Social justice jargon watch

I’m just back from the Esperanto-USA¬† conference, so I’ll be posting (as appropriate) about that later.

I’m also still ruminating about the recent Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.

The first thought. It’s a red flag when someone starts a thought with some part or variant of Theodore Parker’s “arc of the universe” quotation and ends with (in so many words) “now do what I tell you.”

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. It’s especially disheartening when, aside from the fact that most often they misquote Parker, they don’t preach patience (and hope)—which is what Parker’s quote is all about.

  2. Kim, below are the words of Theodore Parker that I have on file, from which a variation is often quoted. I recorded it several years ago, I think, from the blog Transient and Permanent.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed a shortened version of it, and sometimes I’ve seen (and used myself)a summary of his words to express what I think is essentially Parker’s meaning.

    Are these words different that what you understand to be Parker’s?

    “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.”
    Theodore Parker, “Of Justice and Conscience,” in Ten Sermons of Religion, (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, & Company,1853).

  3. I can divine it by conscience.

    I was reading the paper on the fifth principle UUA put out for study in Phoenix and there was a lot of talk about holding delegates accountable in future GA’s but I was struck that the word conscience was missing from the whole thing. When my Church has sent me to regional meetings, we’ve discussed the votes, but the bottom line is I’m told to vote my conscience.

    Ditto on all of the above re SJ. I belong to my Churches SJ committee and am a broken record telling all who care the value to SJ lies in the spiritual growth it yields us. The SJ value really paltry. That’s dismissed in favor of an agitprop mission to educate an allegedly uneducated congregation on this issue or that.

  4. The arc of the Universe may be long, and it bends towards justice, but should we be so certain that we alway sknow what this MUST look like. There is a note of humility in Parker, that I have not seen until now.

    Like Theodore, my eye reaches but a little way. Perhaps one should attempt to do good with a certain amount of fear and trembling.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.