Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: A Place of Wholeness: A Program for Youth Exploring Their Own Unitarian Universalist Faith Journeys

Activity 2: The Roots of a Theology of Love

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read Leader Resource 1 and Handout 1.
  • Decide how you will use Handout 1. If you want this activity to be active and have participants move around, write the quotes in Handout 1 on newsprint and post throughout the room. Alternately, make copies of the handout and give them to participants.
  • If your congregation has a mission statement or covenant, create a handout of them for participants.

Description of Activity

Participants explore the historical roots of a theology of love in Unitarian Universalism and connect those roots to our Principles and the stated mission or covenant of their congregation.

Point out that the first activity looked at love as a personal feeling that one has for others and that one receives from others. Add that love is an important religious idea as well. When we talk about love in religion we sometimes use the word "agape". Agape is a love that is an unselfish, spiritual, non-sexual love for another; or "brotherly" love. This workshop explores a Unitarian Universalist theology of love and what it means for us as people of faith.

Either read or summarize the information in Leader Resource 1, Roots of a Theology of Love.

Distribute Handout 2, UUA Principles, and the handout you made with the congregation's mission statement and/or covenant. Ask for volunteers to read each of these aloud to the group.

Explain that although the Principles are a covenant between Unitarian Universalist congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Association, many people feel the Principles represent UU values to live by. The mission statement or congregational covenant are ways the people in this congregation have agreed to be together.

Point to the quotes that you have posted. Explain that these quotes include some of the biblical sources used by theologians to help justify the idea of God's love and universal salvation. Other quotes come from the writings of Universalist and Unitarian theologians and statements of belief voted on by early Universalist and Unitarian religious organizations. Still others come from other faith traditions that are frequent sources of inspiration to Unitarian Universalists. Each of these quotes has a connection to a Unitarian Universalist theology of love.

Ask participants to spend the next few minutes reading the quotes and identifying ideas that can now be seen in contemporary Unitarian Universalist Principles and congregational mission statements and/or covenants. Invite them to take time to reflect on each quote. Give participants markers (for newsprint) or pens (for handouts) to underline words or phrases that resonate with them. Give participants 10 to 15 minutes for this activity.

Bring the group back together. Offer the following reflection questions:

  • What was your favorite quote? What words or phrases jumped out at you?
  • What did not make sense to you?
  • Are there ideas in these quotes that most Unitarian Universalists still believe? Are there ideas some of us no longer believe?
  • Do you see a connection between these quotes and our current UUA Principles and congregational mission statement / covenant? What specifically do you see?
  • Do you see a connection between these quotes and James Luther Adam's Third Stone ("Establishment of a just and loving community") and Fourth Stone ("Good things are brought about by the hard work done by human beings")?
  • Would you agree that holding love for everyone is hard work that we are called to do in order to establish a just and loving community?

After the discussion, make the following point:

Many early Universalist thinkers like Origin and even John Murray felt that, even though all of humanity would eventually be saved because of the love of God, non-believers and sinners would spend some time before salvation in a hell-like place as punishment for their misdeeds. Later Universalists, like Hosea Ballou, did away with the whole idea of hell, instead believing that people who sinned and did evil would live in a kind of hell in this world. This presents an interesting question for us today. If the belief in the "inherent worth and dignity" of all people is one of the modern expressions of our theology of love, how does this relate to the presence of evil in our world? Putting it in more stark terms, how do we respect the inherent worth and dignity of a Hitler, of the people who perpetrate genocide in Darfur, or the people who flew planes into the twin towers on September 11th?

Ask people to pair up with someone near them to discuss this question for about five minutes, then invite them to share their thoughts with the group. If it does not come up, mention that though we all have worth, it does not mean all human actions are worthy or good. We all have the potential for both good and evil. Ask:

  • Does committing an evil act make a person evil?
  • Does respecting the inherent worth and dignity of people mean that it is okay to punish people for wrongdoing?
  • Does it mean that it is okay to "demonize" people for wrongdoing?
  • Does it mean that someone who has committed a heinous act of violence no longer has worth?
  • Have you ever been challenged to extend agape love to someone hard to love because of their actions? What happened?