Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Activity 2: How Is Freedom Achieved?

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 1, How is Freedom Achieved?
  • Print out Leader Resource 3 and 4 to pass around the group. Or (optional), download the two portrait images to project for the group, and test your computer and projector.
  • In advance, ask two volunteers to read the words of Mary Livermore and Olympia Brown, and give them each a copy of Handout 1.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • Are there many ways to move toward justice? Other than the strategies advocated by Livermore and Brown, what other strategies or combination of strategies might be effective?
    • Can the ideal be the enemy of real progress? When should we seek incremental change? When must we insist on nothing short of full justice?
    • What factors do you weigh in considering which strategies are most appropriate and effective?
    • What might keep you from adopting a prophetic stance in support of freedom from oppression?

Description of Activity

Introduce this activity in these words, or paraphrase. Pass around (or project) the portraits of Livermore and Brown as you speak about each woman.

How is freedom best achieved? For people who are oppressed or marginalized to achieve equality and freedom, when is it most effective for people to work within existing structures of power? When is it most effective to work outside those structures? When is it most effective to work as a separatist movement? How forceful must demands be in order to be achieved? These questions have been played out through human history and extend into our own congregations. In struggles over issues from theology to administration, some people will break away while others will work within the existing structures.

In the second half of the 19th century, the rights of women became a topic of debate in society at large and in Unitarian and Universalist congregations. Should women vote? Take an equal part in the affairs of business and the nation? Have full participation in our churches as professional and lay leaders? Mary Livermore and the Rev. Olympia Brown agreed that women were capable of larger roles in society and in the churches. They disagreed over how such freedom was best achieved.

Mary Livermore, married to Universalist minister Daniel Parker Livermore, was a tireless worker for the rights of women. When she addressed the Universalist Centenary Assembly in 1870, she believed women were capable of great things, but that their work should be under the direction of the male leadership of the church. She would later come to work for women's right to the vote.

Universalist minister Olympia Brown was the first woman in the United States ordained by a denominational body. She believed women could (and should) work at an equal level with men, independent of male direction.

Distribute Handout 1, How Is Freedom Achieved? Invite the designated volunteers to read the words of Mary Livermore and Olympia Brown aloud. Then, ask for comments and observations, using these questions:

  • Which woman advocated for change by working within the system?
  • Which believed in working outside the center of institutionalized power? Lead a discussion using the posted questions.