisted the draft, through a story about the October 16, 1967 draft resistance action at Boston's Arlington Street Church
- Discover dissenting voices within Unitarian Universalism about the UUA and congregations' support of draft resisters
- Identify contemporary circumstances and understand the process which might lead their own congregation to publicly adopt a conscience-based, political position.
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