Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Alternate Activity 1: Social Justice Outreach - The Needs of the Few?

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Become familiar with your congregation's social justice efforts, particularly those aimed at supporting or assisting those in marginalized groups.
  • Print Leader Resource 1, About John Stuart Mill. Read Part II so you are comfortable sharing it with the group.

Description of Activity

Introduce the activity with these or similar words:

In this workshop we have noted that there are times when we make ethical decisions by choosing to do the most good to the greatest extent possible for the greatest number of people. A critique of this ethical framework is that it does not pay adequate attention to the needs of those who are not in the majority. The critique posits that there are times when the ethical choice is to do what is good for the few, because not doing so would lead to abuse or discrimination, or to some other form of "tyranny of the majority." A second critique is that often cultural dominance is equated with majority status. In other words, the group(s) that are the most visible and hold the most powerful positions in a community are assumed to be in the majority, whether or not they truly are.

Invite participants to identify people or groups in your community that, in some sense, are not part of the majority. Lead a discussion, using these questions:

  • Are the named groups truly "minority" groups, in the sense that they are marginalized or their needs minimized? Or are they simply outside of the culturally dominant group? Is this an important question? Why or why not?
  • How might a utilitarian ethical framework call for advocacy or support of groups or people who are a minority? What values are upheld by such advocacy and support? How do you see those values as part of the greater good?
  • How are the groups or people you named negatively affected by being a minority? How might the language of a utilitarian ethical framework justify negative outcomes for these groups or people? Would Mill agree with the use of his ethical framework as justification for actions that lead to negative outcomes for those with a minority status?
  • Is your congregation working in some way with any of the people or groups you named? If so, how so? [Share what you have learned about your congregation's efforts.] What is the ethical basis for your work with these people or groups? What values and "good" are you upholding?

Read aloud Part II of Leader Resource 1, About John Stuart Mill. Invite participants to move into groups of four to consider how a utilitarian ethical framework can support the social justice work of your congregation on behalf of people and groups who belong to a minority. Give each group newsprint and markers, and invite them to create a visual representation of the "good" outcomes that come from the congregation's social justice work. Ask: "How does this work create the greatest good to the greatest extent possible for the greatest number of people? Who decides and by what authority?" Give groups 15 minutes to work. Then invite each small group to share their visual representations with the large group. If possible, arrange to share the drawings with others in your faith community as a way of affirming your congregation's social justice work.