liberation theology

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liberation theology,

belief that the Christian Gospel demands "a preferential option for the poor," and that the church should be involved in the struggle for economic and political justice in the contemporary world—particularly in the Third World. Dating to the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and the Second Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Medellin, Colombia (1968), the movement brought poor people together in comunidades de base, or Christian-based communities, to study the Bible and to fight for social justice. Since the 1980s, many in the church hierarchy have criticized liberation theology and its advocates, accusing them of wrongly supporting violent revolution and Marxist class struggle, but its advocates have argued that its positions were in agreement with the church's social teachings about the poor.


See studies by P. Berryman (1987), A. Hennelly (1989), and J. R. Pottenger (1989).

Liberation Theology

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.... There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle's feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

These New Testament verses from the Bible, and many others like them, have inspired the study of what has formally been titled liberation theology. It is an understanding or Christian interpretation that insists that the purpose of the Gospel is to liberate the downtrodden and disenfranchised. In the past it was called the social Gospel, identified with liberalism and contrasted with a conservative theology stressing the need for individual salvation.

Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, was a Baptist, a tradition known for its emphasis on personal salvation. But in his published sermon, "An Experiment in Love," he argued that "It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love." He took his arguments to the streets where, armed with the weapon of liberation he had found in the words of the Bible, he guided the civil rights movement in mid-twentieth-century America.

What he said was not new. The whole genre of music once called the "Negro spiritual" was invented by African slaves who were forced to accept Christianity but were not allowed into white churches. Well-known songs such as "Jordan's Stormy Banks" and "Deep River" were testaments to the hope for freedom, even if that freedom came only at death. They were sung by black slaves out behind the barn while waiting for their white "masters" to finish the Sunday morning worship service inside the church.

But liberation theology, though long practiced by those who believed love had to have a social component, received its formal name in the 1960s after Vatican II (see Vatican Councils). Roman Catholic priests and nuns in Latin America began to very publicly side with the poor in their fight for social justice. Many of them paid the ultimate price for their struggles, murdered in places like Guatemala. Others were often criticized by Vatican conservatives such as Cardinal Ratzinger, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He claimed liberation theology emphasized liberation from poverty rather than sin. His arguments were countered by those who claimed that the very poverty prompting the need for liberation theology was brought about by sins the Christian Church had committed in the sixteenth century.

In the Americas and Africa, in Europe and the Far East, liberation theology still inspires Christians of all denominations to fight entrenched political forces that prevent freedom for all. It is still accused of being thinly disguised communism, as evidenced by the words of the book of Acts cited above. These words, especially during the anti-Communist McCarthy era of 1950s America, were an embarrassment to many conservative preachers, who wondered whether the early disciples were really communists.

But it seems obvious that liberation theology, along with the many evolving theologies, or methods of biblical interpretation, opening up today (feminist theology, narrative theology, historical theology, and so on), is here to stay. In the words of the song that has become the theme song of liberation theology, "Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday."

References in periodicals archive ?
Far from being stamped out, the theological ideas and reflections characteristic of liberation theology have left a profound impact on the Catholic Church that endures today, not only in Latin America, but also in Rome.
The region's bloody skirmish against liberation theology has not ended: Dorothy Stang, an American nun, was shot dead in Brazil in February for battling illegal loggers in the Amazon.
Critics of Ratzinger say he suppressed, or at least openly discouraged, liberation theology in Mexico and other parts of the world when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his post until he was elected pope.
Until my 40s, I wasn't speaking about liberation theology and yet it was possible for me to be Christian.
Without a minimum of "suffering with" this suffering that affects the great majority of the human race, liberation theology can neither exist nor be understood.
In constructing a liberation theology to serve as a vehicle for the imaginative liberation of whites from their participation and complicity in slavery and its lingering effects, many African American readers will hear the voice of Ellison's Mr.
Liberation Theology has to be seen in this perspective.
There is some thought of substituting liberation theology with the theology of an indigenous movement,'' he said.
Liberation theology was originally formulated in the 1960s and 1970s by Latin American thinkers who were sympathetic to the popular liberation movements of those years.
The basic tenet of liberation theology is that Christianity must reclaim the kind of prophetic ministry exemplified in the life of Jesus.
Brown, Hennelly, and McGovern are North American friends of liberation theology.