I read several pieces about Theodore Parker recently. (This year is the 200th anniversary of his birth.) One item noted about his life is that he was shunned by nearly all the other Unitarian ministers in Boston. The stories about Parker mostly note this in passing as a sign of the strength of his independence of thought and action.
But what about all those other Unitarian ministers? We are told that almost no minister in Boston would share a pulpit with him, and no Unitarian publishing house would publish his sermons. And it wasn't as if the population of Boston was out in the streets protesting Parker's heretical views. On the contrary, he had to get a larger hall to accommodate the thousands that showed up to hear him preach each Sunday.
The 1840s weren't the Middle Ages. Parker may have been one of the first but cannot have been the only clergyman to have read any of the Biblical "higher criticism" coming out of Germany. And these ministers were already on the Christian fringe - they were Unitarians - non-believers in the Trinity, catalyzed two decades earlier by William Ellery Channing's heretical non-Trinitarianism. And they had Emerson's Transcendentalists in their midst. So it wasn't as if none of them had encountered or held any unorthodox thoughts about Christianity.
No, it makes me wonder if the other ministers were simply acting in solidarity. Even those that might have had some intellectual agreement with Parker found it more important (or less scary) to maintain solidarity and status with their peers.
Parker's particular heresy might seem quaint or irrelevant in the Unitarian world of here and now, but the tale of all the other ministers remains cautionary. We like to claim descent from Channing, Emerson, Parker, and others dissenters. But on what issues or modern orthodoxies do ministers (or the rest of us) maintain solidarity even when not really in agreement, just because breaking ranks would be scary?
http://www.danielharper.org/blog/?tag=theodore-parkerParker's Transient and Permanent sermon: