A many-faceted movement is described by liberal Protestant theologian
Harvey Cox as "the newest and freshest theology." It probably has its roots
in the philosophical/theological precepts of the French humanist Maritain,
of whom Pope Paul VI said, "I am a disciple of Maritain. I call him my
teacher." (TIME, 4/21/67).
Maritain taught that the Church, while not sacrificing its theological
precepts, should actively support political democracy and social reform.
According to Cox (Religious News Service, 6/6/79), "the movement was not
condemned by Pope John Paul II when he visited Mexico in 1979, and he
sounded very much like a liberation theologian, insisting that structural
changes were needed to deal with poverty.
"The Jesuit General was asked at a news conference whether he approved
of the approach used by some Jesuit priests in encouraging Catholics to
take up arms against repressive regimes. He was quoted, in reply, as saying
that `in the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church it is allowable to
turn to violence when all other means have been exhausted.'
"Dr. Cox continued, `A spirited debate is underway among Latin American
Catholics over the extent that Marxist analysis can be used in liberation
TIME, 8/23/68, reported, "A vociferous, militant minority of radical
priests, prelates and laymen argue that the Church must embrace revolution,
even Marxism, to survive. The best known of this continent's
revolutionaries, Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife argues that
'either the church will ally itself with progressive forces that demand
social justice for the enslaved masses, or it will perish for lack of
insight and social dynamism.'
REPORT ON LIBERATION THEOLOGY
J. Greg Wysocki
Liberation theology is based on the teachings and experiences of men and
women who are committed to the process of liberation in oppressed and
exploited lands. This new theology originated in the experiences of those
who became increasingly conscious of this oppression. These experiences
were defined precisely by Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Roman Catholic
priest, in A THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION. Dr. Gutierrez believes that Latin
America needs to be changed into a new society that will accommodate a new
man. This transformation should come about by revolution as expressed by
Their idea is that the church poor of Latin America should revolt and
liberate themselves from those who oppress them, leaders of different
countries which have been sustained by the United States. When liberation
from these oppressors occurs, the church poor would enter a new era,
fashioned by their own hands. This new society, a socialist society along
with the new man would then experience the Kingdom of God in its true
sense, one of peace and justice. In this Kingdom there would be no more
ideological gaps and no great economic barriers that divide people, but the
riches of the world would benefit all. Discriminatory social barriers
between men and women, races and religion would be broken down.
Dr. Gutierrez believes this can happen if Christians become active on
behalf of the poor and oppressed, and that the major cause of poverty,
injustice and oppression in the world is capitalism. The solution, he
believes, is for Christians to attack capitalism and see it replaced by
socialism. Gutierrez agrees with Marx that people should actively work
towards a classless society. This real action would be considered
He sees man's salvation as coming about when he gets involved in this
revolution. This brings communion with God and also communion among men.
This guides history to its fulfillment, a new society and a new man. Man is
saved if he opens himself up to God and to others even if he is not clearly
aware of what he is doing. Men, by being involved in developing the new
society, are already in communion with God, although they do not
explicitely confess Christ as Lord. They are moved by grace, sometimes
secretly. They renounce their selfishness and seek to create an authentic
brotherhood among men. They reject communion with God or salvation when
these turn them away from the building up of this new world.
Gutierrez sees Jesus Christ as our example of Liberation; He was sent by
God to bring about the liberation of the poor. Jesus brings salvation to
man while they work for a new society, and Christians must continue where
He left off. The liberation of the Jewish poor was only one aspect of a
universal, permanent revolution. Christians should liberate themselves from
capitalism to build a new society.
Karl Marx said, "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various
ways; the point, however, is to change it." This would be true for the
Christian theological tradition as well. They have only interpreted it but
not liberated it. Gutierrez asserts that the problem is that Jesus' role as
liberator has been missed, and it wasn't until the present experience of
the oppressed and exploited in Latin America was addressed as a problem
that this truth of scripture came to light. It is suffering that has
created the religious consciousness that has authorized Gutierrez to graft
into the simple gospel a specific political ideology to bring about a new
Dr. Gutierrez believes the church must be understood in the light of
liberation. It has accumulated too many western barnacles. These barnacles
of capitalism must be scraped off before the ship of the church can sail
effectively toward a new society. This church cannot be considered the sole
source of religious truth or salvation. The Vatican II assertion that the
church is a sacrament and a sign for the world enables liberators to think
of the church within the horizon of salvation but not as the means of
salvation. Once received it will help man to reach the new society. As a
visible sign the church imparts the reality of "union with God" and "unity
of all mankind."
Dr. Gutierrez believes sin should be regarded as a social, historical fact -
the absence of brotherhood and love in relationships among men. Sin is the
breach of friendship with God and with other men. It is evident in
oppressive structures, in the exploitation of man by man and in the
domination of peoples, races and social classes. Therefore sin demands a
radical liberation, which in turn necessitates a political liberation.
Liberation Theology began in Latin America and has spread around the world.
Pope John Paul II has called Gustavo Gutierrez a "Prophet of the Lord."
Cardinal Stephen Kim, an Asian bishop, said that Liberation theology has
helped to correct a distorted view of the church and has taught him a new
way of reading the scriptures and has provided a way to reconciliation.
Bishop Rosazza has said it helped him make a connection between the poor of
the Third World and the Hispanics and blacks of Connecticut. (Connecticut
is the wealthiest state per capita, but Hartford is the fourth poorest city
in the whole country.) Bishop Aloysius Jim Luxian states, "I am a priest
from China, from an already `liberated' country, and praise and support the
theology of liberation." Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, "We are filled with
an indominable hope and exhiliration because we know that ultimately
justice and oppression, evil and exploitation cannot prevail and that the
Kingdoms of this world are becoming the Kingdoms of our God, who shall
reign forever and ever."
Liberation theology is opposed to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Liberation comes through the regenerative work of Christ, not from an
external liberation. Liberation theology has obscured if not denied the
fact that only one kind of liberation deserves to be called salvation,
because only one kind of oppression is so totally beyond mere human
correction that it requires a divine conquest.
Liberation theology puts man in complete charge of building a new society
and a new man. The Godhead working in man is left out of the picture. Some
aims of liberation theology may look good on the surface, but on closer
examination is seen to lead individuals away from the only true liberation
in the world through the finished work of Christ. Jesus said to His
disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I
have overcome the world."
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