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

Activity 2: Values in Conflict

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Review Handout 1. Make copies for participants.
  • Prepare to project Leader Resources 2 and 3 or print a copy of each.

Description of Activity

Distribute Handout 1, Collaboration or Confrontation? Explain that you will shift from discussing Channing's struggle about speaking against slavery to a conflict between Theodore Parker and Channing's successor, Ezra Stiles Gannett, over the Fugitive Slave Law. Project Leader Resources 2 and 3 or pass around printed copies of the Parker and Gannet portraits. Give the group time to read the handout silently or invite two volunteers to share reading the handout aloud.

Invite participants to move into groups of three to examine the values and priorities of both Gannett and Parker. Give each small group newsprint and markers and invite them to list the values Parker and Gannett prioritized. Ask small groups to consider whether they find parts of either person's rhetoric or actions troubling. Allow ten minutes for small group work, and then invite each group to post their list.

Re-gather the large group and examine the newsprint lists together. Are there are areas of disagreement among the small groups? What were common concerns about the strategies, rhetoric, and actions of either Gannett or Parker?

Lead a brief, large group discussion, using these questions:

  • Does it seem reasonable that Parker urged the use of violence in response to the Fugitive Slave Law?
  • Today, many Unitarian Universalists are proud of Parker's involvement in the abolitionist movement, while few know much about Gannett's support of the Fugitive Slave Law or the inability of the American Unitarian Association to take a serious position in opposition to slavery. Does learning about Gannett's position change the way you think about Unitarian history?
  • Did Parker represent a prophetic voice? Did Gannett represent an institutional one? Why or why not?

Conclude your discussion by inviting participants to name contemporary social justice issues that polarize Unitarian Universalists. What lessons can be drawn from Gannett and Parker's conflict?