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

Activity 3: Dissenting Voices

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read Handout 4 and copy it for all participants.
  • Arrange for two volunteers to read the correspondence between Rev. Mendelsohn and two parishioners, and give them Handout 4 in advance.

Description of Activity

Opposition to the Vietnam War was by no means universal in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Many people believed that supporting and upholding the law was more important than supporting an individual's right to resist the draft. There were some who, regardless of their personal feelings about the war, believed the church had no business getting involved in what they considered to be a political decision. For many, the long Unitarian tradition of supporting the separation of church and state meant the church should stay out of politics, just as the government should stay out of the church.

Distribute Handout 4, This Letter is to Express our Personal Disapproval. Explain that the handout includes letters between Rev. Mendelsohn and two parishioners (whose names are not included). The parishioners sent copies of these letters to the Prudential Committee (Arlington Street Church's governing board) as well as to Dana Greeley, president of the UUA, so they are part of the UUA archives.

Invite the volunteers to read the letters, in dialogue with each other. After the letters are read, invite the group's response with these questions:

  • Do you agree with Rev. Mendelsohn that withholding a pledge over political disagreements with your minister or board is "financial coercion?"
  • Our country has come to define monetary contributions as "speech" and we are often encouraged to "vote with our dollars" to support industries and organizations with which we agree. However, a congregation exists on the basis of a covenant between its members. How does this covenantal relationship differ from the consumer relationship we find in much of the rest of our lives?
  • If someone disagrees with the public stance of their congregation, how should they address the issue?