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


Part of What We Choose

It is possible for there to be a dance with life, a creative response to its intrinsic limits and challenges... — Sharon Welch

Unitarian Universalist ethicist and theologian Sharon Welch's work was born of her observation that those who engage in justice struggles always do so from a position of incomplete understanding and limited perspective. In the feminist movement, she learned it is impossible to control or guarantee the outcome or success of a particular action. She observed that oppressed communities have found a way to sustain resistance generation after generation in the face of repeated failure and defeat. She contrasts this with what she names as middle-class cynicism and despair which comes from an inability to control the outcome of action or to solve complex social problems.

This workshop will introduce and consider Welch's ethic of risk, which includes a redefinition of responsible action, grounding in community, and strategic risk-taking. An ethic of risk leads us to a different kind of response to the moral issues of our time—issues of oppression and violence against people, groups, and the environment. Welch challenges us to form communities of accountability with people of different perspectives, values, and mores. Participants consider Welch's stance that because an individual perspective on moral issues is always partial, "a single actor cannot be moral."

Note: Alternate Activity 1, The Music of Justice invites participants to bring music to share with the group. If you plan to do this activity, extend the invitation before the workshop.

Before leading this workshop, review Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the Introduction.


This workshop will:

  • Introduce an ethic of risk and Sharon Welch's framework for determining moral/ethical action
  • Explore ways relationships among communities with different perspectives and experiences can lead to more effective, sustained resistance
  • Strengthen connections among participants.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn the central elements of Welch's ethic of risk
  • Consider the challenges and possibilities offered by Welch's ethic of risk
  • Learn about labor organizer Dolores Huerta and explore ways in which her work demonstrates an ethic of risk
  • Weigh an ethic of risk against other ethical frameworks explored in this program
  • Reflect on how their religious, spiritual, and community life does and does not support them in choosing actions they regard as moral, and what changes they might make in that regard.