Liberation theology

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Liberation theology is a Christian theological approach emphasizing the liberation of the oppressed. In certain contexts, it engages socio-economic analyses, with "social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples." [1] In other contexts, it addresses other forms of inequality, such as race or caste.


Liberation theology is best known in the Latin American context, [2] especially within Catholicism in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council, where it became the political praxis of theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, and Jesuits Juan Luis Segundo and Jon Sobrino, who popularized the phrase "preferential option for the poor". This expression was used first by Jesuit Fr. General Pedro Arrupe in 1968 and soon after the World Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971 chose as its theme "Justice in the World". [3] [4]

The Latin American context also produced evangelical advocates of liberation theology, such as Rubem Alves, [5] [6] José Míguez Bonino, and C. René Padilla, who in the 1970s called for integral mission, emphasizing evangelism and social responsibility.

Theologies of liberation have also developed in other parts of the world such as black theology in the United States and South Africa, Palestinian liberation theology, Dalit theology in India, and Minjung theology in South Korea.

Latin American liberation theology

The best-known form of liberation theology is that which developed within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1960s, arising principally as a moral reaction to the poverty and social injustice in the region, which is the most unequal in the world. [7] The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote one of the movement's defining books, A Theology of Liberation . Other noted exponents include Leonardo Boff of Brazil, and Jesuits Jon Sobrino of El Salvador and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay. [8] [9]

The Brazilian Catholic Church, in the world's largest Catholic country, is arguably one of the most theologically progressive Catholic congregations, due in large part to a history of violent military and political conflicts as well as a divisive socioeconomic climate. During Brazil's military rule from 1964 to 1985, the Catholic Church and its members assumed responsibility for providing services to the poor and disenfranchised, often under threat of persecution. The Second Vatican Council and the 1968 Medellín conference innovations in liberation theology entered the Brazilian Church as the Brazilian lower classes experienced sharply deteriorating economic and political conditions. Among these were an increase in landownership concentration, a decline in wages and standards of living, and a rise in the military state's political repression and violence, including mass detainment, torture, and the assassination of political opponents. [10]

Latin American liberation theology met with approval in the United States, but its use of "Marxist concepts" [11] led in the mid-1980s to an admonition by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). While stating that "in itself, the expression 'theology of liberation' is a thoroughly valid term", [12] the prefect Cardinal Ratzinger rejected certain forms of Latin American liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin and for identifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that had long been oppressing indigenous populations from the arrival of Pizarro onward. [13]

Black theology

More or less at the same time as the initial publications of Latin American liberation theology are also found voices of Black liberation theology and feminist liberation theology. [14] Black theology refers to a theological perspective which originated in some black churches in the United States and later in other parts of the world, which contextualizes Christianity in an attempt to help those of African descent overcome oppression. It especially focuses on the injustices committed against African Americans and black South Africans during American segregation and apartheid, respectively.

Black theology seeks to liberate people of color from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christian theology as a theology of liberation – "a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ," writes James Hal Cone, one of the original advocates of the perspective. Black theology mixes Christianity with questions of civil rights, particularly as raised by the Black Power movement and the Black Consciousness Movement.

Dalit theology

Dalit theology is a branch of Christian theology that emerged among the Dalit caste in the Indian subcontinent in the 1980s. It shares a number of themes with Latin American liberation theology, which arose two decades earlier, including a self-identity as a people undergoing Exodus. [15] Dalit theology sees hope in the "Nazareth Manifesto" of Luke 4, where Jesus speaks of preaching "good news to the poor ... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" and of releasing "the oppressed". [16]

Palestinian liberation theology

Palestinian liberation theology is an expression of political theology and a contextual theology that represents an attempt by a number of independently working Palestinian theologians from various denominations—mostly Protestant mainline churches—to articulate the gospel message in such a way as to make that liberating gospel relevant to the perceived needs of their indigenous flocks. As a rule, this articulation involves a condemnation of the State of Israel, a theological underpinning of Palestinian resistance to Israel as well as Palestinian national aspirations, and an intense valorization of Palestinian ethnic and cultural identity as guarantors of a truer grasp of the gospel by virtue of the fact that they are inhabitants of the land of Jesus and the Bible. The principal figure in Palestinian liberation theology is the Anglican cleric Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. [17]

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The Social Gospel was a social movement within Protestantism that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, lack of unionization, poor schools, and the dangers of war. It was most prominent in the early-20th-century United States and Canada. Theologically, the Social Gospelers sought to put into practice the Lord's Prayer : "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". They typically were postmillennialist; that is, they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. The Social Gospel was more popular among clergy than laity. Its leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of the progressive movement, and most were theologically liberal, although a few were also conservative when it came to their views on social issues. Important leaders included Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, Washington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

Liberal Christianity Emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority

Liberal Christianity, also known as liberal theology, is a movement that interprets and reforms Christian teaching by taking into consideration modern knowledge, science and ethics. It emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority. Liberal Christians view their theology as an alternative to both atheistic rationalism and theologies based on traditional interpretations of external authority.

Gustavo Gutiérrez Peruvian philosopher, theologian, and priest

Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino is a Peruvian philosopher, Catholic theologian, and Dominican priest, regarded as one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology. He currently holds the John Cardinal O'Hara Professorship of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and has previously been a visiting professor at many major universities in North America and Europe.

James H. Cone American theologian

James Hal Cone (1938–2018) was an American theologian, best known for his advocacy of black theology and black liberation theology. His 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to comprehensively define the distinctiveness of theology in the black church. His message was that Black Power, defined as black people asserting the humanity that white supremacy denied, was the gospel in America. Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, advocating the same thing as Black Power. He argued that white American churches preached a gospel based on white supremacy, antithetical to the gospel of Jesus. Cone's work was influential from the time of the book's publication, and his work remains influential today. His work has been both used and critiqued inside and outside the African-American theological community. He was the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Columbia University-affiliated Union Theological Seminary until his death.

Black theology, or black liberation theology, refers to a theological perspective which originated among African-American seminarians and scholars, and in some black churches in the United States and later in other parts of the world. It contextualizes Christianity in an attempt to help those of African descent overcome oppression. It especially focuses on the injustices committed against African Americans and black South Africans during American segregation and apartheid, respectively.

Rubem Azevedo Alves was a Brazilian theologian, philosopher, educator, writer and psychoanalyst. Alves was one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology.

The Latin American Episcopal Council, better known as CELAM, is a council of the Roman Catholic bishops of Latin America, created in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Juan Luis Segundo was a Jesuit priest and Uruguayan theologian who was an important figure in the movement known as Latin American liberation theology. He wrote numerous books on theology, ideology, faith, hermeneutics, and social justice, and was an outspoken critic of what he perceived as Church callousness toward oppression and suffering. He was a physician by training.

Second Episcopal Conference of Latin America

The Second Episcopal Conference of Latin America was a bishops' conference held in 1968 in Medellín, Colombia, as a follow-up to the Second Vatican Council which it adapted in a creative way to the Latin American context. It took as the theme for its 16 documents “The Church in the Present Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council", with a focus on the poor and oppressed in society. It recognized that “the social situation demands an efficacious presence of the Church that goes beyond the promotion of personal holiness by preaching and the sacraments.” The bishops agreed that the church should take "a preferential option for the poor" and gave their approval to Christian "base communities" in which the poor might learn to read by reading the Bible. The goal of the bishops was to liberate the people from the "institutionalized violence" of poverty. They maintained that poverty and hunger were preventable.

A base community is a relatively autonomous Christian religious group that operates according to a particular model of community, worship, and study of the Bible. The concept of a base community is often associated with liberation theology. The 1968 Medellín, Colombia, meeting of Latin American Council of Bishops played a major role in popularizing them under the name basic ecclesial communities. These are small groups, originating in the Catholic Church in Latin America, who meet to reflect upon scripture and apply its lessons to their situation.

Naim Ateek

Naim Stifan Ateek is a Palestinian priest in the Anglican Communion and founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. He has been an active leader in the shaping of the Palestinian liberation theology. He was the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation in his book, Justice, and only Justice, a Palestinian Theology of Liberation, published by Orbis in 1989, and based on his dissertation for his degree in theology. The book laid the foundation of a theology that addresses the conflict over Palestine and explores the political as well as the religious, biblical, and theological dimensions. A former Canon of St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, he lectures widely both at home and abroad. His book, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, was published by Orbis in 2008, followed by A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, 2017.

Anthony B. Pinn is an American professor working at the intersections of African-American religion, constructive theology, and humanist thought. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning in Houston, Texas, and Director of Research for the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in 1986, and earned his Ph.D. in the Study of Religion at Harvard University in 1994. His dissertation was entitled "I Wonder as I Wander: An Examination of the Problem of Evil in African-American Religious Thought." The topic of theological responses to evil and suffering in Black religion provided the foundation of Pinn's early work. Today, Pinn's research interests span theory and method in the study of religion, black religious aesthetics, religion and popular culture, and African-American humanism.

The option for the poor, or the preferential option for the poor, is one of the newer principles of the Catholic social teaching, as articulated in the latter half of the 20th century; it is also a theological emphasis in Methodism. The concept was championed by many Christian democratic parties in Latin America at the time.

Marxism and religion

19th-century German philosopher Karl Marx, the founder and primary theorist of Marxism, viewed religion as "the soul of soulless conditions" or the "opium of the people". According to Karl Marx, religion in this world of exploitation is an expression of distress and at the same time it is also a protest against the real distress. In other words, religion continues to survive because of oppressive social conditions. When this oppressive and exploitative condition is destroyed, religion will become unnecessary. Marx denied a place for religion in his utopian world of communism. At the same time, Marx saw religion as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions and their alienation. Some Marxist scholars have classified Marx's views as adhering to Post-Theism, a philosophical position that regards worshipping deities as an eventually obsolete, but temporarily necessary, stage in humanity's historical spiritual development.

Christians for Socialism is a worldwide political and cultural movement focused on social inequality and economic injustice, inspired by liberation theology. It was founded in 1971.

José Míguez Bonino Argentine Methodist theologian

José Míguez Bonino was an Argentine Methodist theologian.

Latin American liberation theology is a synthesis of Christian theology and socio-economic analyses, that emphasizes "social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples." Beginning in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council, liberation theology became the political praxis of Latin American theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, and Jesuits Juan Luis Segundo and Jon Sobrino, who popularized the phrase "preferential option for the poor." It arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty and social injustice in the region, which is the most unequal in the world.


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