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

Activity 3: The Cambridge Platform and Congregational Polity

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story "The Cambridge Platform" and copy it for all participants.
  • Write on newsprint, and set aside:
    • What are the implications and outcomes of locating power to discern matters of faith with the individual? Are there any negative consequences?
    • What are the implications and outcomes for social justice work of locating religious authority with the individual congregation (congregational polity)? What positive effect might congregational polity have on Unitarian Universalist social justice efforts? What problems might it pose?
  • Optional: Prearrange for volunteer readers to share reading the story "The Cambridge Platform" aloud.

Description of Activity

Invite participants to consider the question of religious authority in contemporary Unitarian Universalist congregations. Say:

While we may trace our tradition of locating the power to discern religious belief with the individual from the Socinians in Poland, we must turn our attention to 17th-century England and North America to discover the historic roots of our system of congregational governance and authority.

Distribute the story "The Cambridge Platform" and invite participants to read it silently or invite volunteers to read it aloud.

Invite participants to move into groups of four. Give each group blank newsprint and markers.

Post the questions you have prepared, and ask groups to respond and to write their responses on newsprint.

Allow ten minutes for groups to work. Then, invite participants to post their newsprint and rejoin the large group. Have each group share highlights of their group discussion. Affirm that participants have discovered and highlighted some of the complexities of congregational polity.

Read aloud these words from the 1997 Commission on Appraisal Report to the Unitarian Universalist Association:

It cannot be emphasized enough that Unitarian Universalism entails not only the right and responsibility to come to our own theological understanding-a freedom of belief-but that freedom of belief also calls us, demands us, to participate in social justice work... The "rightness" of our theological beliefs cannot be understood without our involvement in trying to make the world reflect the values we hold. For that reason, social justice, in particular collective social justice, are required for a full understanding of Unitarian Universalism.

Invite large group responses to the quote. Do they agree that collective social justice work is required for a full understanding of Unitarian Universalism? If the conversation stalls, you might ask:

If the congregation, and not just its individual members, must be involved in work that advances our values and ideals, does that mean a congregation can and should speak as a body on social justice matters, whether or not every member is in agreement?

As the conversation comes to a close, you may discover that some participants wish to explore the issues further and to examine congregational policies and practices in regard to acting and speaking collectively for social justice. Encourage them to do so! You might plan a time for volunteers to bring their findings back to the group.