William Ellery Channing, whom I'd never heard of, has jumped onto my list of cool historical figures.
Channing was born in 1780 in Massachusetts and came of age at a time when waves of Christian conservativism, revivals and Great Awakenings were in the air. He was a theologian and minister who was widely influential as an opponent of slavery and poverty. Poverty - not poor peoples' evil nature - was the cause of social ills - a relatively unheard-of stance at the time.
He is best known, among Unitarians at least, as the father of Unitarian Universalism. He eschewed fine points of doctrines or dogma, emphasizing social responsibility, charity, and moral action. Thus he split with more conservative Congregationalists who still clung to Calvinistic tenants of original sin and predestination - ideas he believed got in the way of moral behavior.
Here's a great quote: "I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come." These were fighting words in the early 1800s.
As a boy, I was subjected to far too many hours of watching the likes of Oral Roberts. I'd roll my eyes, wondering who could take this clown seriously. (Of course, I'd roll those eyes behind my mother's back, and speak not a word. When mama's not happy, nobody's happy.)
But as I learn about William Ellery Channing, I see that his was the best of that old-time religion.