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Alternate Activity 1: Liberalism and Liberation Theology

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Description of Activity

This activity explores the encounter between liberal religion and liberation theology in Unitarian Universalism through art.

Explain that the group will explore the differences and similarities between religious liberalism and liberation theology in their approach to freedom. Religious liberalism emphasizes freedom of belief. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion partly because we do not have a creed, or a statement of belief that all members must agree to. Liberation theology is a school of Christian theology, especially present in Latin America, which emphasizes the biblical call to liberate people from political, social, and material oppression. James Luther Adams, whose five smooth stones of religious liberalism we reflect on at the beginning of each workshop, advocated liberalism that works for social transformation in much the same way that liberation theology does. Both liberal and liberation theology emphasize human freedom, but there are some key differences between them. The Reverend Mark Morrison-Reed, a Unitarian Universalist minister, African American, and author of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination and In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby, calls liberalism and liberation two distinct models of freedom. Liberalism focuses on providing opportunities for individuals to be free, while liberation is an ongoing struggle to create and restore relationships that free people and communities from systems of oppression.

Ask the group: What people or groups can you think of that have struggled for liberation - spiritual, physical, and political freedom? Invite responses. Reinforce that the groups that have historically struggled for this type of freedom, such as people of color, ethnic minorities and poor people, have been systemically marginalized.

Many Unitarian Universalist ministers and theologians have suggested that liberal attempts to work for human freedom are not enough, and that we have much to learn from liberation theology. Distribute Handout 1, Perspectives on Liberal and Liberation Theologies. Explain that each quote addresses the question:: How can we learn from liberation theology so that our liberal tradition can engage in more liberating and transformative work for freedom?

Ask for volunteers to read each quote aloud. Then lead a discussion with the following questions:

  • What do you see as the differences between liberation theology and liberal religion?
  • How do the Unitarian Universalists quoted feel about embracing liberation theology? Is there just one opinion?
  • Does any part of a quote resonate strongly with you? Share it with the group and explain why.

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