Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whatever November 4, 2020
Today I continue my series on progressive Christianity by bringing up another school of thought or theological perspective, called “Liberation Theology.” Liberation theology is connected in some ways with everything I have discussed so far, and yet it has its own specific point of view.
Liberation Theology is a school of theology within Christianity that began in the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America, although it is no longer confined solely to the Catholic Church. Broadly speaking, it emphasizes the Christian mission to bring justice to the poor and oppressed, often through political activism. The “oppressed” includes the poor, ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBTQ+ community as well.
But it all started in Latin America in response to poverty. According to Liberation theology, “sin” is specified as exploitative capitalism and class warfare by the rich against the poor. It uses political theory, primarily Marxism, to help understand how to combat poverty. Thus, Latin American Liberation Theology is sometimes regarded as a form of Christian “socialism.”
One of the best-known phrases one will hear in Liberation theology is “preferential option for the poor and oppressed.” What this implies is that God wants us to give preferential treatment to the poor, ethnic minorities, women, and sexual minorities. Liberation theology is very much in the camp of Identity politics.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuits were the primary supporters of Liberation theology, although their support began to diminish after Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) displayed his opposition toward Liberation theology. During those years, Joseph Ratzinger, the pope that succeeded John Paul II as Benedict XVI, was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. From that office he issued several condemnations of Liberation theology. Pope Francis is more progressive than his two predecessors and as the first pope from Latin America, has a background in Liberation theology. In some ways, we are seeing some of its teachings coming through in Pope Francis’ teachings.
Let me say a bit more about Liberation theology. It doesn’t just emphasize our mission to bring justice to the poor and oppressed, it actually sees theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. According to Phillip Berryman, a noted Liberation theologian, it is “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.”
Obviously, Liberation theology has an edge to it, sometimes literally, because it bases social action upon the biblical passages that describe the mission of Jesus as bringing a sword (social unrest) and not as bringing peace (social order). Liberation Theology is a call to action against poverty and oppression, not just a call to words. It reinterprets some of the stories in the Bible, such as the Exodus and the Eucharist, as essentially political.
Of course, there are other groups that suffer from some form of social or political oppression in this world, and because of that Liberation theology has spread out and is expressed in other communities that I hinted at earlier. In addition to Latin American Liberation theology, one can find books on Black Liberation theology, Feminist Liberation theology, and Gay Liberation theology.
I encourage you to search the internet for some of these topics for a broader introduction.