Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Activity 1: Turn-in and Burn-in

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story and prepare to read it aloud to the group. Or, pre-arrange for a participant to do so and provide the volunteer with the story in advance.
  • Copy Handout 1 for all participants.

Description of Activity

Read aloud:

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, but most of the cards were bundled and dropped off in Washington, D.C., as part of a nationwide draft resistance movement. Michael Ferber, a lifelong Unitarian and a graduate student at Harvard at the time, was indicted for conspiracy to resist the draft along with four others. The subsequent trial of Ferber, along with pediatrician Benjamin Spock and William Sloane Coffin, Jr., was one of the notable events in Vietnam War draft resistance. All were convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal a year later.

Introduce the story:

The Rev. Dr. Jack Mendelsohn, minister at Arlington Street Church at that time, preached a sermon the following week addressing what had happened at the October 16 interfaith worship service. This is an abridged version of the sermon.

Read the story.

Engage a discussion of the Mendelsohn sermon. Some questions to consider include:

  • How do you feel about the events described by the Rev. Dr. Mendelsohn? How would you feel if this had taken place at your congregation?
  • Rev. Mendelsohn describes some of the diverse reactions he received to the service. He gives his own reasons for participating. What are your thoughts on how he handled the divergent viewpoints in his community?

Distribute Handout 1, The Church and the Draft Resisters - Full Text for participants to take home.

Including All Participants

Be aware of personal experiences participants may have revealed during the opening activity. If any participants were subject to the draft or fought in the war, or their parents, siblings, or other family members were directly involved, they may voice very strong opinions. Others, perhaps those who are too young to have first-hand knowledge of the Vietnam era, may hesitate to speak up. Be intentional about inviting all to join the conversation. Also, be sure to respect the boundaries of any participants who may have first-hand experience they do not wish to share.