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Theodore Parker

September 5, 2010 by USA Post 

Theodore Parker, Theodore Parker was perhaps the most influential American Unitarian minister who ever lived. He was one of the greatest preachers of America, the leader, with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, Transcendentalist movement, and a major anti-slavery leader and theorist of democracy. His example inspired generations of radical activists, but in 2010 the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of his death, has passed with little fanfare.

Born in Lexington, Massachusetts, on August 24, 1810, Parker was a largely self-taught prodigy who at age 25 could read twenty languages. Ordained in 1837 and settled in the small Unitarian church in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (now the Theodore Parker Church), he soon gained a reputation as a powerful pulpit orator. In 1841 launched one of the great Transcendentalist manifests, “a discourse on the transient and permanent in Christianity,” in which he denied that the Bible has any authority miraculous and full of myths. He gave more details of this idea and its implications in many writings, in the process becoming more radical theologian in the United States. Evangelicals and even most of the Unitarian Parker denounced as an infidel, but later generations, religious liberals came to see him as a prophet.

In 1846, he became pastor of a new congregation, organized by his admirers, the twenty-eighth of the Congregation Society of Boston. He was isolated within Unitarianism he had to preach his sermon facility. Miles however, came to hear him on Sunday.

It was one of the first American clergymen to approve women’s suffrage, and the first to refer to God as “Father” and “Mother.” He became the intellectual leader of the movement against slavery, slave owners opposed the war against Mexico, “and took charge of the Boston movement to rescue fugitive slaves.

Parker was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1859. He spent the last fifteen months of his life traveling for his health, but died in Italy on May 10, 1860.

Today, his name is little known, but we remember Parker inadvertently. For example, everyone seems to know without knowing two statements coming from him.

One is the definition of democracy as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Abraham Lincoln used this definition in his Gettysburg Address, but it was the adaptation of a definition that Parker often used, that democracy is “government of all the people, for all the people, for all the people.”

Everybody knows also the statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” This phrase crops everywhere, and most people think you’re quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King was frequently use these words, but he was paraphrasing Parker, who in his book Ten Sermons of Religion wrote:

Not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is long, my eye, but becomes a little ways, I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight, I can divine consciousness. And as far as I am sure it bends towards justice.

Although half of recalled Parker, we would do better to get to know really. One of his main concerns was how to read the Bible. He fought those who cite biblical texts to justify slavery and oppose the rights of women. He challenged the belief in the authority and accuracy of the miraculous events of the Bible as a form of idolatry and an obstacle to the development of the soul. Love the Bible better, in his view, if not worship.

It also would do well to rediscover the thought of Parker on democracy. When Lincoln was changed “Parker all the people” to “people” missed something fundamental. That “all” for Parker that democracy had not been achieved in the U.S., and never would be, until the social and political inequalities were overcome.

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