Great title for a sermon, yes?
Does the sermon live up to the title? The Rev. John Robinson preached the sermon on September 18, 2005, at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco — at least, that’s what it looks like from the sermon archives where I stumbled on the thing. Fillmore was a Unitarian, so that sect might take a bit of pride in his accomplishments.
One historian said of Fillmore: “He came to the Presidency by the only road available to a man of limited ability, the death of his predecessor.” He was accused of being both pro-slavery and abolitionist. It was said he did “not have courage” “but was just inflexible.” They accused him of having “no position except equivocation,” that he was “without personal earnest conviction, personal force, or capacity for strong personal leadership.” His general rating as a president has been, until recently, below average, way below. He is judged bad or poor in his religiousness by those who judge such things. He was rejected by the religious community of which he was a member. He was a Unitarian.
There are three reasons to tell the story of Millard Fillmore: First, he illustrates the on-going tension in our free religious community, between the prophetic and the practical – the privilege of moral purity and the necessity to make real world decisions. Second, he illustrates well how difficult it is to judge our contemporaries. And third, to help restore Millard Fillmore to his rightful place in history.
I wish the good Rev. Robinson had included footnotes with the sermon.