Early Freethinkers, Abolitionists, and Unitarians


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Governor John Albion Andrews of Mass (Congressional leader)

Behind the front-line abolitionists
There were many influential Unitarians, who by their utterances and writings helped to change people’s minds about slavery. Their writings and utterances gnawed and pricked at the conscious of the average non-slaver-holder and in time helped to turn the abolition of slavery into a people’s movement. A few of these influential Unitarians who were just behind the front line abolitionists in this anti-slavery effort were: Wendell Phillips, Henry Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Henry Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Ellery Channing, Horace Mann, and Ralph Emerson. Most of these persons were Unitarians.

Preparing to Close

What does this information have to do with Today’s Unitarians? I’ll answer you in this fashion:

Now that you know that Unitarians, agnostics, atheists, and infidels contributed much to the abolition movement when most of the other churches, the established orthodox churches, were attempting to justify slavery:

Now that you know that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and not the Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom to the slave and that the amendment was ushered along by a group of committed Unitarians in the Congress.

Now that you know that a small group of dedicated female infidels and female Unitarians initiated the Woman’s suffrage movement and the early feminist movement in America.

Now that you know these things, you know that you as Unitarians have inherited several noble and awesome legacies.

In addition, you must remember that as Unitarians, you are beneficiaries of:
a spirituality of Freedom and Liberty;
a spirituality that stands for the unhindered use of the free mind in arriving at convictions
a spirituality which refuses to accept authoritarian “revelations or dogmas” which contradict the revelations you’ve found in your own experience.

Further, you must remember that historically Unitarians have espoused the notion that “morality need not be based in religious dogma, or detailed tenets in order for life to be meaningful, or for the individual to live an inspiring and worthwhile life, or for a people to build a vibrant, caring and sharing, spiritual community.”

Church, knowing what you now know about your history regarding slavery abolition and Women rights, and given your espoused Unitarian principles, I charge you, with a “Must Do” list. This “Must Do” list is a series of tasks (struggles) that will ensure a continuance of your noble and awesome heritage:

1. You must as a spiritual community CONTINUE to be a haven to which all people who seek spiritual growth and wholeness, including religious skeptics, may come and continue their spiritual seeking without ignoring their own intellect and reasoning; and

2. You must as a spiritual community ESTABLISH yourself as a beacon light that signals to all men and women that they may come to you: to express in their own way their thankfulness for the unearned gift of life; or to receive and give the warmth of fellowship, or enjoy the freedom to seek out and meditate on their versions of those Ultimate Mysteries of the Creation which surround them, that some men revere in silence, and others name as God.

3. You MUST individually and as a community PREPARE yourselves to face the “slings and arrows” that will be flung at you from the majority of non-Unitarians churches, who may still view you as infidels. But at the same time, you must continue to speak your truths without rancor, but with vigor, reasoning, and courtesy, while maintaining your reverence for the love of justice, and continuing toward your goal of brotherhood and peace on this earth.

4. You MUST REMEMBER that individually your greatest challenges will come from Inside of you. Your greatest struggle will be to commit yourselves to your seven stated principles, as you show on the back of your church’s order of service.

Conclusion:

This “must do” list will require struggle. But these struggles you can handle. Your community may be small in numbers, but it is still in your hands and in the hands of others who are of like minds as you. You can in time literally change the world if you continue speaking your truths whenever and wherever the occasion arises.

Church, expect the going to be rough because there WILL be a struggle. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.

You see, those who profess to favor freedom of body and freedom of mind and yet do not want to cause agitation among the general population are like people who want crops without plowing up the ground; and they are like people who want rain without thunder and lightning.

Church, do not be like people who want the nearness of the ocean without the occasional awful roar of its waters.

Struggles will come and if you are true to your principles you will not only survive, but you will flourish. And I wish you good luck.

Goodbye.









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