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...the citizen, before fighting, is bound to inquire into the justice of the cause which he is called to maintain with blood, and bound to withhold his hand if his conscience condemn the cause. — William Ellery Channing

This workshop explores a range of stances Unitarian Universalists have taken in response to war. Unitarian Universalism has never been a "peace church." Our tradition has embraced advocates for the use of military power in international disputes, proponents of just war theory, pacifists, and those who hold a variety of positions in between. This workshop presents these different positions, and through them, helps participants answer the question: How does our religious tradition call us to respond to war?

After guiding participants through discussions of just war and pacifist theory, the workshop examines a time when Unitarians disagreed publicly about how best to respond to war. During World War I, Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes and William Howard Taft, former President of the United States and president of the General Conference of Unitarians and Other Christian Churches clashed over Unitarian support for the United States war effort. Holmes adhered to a pacifist position while Taft believed that Unitarians must support their government during a time of war. Taft won the debate. Subsequently, the American Unitarian Association decided to deny aid to congregations with pacifist ministers, causing most pacifist ministers to lose their pulpits.

The workshop concludes with an exploration of the theories of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding currently being developed by Unitarian Universalist ethicist Sharon Welch and theologian Paul Rasor.

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:

  • Introduce theories of just war, pacifism and peacemaking
  • Offer information about the diversity of opinions within our religious tradition around issues of war
  • Encourage participants to consider how theories of just war, peacemaking and pacifism connect with their own social justice work.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Understand the meanings of pacifism, just war and peacemaking, and how the three approaches to war differ from one another
  • Understand some of the debate about pacifism within the American Unitarian Association during World War I
  • Reflect upon how the choices they make in their lives relate to the approaches of pacifism, just war and peacemaking.

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