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“The work of liberation theologists moved in a direction I could understand. While leftist thought often provided the theoretical backdrop for this work, it focused more pointedly on the concrete relations between those who have and those who have not. Progressive theology stressed the importance of solidarity with the poor that I had learned growing up—a solidarity that was to be expressed by word and deed. [...] At one time the vast majority of this nation’s citizens were schooled in religious doctrine which emphasized the danger of wealth, greed, and covetousness. Just as many of us were raised to stand in solidarity with the poor, we were raised to believe that the pursuit of wealth was dangerous, not because riches made one bad but because they could lead one down a path of self-interested pathological narcissism. Anyone walking on such a path would necessarily be estranged from community. Religious teaching reminds us that profit cannot be the sole measure of value in life. In the biblical Book of Matthew we were taught: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?”—bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters
“Christ didn’t experience just any death, but a death reserved for those who challenged the oppressive power structures of the time. Jesus’ teachings of liberation threatened Rome. But even more so, they threatened the religious leaders of the day: spiritually abusive leaders who had turned their backs on Judaism’s message of justice and mercy and had twisted the teachings to oppress others. Jesus stood with the oppressed. He healed on the Sabbath. He advocated for the poor. He spoke out against the abuse of women. And those in power killed him for it. They silenced his message (but it couldn’t quite stay dead, could it?). Maybe this is the real message of the cross. That the God of all creation loved the oppressed enough to become one with them, even in death–the ultimate tool of oppressive forces. The cross cannot just mean that we are “saved from sin,” and “going to heaven.” Our speaking about the cross cannot just sound like those cliched platitudes that Christians often tell those who are hurting. The cross that Jesus reclaimed from the Roman Empire has fallen back into the hands of oppressors, becoming a tool of white supremacy, of patriarchy, of heterosexism and transphobia, of the military and prison industrial complex, of those who wage warfare on the poor. But I want to reclaim it, like Christ did. If we are to find liberation in the crucifixion, then the cross must stand as a middle finger to oppressive power structures. The cross of Jesus reveals the ugly truth behind oppressive power, and then the cross mocks that power through the resurrection.”—Sarah Moon, Crucifixion & Liberation
“We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.”—Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot 33 years ago today while celebrating Mass in El Salvador
“We must be careful not to fall into intellectual self-satisfaction, into a kind of triumphalism of erudite and advanced 'new' visions of Christianity. The only thing that is really new is to accept day by day the gift of the Spirit, who makes us love in our concrete options to build a true human fellowship, in our historical initiatives to subvert an order of injustice - with the fullness with which Christ loved us.”—Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation
“But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is man's vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.”—Paulo Freire
“But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order. ”—Gustavo Gutiérrez
“Increasingly, as one moves away from the elite end of the class spectrum, and towards the disadvantaged end, Catholicism undergoes a series of marked transformations, culminating at some point in a clear ideological break. It is not that a radicalized poor in Nicaragua have abandoned the Church, or, as the Conservative Church more frequently implies, abandoned the spiritual realm; rather, it is that a radically different interpretation of the Church and of the spiritual realm defines religion in the popular classes. Many there adhere to the revolutionary doctrine of liberation theology, in one form or another.”—Thanks to God and the Revolution: Popular Religion and Class Consciousness in the New Nicaragua, R Lancaster
A womanist then is a strong Black woman who has sometimes been mislabeled as a domineering castrating matriarch. A womanist is one who has developed survival strategies in spite of the oppression of her race and sex in order to save her family and her people.
…In any case, womanist means being and acting out who you are and interpreting the reality for yourself. In other words, Black women speak out for themselves.
Jacquelyn Grant, ‘Womanist Theology’
Reading List: Faith and Justice-Liberation Theologies in the United States
Over the Christmas holiday, I was sent an unexpected package. Inside that package was a zip drive containing all the lists and syllabi for Andover Newton Theological School and the Boston College school of theology. Many many thanks to that lovely person.
This list comes from Andover. Most marginalized folks have devised beautiful, indispensable liberation theologies during the last few decades, and those theologies are covered broadly in the required texts listed here. In addition to these required texts, I am including a section from the syllabi on “emerging liberation theologies”. Native American, Disabled, Queer, and Asian liberation theologies fall into the “emerging” grouping.
Anthony B. Pinn and Benjamin Valentin, editors, Ties that Bind: African American and Hispanic American/Latino(a) Theologies in Dialogue.
Benjamin Valentin, Mapping Public Theology: Beyond Culture, Identity, and Difference.
James H. Cone and Gayraud Wilmore, editors, Black Theology: A Documentary History.
Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.
Judith Plaskow and Carol Christ, Womanspirit Rising.
Dieter T. Hessel, editor, After Nature’s Revolt: Eco-Justice and Theology.
Emerging Liberation Theology Reading:
George Tinker, Missionary Conquest, (Chapters 1
Vine Deloria Jr., God Is Red, (Chapter 15).*
Elizabeth J. Browne, The Disabled Disciple, (Chapter 6).*
Brett Webb-Mitchell, Unexpected Guests at God’s Banquet, (Chapter 5).*
Malcolm Macourt, “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation—the Framework for the Debate,” in Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation*
Gary David Comstock, Gay Theology Without Apology, (Chapter 6).*
Marcella Althaus-Reid, “On Queer Theory and Liberation Theology: The
Irruption of the Sexual Subject in Theology,” in HomoSexualities.*
Kwok Pui-Lan, “Fishing the Asia Pacific: Transnationalism and Feminist
Theology,” in Off The Menu.*
“Both feminism and peacemaking need to be grounded in an alternative vision of the authentic self and human community that was once provided by radical Christianity. This alternative vision must be clear that we are children of one mother, the earth, part of one interdependent community of life. On this basis we must oppose all social systems that create wealth and privilege for some by impoverishing, degrading or eliminating other people, whether they be the systems of domination that repress or assault women, or the systems that plan nuclear annihilation in a futile search for security based on competitive world power. Only on the basis of such an alternative vision can men and women join together to rebuild the earth.”—Rosemary Radford Ruether (‘Feminism and Peace’)
A Theology of Liberation
When I first got to campus, throughout the first few weeks, I tried out some campus Christian groups. I have to be honest, none of it really appealed to me. Yeah, it’d be nice to have a community like that to surround myself with, but none of the groups here felt right. I’ve pretty much given up on that. All of their approaches just seemed wrong to me. None of the groups focus on what, in my opinion, really matters. In fact, for a while, I wasn’t even sure what that thing was that mattered most to me.
Well, in my Honors 189/199 class, we’ve been talking about the terrible things that have been going on in Latin America, particularly in the 1980s. A big part of Latin American theology is something called “liberation theology.” It is a theology developed by Gustavo Gutierrez, and is essentially a theology for the poor. We’re not talking about the go-downtown-and-feed-the-homeless type of thing. This theology talks about how the church should be paying attention to the CAUSES of poverty, rather than turning its back to them and blindly “helping” the poor.
It’s a really controversial theology, but as soon as we began to really discuss it in class, I knew that THAT is what really matters to me. That’s the type of Christianity I want to be a part of, and I think that’s the type of Christianity Jesus was fighting for in his lifetime, too.
I’m now a part of a brand new group here that is, for the time being, open by invitation only. What we want to do is raise an awareness of the things that are really at the heart of poverty - the real causes. We want to begin to make a difference.
I am beyond excited. It’s risky business, sure, but I have never felt so strongly about anything in my entire life. I’m willing to risk everything for this.