“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, a blog which, while possibly being in the avant-guard theologically speaking, still thinks we have a lot to learn from Liberation Theology, a child of the 1970s. If this topic is one you are not familiar with it might be worth reading my earlier Posts on Lib. Theol. and on my favourite practitioner, José Miranda (refs below). I am glad to come back to this topic: it’s a corner stone of Zingcreed’s jesusite manifesto and I have been neglecting it. Some recent new publications on the topic, and the reappearance of books on the topic on Foyle’s shelves suggest that perhaps the subject is coming out of the doldrums at last. (The retirement of that dreadful Hitler-Jugend pope Ratzinger may also have something to do with it.)
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”
This article is taken from one chapter of a book called “The bible and liberation. Political and Social hermeneutics” edited by Richard Horsley and Norman Gottwald SPCK/Orbis (1993) The article is by a jesuit Professor, Arthur McGovern, chapter 5, pages 74-85 “The bible in Latin American Liberation theology” (1980)
McGovern points out 4 biblical themes that recur in LT:
(i) God as liberator, notably in the Exodus
(ii) God’s command to “do justice”
(iii) Jesus as proclaimer and doer of the kingdom
(iv) The political dimension of Jesus’ conflicts with authorities.
He goes on to make the point that “Authentic liberation can only come to Latin America through a liberation from domination exercised by the great capitalist countries and their domestic allies who control the national power structure. ” (What the Marxists call “American imperialism”. I remember a striking statistic I came across when doing an Open University diploma in Third World Studies in the 1980’s: for every one dollar invested by the US in Latin America, they claw back 4 dollars in profits.) He adds that “such a liberation would require creating an entirely new kind of society. It would mean being open to socialism; it would mean learning from Marxism about structural causes and from Paolo Freire about conscientization. It would also require the active participation of the oppressed.” In the words of pioneer Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez “It is the poor who must be protagonists of their own liberation.”
Those who charge Lib. Theol. with reducing faith to politics and using theology to justify pre-established political positions, are merely displaying their own reactionary position.
Let us examine McGovern’s 4 themes in more detail:
(i) The Exodus. As mentioned elsewhere in the Zingcreed blog the captivity of the ancient Israelites in Egypt and their subsequent Exodus probably never happened – there’s certainly no archaeological evidence for it – and the written account was penned centuries after the events were supposed to occur; but does this matter? It’s a very powerful and motivating metaphor. It’s a striking paradigm of God’s liberating power. In this ‘story’ we see how ‘God’ (also a metaphor?) acts through Moses to liberate the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and leads them to the promised land, i.e. God doesn’t just act to save souls, he frees people from hunger and misery, liberating them from Egyptian oppression to bring them to a promised land. As the author puts it “The Exodus speaks to the present situation in Latin America for it reveals that God works in history and not outside it, and God works to liberate the oppressed in the fullest political sense of the word.”
(ii) Doing justice. God identifies with the poor and oppressed. To be a Christian one must share in this love. Love of God and love of neighbour, especially love of the poor, cannot be separated. (see Sobrino ‘Christology at the crossroads’ p.169-173, 204-5) In Mt 25, Christ is to be found in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked. “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren you did it unto me.” c.f. Jeremiah 22:16 “He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the lord” c.f. also Hosea 4:1-2. As outlined in the Zingcreed Post “No way José”, the Lib. Theol. writer Miranda claims that doing justice is the way to know God. He breaks into human history to liberate the oppressed, c.f Isaiah 42: 5-7; “I called you to serve the cause of justice…to free the captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.” He is also a God who is fiercely punitive against the oppressors. In short, one cannot claim to know, love, or worship God except through doing justice.
(iii) The kingdom of God. In Isaiah 65:17, God announces “Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. instead there shall be rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” Jesus shared that prophetic vision and understood his task of proclaiming the kingdom in that context. To him, proclaiming God is the same thing as realising God’s reign in practice, both by healing and exorcising and by overcoming structural sin in the form of the temple hierarchy as well as the Roman empire. Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff tells us that the kingdom expresses a people’s utopian longing for liberation from everything that alienates them: pain, hunger, injustice, death. Indeed, Boff goes further: Jesus proclaims that the kingdom won’t just be utopian but the real fulfilment of happiness for all people. The kingdom is not only spiritual but this world transformed and made new. To Gutiérrez “To place oneself in the perspective of the kingdom means to participate in the struggle for the liberation of those oppressed by others.”
(iv) Jesus and conflict with the authorities. When Jesus attacked the injustice and exploitation of his day which was causing the covenantal community of the Jews to disintegrate, he was being very political. He confronted the major power groups of his society. He called Herod a ‘Fox’, he denounced the hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees; his teachings threatened the position of the Sadducees, and he died at the hands of the (Roman) political authorities. He both undermined the power base of the priestly caste and threatened the power balance between the Jewish nation and the Romans. He knew which side he was on: he took the side of the the oppressed against the constituted religious and political authorities. Furthermore, his denunciations were always collective: aimed at the Pharisees because they pay no attention to justice, at the legal experts because they impose intolerable burdens on the people, at the rich because they refused to share their wealth with the poor, and at the rulers of the world because they govern despotically.
McGovern lists a score of points made by the bible and asks ‘which of these can be denied?’ (p. 82) This is a way of testing the faithfulness of liberation theology to scripture.
- God reveals himself in history
- God desires the full human freedom of his people at every level of their life
- God reveals a very special concern for the poor and is angered by injustice done against them
- Jesus sought to bring God’s liberating power and justice to all
- Jesus identified in a very special way with the marginal people of society, the outcasts, the poor
- Jesus denounced those who placed burdens upon the poor and who placed legalism (law and order) over human need
- Jesus sought to break the power of evil and sin in the world
- Jesus’ actions were seen as a threat to those in positions of power.
As far as the concrete reality of life in Latin America (or indeed the whole of the developing world) is concerned, which of the followinge should be denied:
- The issue of poverty and oppression is the greatest problem facing the great masses of people in Latin America
- The poor are the landless peasants, the marginal people in the barrios of the city, the underpaid, underemployed or unemployed workers
- In Latin America capitalism has failed to serve the common good, and developmental policies have not succeeded in bettering the situation
- These failures suggest the need for a more profound analysis of causes, using the best tools available from the social sciences
- To work directly with the poor is consistent with the spirit of Jesus and the mission of the church….
- Working with the poor and striving with them for liberation can lead to a very enriching understanding of the faith
- In its concern for the poor and for ending injustice the church should be willing to take stands, even if this means conflict with some of its own members, e.g. regarding land reform.