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.

Bibliography

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

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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."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The pope spoke about Gutierrez in Panama while lamenting that some critics of liberation theology inside the church hierarchy had painted with a broad brush, "condemning all of the Jesuits in Central America...
For the vast majority of Christians and theologians focused on liberation, the challenge of the poor was seen as the work of God; it was to be found in biblical tradition, and theology could only be a genuine theology as a liberation theology. The challenge of the poor broke into Latin America, calling into question economic and social structures that produced poverty, and demanding a conversion by society and the church to turn toward the poor.
It is not our task here to give a long historical account of the processes and movements of Liberation Theology in Latin America, but rather to highlight the work of a few Latin American liberation theologians, namely Rubem Alves, Ivone Gebara, Milton Schwantes and Nancy Cardoso.
In Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians, which is part of larger series of introductory books, De La Torre does a wonderful job in presenting what liberation theology is in a simple way.
In those documents, he emphasized that there is a liberation theology that is very much in keeping with the teachings of Christ: the liberation of every human being from sin.
In the council of Latin American bishops in 1968 in Medellin, Colombia, liberation theology achieved perhaps its biggest triumph.
But it is John Paul, a critic of liberation theology, who is getting the buzz in Latin America.
The Latin American liberation theology is not a heritage site; it is rather a living movement with continued vitality.
The Jesuit community of El Salvador, which for decades has supported liberation theology, praised the pontiff's resignation as a "responsible act".Photo: Pope John Paul II ( AFP -- Photo)
Comparing the thought of a world-class secular economist (Thomas Sowell) with that of the most influential American theologian in a specific niche (James Cone, black liberation theology) does not seem promising at first.
Bishop Muller has been criticized for some radical stands, including liberation theology and his friendship with Marxist theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, who founded liberation theology.