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Ecu-maniacal Ramblings on Liberation Theology and the Sounding of the Church’s Amber Alert

Liberation Theology, Latin America, The Catholic Church, Amber Alert

Where did the Church go and how can we get it back?

~ ¡Permitanos el comienzo una revolución! ~

In the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America began to change. This was not as a result of an inward deviation in philosophy or liturgy, a popular swing in ideology, or the angst of a virulent Jew-hater; no, none of these. The changes that occurred in the Church came from without; it had to adapt to new systems for the dictation of culture, governance, and economy. These changes, by themselves, are certainly nothing new to the world. But, what was quite new and different was the way the Church responded to the sweeping changes. The rise of the Liberation Theology in the Catholic Church is an apt historical example of the church’s involvement in social action, representing both the inherent problems and benefits. As Christians, where do we belong? When should we intercede? What’s wrong with showing Christ’s love through the barrel of a gun? Let’s get it started.

I. Liberation Theology

Despite having its roots in Europe, the Theology of Liberation was exported all over the world in the 1960s and 1970s—becoming as much a dictum of the Church as of God himself in Latin America. In general, Liberation Theology is simply a confluence of theologies—some having shaped civil rights movements in America, for African-Americans and women. At its core is the belief that the Gospel of Christ commands, first and foremost, all Christians to be about the business of freeing people from poverty and oppression. This movement could be considered the Church’s first concerted effort away from social control and toward social justice.

Historically speaking, the Church, up to this point in the 1960s, had a somewhat dismal record of social justice or of activism in general. This was as a result of the seemingly sturdy nature of the institution of the Church in Europe and the Americas. But, in Latin America in the 1960s everything changed; many countries were taking off their ragged pre-capitalist shoes and starting the process of industrialization—one that has always been somewhat traumatic for the lower classes. In many instances, great numbers of people began to move against the capitalist industrialization of their countries and developed various organizations to safeguard the status quo—this, perhaps, represented a lesser of two evils for many. These popular movements and organizations, many argue, merely expedited the rise of military governance in Latin America. Thus, in the 1960s the international signpost of Latin America, the military Junta, was reborn.

II. The Church’s Response

In the Americas and in Europe, the Catholic Church has, in spite of its many noxious proclivities, been a visible landmark in the lives of the poor. Many theologians have actually argued that Catholicism has, for lack of a better phrase, been rich on deeds and lean on faith—though I am not too keen on threshing out the finer points of that argument. In any event, the Catholic Church as an institution has been the symbol of care-giving and charity for many generations. But, as I stated earlier it had never truly been known as a religion of activism, of social justice. But, in this particular time and place, the Church found itself in the unenviable position of choosing between justice and comfort. There is little doubt that the church, as a societal institution, can thrive in the midst of tyranny—I could cite many historical examples. This is as a result of the ability of the church to provide a somewhat higher form of social control—“higher” in terms of its legitimacy in the minds of the people. But, the Catholic Church in Latin America chose justice—many believe at their own peril. Soon the precept of meeting the pastoral needs of the poor became downright militant. Disparate ideologies had become somewhat singular—convoluting the Church, at times, in the midst of secular revolutions and mayhem. Suffice it to say; the involvement of the church in liberation and social justice, in general, is fraught with many undesired consequences.

In spite of the somewhat shaky foundations of the Liberation Movement in the Catholic Church, it can be said that the Church erred on the side of action. This is something that, on its face, is hardly ignoble. The Protestant Church—you know, heavy on faith and light on deeds—has historically erred on the side of inaction and comfort. And while this makes our history a mite less sordid, it does not accurately reflect the purpose of Christians and the Church.

Next, I want you to consider what the Bible has to say on the matter; the book that contains the precepts of a good Christian life. It’s become almost anachronistic in churches these days. I know that I am more “churched” today than I was when I was a kid, but I also know that I don’t spend as much time in the word. This constitutes both a deficiency in my life and well as truancy in the overall duty of the church to preach the Good News.

III. The Good News

Consider the following verses from the Good Book:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”--Isaiah 61:1-3

*Here I consider “freedom” to be “freedom in Christ,” something which is attainable even under the harshest of conditions. If we truly believe what the Bible says, life outside of Christ may as well be represented by darkness and captivity.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” --Luke 4:17-19

*Here again the author writes about the anointing of the Gospel first and foremost, and then about the “freedom” that follows the acceptance of the “good news.” Here, life without Christ is characterized as an oppressed life—ain’t it though?

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” --2nd Corinthians 3:16-18

*When we allow the Holy Spirit free reign over our lives, freedom is never absent.

“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and he will reward him for what he has done.” –Proverbs 19:17

*Righteousness is never without hardship or reward. The cheerful giver gives without expectation of reward in this life.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” -- Matthew 25:31-46

*There is a very simple message found within this passage. We should be able to see Christ in all creation. When Christ looks at us, he doesn’t see us as the world sees us; Christ doesn’t recognize us for who and what we aren’t, but for who and what we are and will be. He didn’t see prostitutes, lepers, idolaters, and swindlers. Christ saw sinners in need of redemption and a home. As Christians, we must learn to see the way he sees.

IV. Concluding Remarks

In the arena of social justice, the church should be the compass and certainly not the rudder. In other words, the church should be the inspiration, the supplier, the enabler, the mouthpiece, and the safe-house of social justice and renewal—not the sword that removes the head of state. We are commanded to intercede in the lives of the downtrodden, to meet their physical and spiritual needs. Too often we, as Christians, distort the word of God in favor of comfort in the same manner that many Liberation Theologists’ have done in order to justify liberation in the absence of mercy. We all know, by this time, that “God helps those who help themselves” and that “the poor will always be among us.” These are the trite catch phrases that the “haves” have for the “have-nots.” Who are we trying to kid? Are we expected to believe that the helpless are of no concern to God, or that the longevity of poverty makes it somehow less traumatic for those in the midst of it?

Inaction, eventually, will no longer be an option.
Published: 2006-04-11
Author: Jared Field

About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate student with a BA in Political Science. I am currently about halfway done with my MA degree in Social Science at the University of Michigan in Flint. In my free time, I operate a web-based basketball publication in my home state for which I have received press credentials.

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