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HANDOUT 1: Perspectives on Liberalism and Liberation Theologies

Sources: James Luther Adams. On Being Human Religiously (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1976)

Essex Conversations: Visions for Lifespan Religious Education (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2001)

Jack Mendelsohn. Being Liberal in an Illiberal Age: Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2006)

Fredric John Muir. A Reason for Hope: Liberation Theology Confronts a Liberal Faith (Carmel, CA: Sunflower Ink, 1994)

Paul Rasor. Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2005)

James Luther Adams: Adams' second smooth stone of religious liberalism is that "all relations between persons ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not on coercion." He believed that the freedom to come together with others can be a "dynamic institutional force for social change or for resistance to it." But, he clarifies that "freedom... involves more than freedom of choice. Many people entertain attitudes in favor of freedom, but socially effective freedom requires participation in associations that define or redefine freedom and that attempt to articulate or implement that freedom in a specific social milieu." (On Being Human Religiously, 56-7)

Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley: "What liberalism and liberation have in common is that each is engaged in a project to extend human freedom, but liberalism's approach is inadequate, in part, because of its tendency to view freedom in the abstract — without exploring a critical question: freedom for whom to do what?" (Essex Conversations, 28-9)

Fredric John Muir: "... there is an urgent need for Unitarian Universalists to translate personal, community, and Association beliefs (like the Principles and [Sources]) into the language of liberation theology in order to make clear our support for the liberation of life." (A Reason for Hope, 58)

Paul Rasor: "While we can and should draw on the resources and insights of other traditions such as liberation theology, liberal theology must speak first to the tradition it serves, which is basically a middle-class religious tradition. We must ask: In what ways are we implicated in the social structures of oppression? What are our various privileges in the current social structures, and how are they connected with, even dependent on, the suffering of others? How might our own practices unwittingly perpetuate the oppressive structures we are seeking to overturn? How can we use our privilege to effect change and alleviate suffering? What are we willing to give up?" (Faith Without Certainty, 163)

Jack Mendelsohn: "The evils of society burn a hole in the soul, say liberationists. We have a gut reaction, a kind of upset that can never been adequately expressed by the liberal's 'decent concern'... If liberalism is to arise from whatever malaise withers it... it must be a liberalism that knows, not just a decent concern for oppression, but a personal experience of it and a profound sense of agony and outrage. In brief, it must be a liberalism ecstatic enough and disciplined enough to celebrate, demand, organize, institutionalize, suffer for, and exult over profound social and individual change." (Being Liberal in an Illiberal Age, 5)

Rebecca Parker: "The liberation of humanness is not simply a matter of casting off an oppressor. It involves re-collecting, re-discovering, and re-engaging powers of the soul that have been silenced, suppressed, split off, or denied by dehumanizing social systems...In our time, the challenge is to form educational programs in our congregations through which people develop their capacities to experience the world critically, and engage in it constructively, for the sake of greater fullness of life for all people." (Essex Conversations, 214)

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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