Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Leader Resource 2: Ballou's Theology in the Congregation

Part of What Moves Us

This is a 30-minute activity.


  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Leader Resource 1, Excerpt from A Treatise on Atonement
  • Optional: Microphone


  • Post newsprint.
  • Optional: Copy Leader Resource 1 for all participants.
  • Optional: Read background information about Hosea Ballou. Suggestions:

    • Ballou Family entry in the online Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography
    • Ballou, Maturin M. Biography of Hosea Ballou, by His Youngest Son, Maturin M. Ballou (Boston, 1852)
    • Cassara, Ernest. Hosea Ballou: The Challenge to Orthodoxy (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982)
    • Whittemore, Thomas. Life of Rev. Hosea Ballou; with accounts of His Writings, and Biographical Sketches of His Seniors and Contemporaries in the Universalist Ministry, 4 volumes, 1854-55; vol. 1 (1854).


If you have made copies of Leader Resource 1, distribute them. Read aloud this excerpt from Hosea Ballou's A Treatise on Atonement:

I know it is frequently contended that we ought to love God for what he is, and not for what we receive from him; that we ought to love holiness for holiness' sake, and not for any advantage such a principle is to us. This is what I have often been told, but what I never could see any reason for, or propriety in. I am asked if I love an orange; I answer I never tasted of one; but I am told I must love the orange for what it is! Now I ask, is it possible for me either to like or dislike the orange, in reality, until I taste it? Well, I taste of it, and like it. Do you like it? says my friend. Yes, I reply, its flavor is exquisitely agreeable. But that will not do, says my friend; you must not like it because its taste is agreeable, but you must like it because it is an orange. If there be any propriety in what my friend says, it is out of my sight. A man is travelling on the sands of Arabia, he finds no water for a number of days; the sun scorches and he is exceedingly dry; at last he finds water and drinks to his satisfaction; never did water taste half so agreeably before. To say that this man loves the water because it is water, and not because of the advantage which he receives from it, betrays a large share of inconsistency. Would not this thirsty traveller have loved the burning sand as well as he did the water if it had tasted as agreeably and quenched his thirst as well? The sweet Psalmist of Israel said, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." And an apostle says, "We love him because he loved us first." What attribute do we ascribe to God that we do not esteem on account of its advantage to us?

Engage participants to respond to this reading by guiding a whole-group discussion with these questions:

  • How is Ballou's 19th-century Universalist understanding of God manifested in Unitarian Universalism today?
  • What could "love" as an abstract concept or an attribute of the divine be part of your personal theology? What place does it have in the worship life of the congregation?

Allow ten minutes for discussion.

Then, invite participants to move into groups of four, arranging themselves so each group includes people with as wide a range of experiences in the congregation as possible. Ask participants to take into account one another's age, gender, and primary type of congregational involvement (for example, the music program, religious education for children, adult programs, social justice work) and try to group themselves with people whose experiences have been different from their own. Arranging themselves may require participants to ask questions and learn new things about one another—so much the better!

Once the groups have formed, invite them to consider the ways in which Ballou's theology is manifested in various areas of congregational life. Remind them that Ballou's theology includes the human right to happiness.

Give the groups about ten minutes to work. Then invite groups to come together and share. List the responses on newsprint. Note responses that are repeated group to group and those which are unique to particular groups.

Seek assent from the group to publish the lists in the congregation's newsletter along with a brief explanation of Ballou's theology of happiness. Ask a volunteer to transcribe the lists and send them to the newsletter editor, or offer to do it yourself.