UU Minute #104

Theodore Parker, part 1

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in several of his sermons and addresses. He was paraphrasing a Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker, who said
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
Parker’s original is not as succinct and memorable as King’s paraphrase, but Parker’s ideas influenced King and helped shape our Unitarian movement. You may remember from UU Minute 99 that:
“Channing’s Baltimore Sermon, Emerson’s Divinity School Address, and Parker’s South Boston Sermon have long been accepted as the three great classic utterances of American Unitarianism.”
So who was this Theodore Parker who completed the trifecta of early 19th-century Unitarian influences?

Born in 1810 in Lexington, Massachusetts, the youngest child of a large farming family, Theordore Parker took to academics as much as his farm chores would allow. At age 19, he walked the 10 miles from Lexington to Cambridge to apply to Harvard College. He was accepted, but could not pay the tuition.

Harvard had a program that would allow him to show up at the end of each term and take exams for classes for which he had not paid tuition. So he lived and studied independently at home, continued to work on his father’s farm, and went in to Cambridge for exams – about three terms’ worth at a time, and thus completed three years of study in one year.

For what happened next, but sure to catch our next thrilling episode.

NEXT: Theodore Parker, part 2

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