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

Activity 1: Tolerance - Radical for Its Time

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Write "Tolerance" and "Celebrating Pluralism" on two separate pieces of newsprint.

Description of Activity

Participants explore both the historical and contemporary meanings of tolerance within Unitarian Universalism.

Start by asking participants to brainstorm what they think of when they hear the word "tolerance." Write responses on newsprint.

Then ask them to brainstorm what they think of when they hear the phrase "celebrating pluralism." Again, write responses on newsprint. If participants are not sure what pluralism means, offer them the following definition:

Pluralism is the idea that different cultures, belief systems and/or identities are equally valid and that no one is better than or more important than another.

Then ask them to look at the two lists and discuss what they see as the differences or similarities between the two concepts.

After a brief discussion summarize with the following:

Next to "celebrating pluralism," "tolerance" can seem a little antiquated. However, in its time it was a very radical position to take. Theologically, the idea of tolerance is born out of our Unitarian Universalist understandings of love and freedom. In an earlier workshop, we talked about how some early Christians believed that God's love was so great that all would eventually be saved no matter what their beliefs or actions. This later became the core belief of our Universalist forebears. Our understanding of freedom goes back to the Unitarian roots planted by Transylvania King Sigismund and his Edict of Torda. King Sigismund believed that everyone had the insight to choose their own religion and he made religious freedom the law of his kingdom.

Central to both the idea of freedom and universal love is the idea of tolerance. For religious freedom to work, all belief systems must be seen as having validity. Universal love embraces everyone in all our diversity. Both religious freedom and universal love were radical ideas-and still are to some. In its time the idea of tolerance was radical. During the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Inquisition, people were put to death for espousing a belief that was different from the orthodox doctrine. Intolerance can lead to hateful violence-against Jews in Nazi Germany, against Native Americans in American history, against BGLT people today, to name a few examples. Tolerance is a good thing, but not necessarily the ultimate good.

In many ways, our forebears' belief in tolerance allows us to take the next radical step. Today, we do not just tolerate pluralism, we celebrate it. As Unitarian Universalists we embrace differences that we believe enrich us and makes us stronger. When we encounter someone from a different culture, background or belief system it is an opportunity for us to learn and grow.

"Celebrating pluralism" is related to the concepts of diversity, multiculturalism and anti-oppression. "Anti-oppression" acknowledges that we need to work against the forces of injustice that keep us divided against one another. "Multiculturalism" reminds us to affirm and support the diversity among us. As we pursue these values, we move further toward "establishing a just and loving community," James Luther Adam's third stone of liberal religion.

Invite participants to share their experiences with multiculturalism and anti-oppression. If it is helpful, share these definitions:

  • Multiculturalism is the appreciation, respect and celebration of diverse cultures in society and within the human family. It is in contrast to blending all cultures into a melting pot to become part of a monoculture.
  • Anti-oppression is working to oppose and dismantle systems of power that grant privileges to a dominant group while denying those privileges to others.

Close with the following ideas:

Tolerance, celebrating diversity and working against oppression are challenging practices. This workshop explores these values as we look at our history of successes and shortcomings as a faith. We will also look at how we can move forward to continue to celebrate that pluralism that makes us stronger.