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Liberation Theology--the Theological Discipline


grampawombat
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At david's suggestion, I have created this new topic in the hope that there might be some who are interested in liberation theology as it is defined by theologians. So I have transferred my earlier thread here.

 

This is an interesting conversation, but I don't think it is about liberation theology, an area of religious inquiry and exchange with very specific characteristics. Among those are the following:

 

God has a “preferential option for the poor.” God loves us all, but has a particular and specific concern for those with the least. Therefore, God expects us to share that concern and act on it. At its center, Liberation Theology is about action.

 

Approach the Bible with a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” This means that how we read the Bible depends on our own background and biases. Therefore we always have to be aware of the possibility of “spin” when we, or others, are interpreting it.

 

This leads to the “hermeneutic circle.” It goes something like this: 1) we read a passage from the Bible, having already engaged in a specific action. 2) Based on our own perspective (see above) we interpret what we have read. 3) Based on that interpretation we engage in some new action with regard to other people. 4) Based on that experience we return to the Bible with fresh insights.

 

Religious Base Communities (Comunidades Ecclesial de Base, or CEBs) are small groups (up to 20 or so) of people in the same location who meet together to read and discuss the Bible. They gain knowledge and insight by relating what they read to their daily lives and sharing their experiences with one another.

 

Liberation theology has its roots in Latin America, and from that perspective I recommend the following books:

 

Boff, Leonardo, Church: Charism and Power, New York: Crossroad, 1984

_______, Ecclisiogenesis, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1986

Boff, Clodovis and George V. Pixley, The Bible, the Church, and the Poor, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989

Brown, Robert McAfee Theology in a New Key: Responding to Liberation Themes, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978

_______, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984

_______, Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacy, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988

_______, Gustavo Gutiérrez: An Introduction to Liberation Theology, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990

________, Liberation Theology: An Introductory Guide, Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993

Friere, Paolo, and Antonio Faundez, Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation, New York: Continuum, 1989

Gutiérrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973–The “original text” on Liberation Theology

_______, We Drink from our Own Wells, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984–This book is more spiritual in its approach

_______, The Truth Shall Make you Free, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990

Míguez Bonino, José, Toward a Christian Political Ethics, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983

Segundo, Juan Luis, The Liberation of Theology, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1976

Sobrino, Jon, Christology at the Crossroads, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1978

_______, The True Church and the Poor, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1985

 

There are other works on feminist and ethnic theologies that include the following:

 

Cone, James H., God of the Oppressed, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1975–Liberation Theology from a black scholar’s perspective.

Harrison, Beverly Wildung, Making the Connections (Carol S. Robb, Ed.)

Reuther, Rosemary Radford, To Change the World, New York: Crossroad, 1981

_______(Ed.), Religion and Sexism, New York: Simon & Schuster

Other relevant authors include Jim Wallis, and Daniel Berrigan for general themes; Gayraud S. Wilmore, James H. Cone, Andrew Young, and Cornel West for Black Liberation; Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Virginia Mollenkott, and Letty M. Russell for Feminist Liberation; Roy I Sano, Asian-American; Vine Deloria, Jr., Native American; and Cesar Chavez, Hispanic American.

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I studied Liberation Theology when I was in Seminary.

 

 

I do disagree with the approach outlined of how to read the bible.

 

 

First, one must look at the stories and writings and examine them to understand what the meant for those whom they were originally written. When we try and read them in our 19th, 20th, & 21st Century context we lose a great deal.

 

I have always had problems with the idea of "preferential option for the poor." Perhaps because I never really understood it or it was never explained. People do not choose into the circumstances they were born and it seemed to me that the "preferential option" was similar to the "pie in the sky" theology. It certainly doesn't encourage people to do what they are able to leave poverty. (I'm thinking of the people I work with, many of whom live in poverty). I always tell my students that getting an education is about having choices. It seems that if one is going to preach that God prefers you to be poor than there is a sugar coating of what it is actually like to live in poverty, especially generational poverty.

 

I have more thoughts, but since I may have never understood the preferential option, I'll wait for your comments before I go on!

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I admit that I do not know much about Liberation Theology. That little I do know causes me some concern. It would appear that it would not take much to argue that the present war in Iraq was an outworking of Liberation Theology. Likewsie with the bombing of abortion clinics. Yes, the jungle fighters would also be suported no matter how bloody their 'liberation' may be.

 

As I said, I know little and I have, perhaps, taken extreme examples. However, when talking about 'liberation' I am constantly reminded on that scene in the film Kundun where the young Dalai Lama is harangued by Colonel Chang of the invading Chinese Liberation Army on the benefits of 'liberating' Tibet. As Chang turned to go the DL spoke. 'Colonel Chang, you cannot liberate me: I can only do that myself'.

Edited by Wayseer
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'Colonel Chang, you cannot liberate me: I can only do that myself'.

 

Great quote! Could the Liberation Theology be a theology to liberate the mind of fixed thoughts. To quiet the intellect so one can go beyond it to a new realization?

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OA,

 

I think that most religious folks, particularly Christians, have trouble with the idea of starting with action. However, in today's discussion of the Epistle of James, one participant gave an example of just such an experience, and it made a lot of sense. He had attended a meeting of his church's social justice committee last night, and what they did was helpful in developing a better understanding of James' epistle.

 

As to God's "preferential option for the poor," the comments in Matt. 25 about "the least of these" come to mind, as do the references to "the widow, the orphan, and the stranger outside the gate" from the Torah. The book of Amos also lends itself to such a conclusion, as does Jesus' encounter with the rich young man.

 

I also think that it is worth pointing out that liberation theology has its greatest effect on and value for those who either don't have choices or those who work with such folk. If your position is that everyone has choices that could eliminate their poverty, I'm afraid I must take issue with that conclusion.

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Wayseer,

 

I have been exposed to liberation theology for several decades, took a course on it in the 1980s, and have read all of the references I cited in my first post. On that basis I see no possibility that liberation theololgy (LT) could be used to justify the Iraq war, in fact, those folks that I know who have been involved in LT are all opposed to it. In addition, most LT advocates are at least supporters of women's rights to the extent that they do not actively oppose the availability of abortion. In Nicaragua in the 80s, some advocates of LT supported the Sandinistas, but for most that meant supporting the Ortega administration and not the military. Most advocate nonviolence.

 

The Dalai Lama quote is quite admirable, but I think that LT advocates would in general come down on his side of most issues (though I do have the impression that he is opposed to GLBT rights).

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Soma,

 

Liberation Theology certainly introduces unconventional ways of looking at religion, and as such could be seen as "a theology to liberate the mind of fixed thoughts." It is mostly concerned about liberating people from oppression. There is even within that the idea that oppressors suffer from a form of self-inflicted oppression, but I am not willing to cut them that much slack.

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OA,

 

I think that most religious folks, particularly Christians, have trouble with the idea of starting with action. However, in today's discussion of the Epistle of James, one participant gave an example of just such an experience, and it made a lot of sense. He had attended a meeting of his church's social justice committee last night, and what they did was helpful in developing a better understanding of James' epistle.

 

I'm a big believer in action. I personally don't care about what people believe, I care about what they *do.*

 

I also think that it is worth pointing out that liberation theology has its greatest effect on and value for those who either don't have choices or those who work with such folk. If your position is that everyone has choices that could eliminate their poverty, I'm afraid I must take issue with that conclusion.

 

 

From my standpoint, education (at least in the US) is the key to getting out of generational poverty, there is no other way to do it, hence why I am a teacher. It is not that I "blame the victim" especially since my students are children who had no more choice into which family they were born than I did or you did. I do express to them that they do have choices *now.* And I work with them so that they will all make the choice to get an education, not use drugs, stay out of gangs, and not have children until they are adults so they can escape poverty! I also recognize that poverty is a complex issue which goes beyond the individual and into society. And that outside of the US it is even more complicated than that. We also talk about people (like the principal) who leave an impoverished area and choose to come back to make a difference and help others.

 

I hope that gives you a clearer picture of my perspective.

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There are some interesting points made here and I write what I do with a sense of intrepidation that I may well be misunderstood.

 

Perhaps that is the inherent problem with LT - the tendency to take the Hi Ho Silver approach. Undoubtedly, education - the process by which any of us can take charge over their own life. Education is information and when I'm in possession of relevant information I'm placed in the position of making informed choices. But I have a problem with 'rescuing'. You might note for the reason I have a problem with a Jesus rescuing me from something which I am supposed to have been guilty of through no fault of may own. This is disingenuous and confirms my status as victim.

 

And this is the web of entanglement that I have with LT - the conflict between what I 'want' for others and what others 'need'. Education can only become possible when other needs have been met - clean water, access to health professionals, adequate housing, valued employment. In other words, why am I doing this? (whatever 'this' might be). Am I doing it because 'this' is what I want to see happen or is it because 'this' is what others actually need?

 

Jesus did not 'rescue' his friends - he saw a need and addressed that need. That need had more to do with the conflict of living in a volatile part of the world dominated by antagonistic and competing powers. On one hand the Romans where in control demanding their taxes while Jersualem demanded their taxes. These competing self-interests made life and work a druggery to say the least for the peasantry. What Jesus gave was an opportunity to establish a new meaning for the impoverished population - in a word, hope. A hope that 'this too will pass' and a new life beckons. Jesus was not a dizzy missionary from some far off land overflowing with milk and honey - he was one of 'them' and shared their misery.

 

Liberation Theology I think says more about us than it does about the problems of the world. It supports 'us' in our endeavours to 'save' others - it is 'we' who feel a whole lot better.

 

OK, so what you are saying Wayseer, is that we do nothing because your sensibilities might come into play?

 

Fair question. I'm not sure I have the answer either. It just seems that rushing in with lots of money does not achieve lasting change. Change can only come about when the community is relatively save from marauding freedom fighters who are anything by liberationists. But they too are born into their role. So I'm not much help.

 

GW - you make valid points. My point is that in the end the choice is individual. Certainly that choice is constricted by one's social environment. By the way what is GLBT rights?

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Thanks for your input folks. I'm glad I have generated some interest.

 

I'm struggling with wayseer's comment that "Liberation Theology ... says more about us than it does about the problems of the world." Most of the best-known and most ardent proponents of LT are from the communities that are most affected by LT as they are the most oppressed. For example Gustavo Guttierez and Dom Helder Camara fit that description. Also the religious base communities are practicing religion from the ground floor up. My interest in LT may well say more about me that about oppressed folk, but they are where LT is, not I.

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I'm struggling with wayseer's comment that "Liberation Theology ... says more about us than it does about the problems of the world."

 

GW - Indeed I can see what you mean.

 

I acknowledge that I know little of LT but that of which I do know seems to indicate to me that this theory was pressed by 'our' desire not by the desire of others - 'we' need to do something for them - the focus is really about 'us'. I am wondering what a LT would look like crafted by those 'others'. I suggest we might not like their brand of Theology - 'practicing religion from the ground floor up'. Perhaps we are witnessing that theology played out on the world's stage right now. And, whether George W. Bush likes it or not the West will eventually have to sit down and negotiate with terrorists.

 

But I willing to accept that my view would not be very popular. But I'm not standing as President either.

 

I do not know the work of Gustavo Guttierez or Dom Helder Camara which probably indicates the depth of my ignorance on the subject.

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This discussion seems to be working from the aspect one of which I have already written about elsewhere...

 

Liberating the Poor a theology that transcends our current religious beliefs that the Blessings of GOD are ours from Israel...

 

The question that I have is - - What makes the poor, poor?

 

Economically we need to fix our own problems and show the rest of the world how they should follow our lead, but currently there is a downward spiral because of a lack of accountability.

 

No one can profit if everyone is getting drained...

 

How can we make the world a better place and relieve the suffering of other nations?

 

They do not deserve to be drained at our expense and this whole concept gets cyclical...

 

What is the cure?

 

Just knowing some things doesn't make a person any better off if even knowing that you know and no one can assist or do the job that they are in the position of doing a wall is placed between the poor and the elite.

 

Either a wall or a glass ceiling, how do we remove the restrictions?

 

If I don't do my job I get fired, how is it that the elite don't have to do their jobs? Just because they have an education they should be working and helping instead of setting up barriers and obstructing the path to peace.

 

There is a reason that the Church will never be able to cure the wounds of the world and why the global community suffers healing our society is going to take more of a collective effort by all world leaders and of the few that can make all of the difference between life and death for the poor.

 

Even while exposing the problem the cure or fix comes from above... That is where we have to trust in GOD... If we consider what has happened in the past 8 years we have a major problem looming over America and our elite had better act quick to sure up their foundations...

 

"The truth is on the march" - Emile Zola

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Thanks for your input folks. I'm glad I have generated some interest.

 

I'm struggling with wayseer's comment that "Liberation Theology ... says more about us than it does about the problems of the world." Most of the best-known and most ardent proponents of LT are from the communities that are most affected by LT as they are the most oppressed. For example Gustavo Guttierez and Dom Helder Camara fit that description. Also the religious base communities are practicing religion from the ground floor up. My interest in LT may well say more about me that about oppressed folk, but they are where LT is, not I.

 

Not to mention the recent controversy surrounding Rev. Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ. Rev. Wright's perspective is also a form of LT. If you look at the history of the church, you will see that Rev. Wright and the Trinity congregation have been quite successful in transforming the poor neighborhood in which the church is located.

Edited by minsocal
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Not to mention the recent controversy surrounding Rev. Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ. Rev. Wright's perspective is also a form of LT. If you look at the history of the church, you will see that Rev. Wright and the Trinity congregation have been quite successful in transforming the poor neighborhood in which the church is located.

 

 

I wish they would come to where I work. It is very frustrating because the mindset in the US right now is that children who are struggling in school are struggling because of the teachers. Go figure. Blame the group of people trying to make a difference! In reality it is a societal problem with poverty. The problems in school are symptoms of what is going on in the community.

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I wish they would come to where I work. It is very frustrating because the mindset in the US right now is that children who are struggling in school are struggling because of the teachers. Go figure. Blame the group of people trying to make a difference! In reality it is a societal problem with poverty. The problems in school are symptoms of what is going on in the community.

 

In Wisconsin we say "oh you betcha". In the progressive tradition there is an overlap between LT and progressive principles.

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The Father and Mother of crime is poverty. Students come to school hungry or with lack of sleep because they couldn't sleep the night before for lack of food or stability and America has been manipulated into thinking it is the teachers who are at fault. That way society doesn't have to change. We can continue to live the myth that we have equal education. Local control means unequal education so some districts have the latest gadgets while others don't even have books. Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't tax the rich...........................Sorry for the bumper sticker mentality.

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The Father and Mother of crime is poverty. Students come to school hungry or with lack of sleep because they couldn't sleep the night before for lack of food or stability and America has been manipulated into thinking it is the teachers who are at fault. That way society doesn't have to change. We can continue to live the myth that we have equal education. Local control means unequal education so some districts have the latest gadgets while others don't even have books. Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't tax the rich...........................Sorry for the bumper sticker mentality.

 

In some schools, teachers are expected to use a portion of their salary to buy class supplies! My church has an annual drive to help teachers out. I agree, the teachers are not at fault. My former Paster would frequently repeat the line "Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep!"

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The Father and Mother of crime is poverty. Students come to school hungry or with lack of sleep because they couldn't sleep the night before for lack of food or stability and America has been manipulated into thinking it is the teachers who are at fault. That way society doesn't have to change. We can continue to live the myth that we have equal education. Local control means unequal education so some districts have the latest gadgets while others don't even have books. Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't tax the rich...........................Sorry for the bumper sticker mentality.

 

 

That is part of it... but many kids simply aren't parented. I have kids who go to bed at 11, 12, 1, 2 a.m. I tell them I'm in bed at 9! I'm an adult they latest they should be going to bed is 9! Know how hard it is to teach a kid who hasn't had enough sleep? Yikes! Falling asleep, grouchy, easily irritated... Then of course there is the kids who haven't been read to, barely talked to... I could go on.

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That is part of it... but many kids simply aren't parented. I have kids who go to bed at 11, 12, 1, 2 a.m. I tell them I'm in bed at 9! I'm an adult they latest they should be going to bed is 9! Know how hard it is to teach a kid who hasn't had enough sleep? Yikes! Falling asleep, grouchy, easily irritated... Then of course there is the kids who haven't been read to, barely talked to... I could go on.

 

I'm concerned about kids not getting the right kind of stimulation. To me, video games and the like cannot replace reading and the imagination it demands. The poet Robert Bly has written some elegant commentary on this.

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I'm concerned about kids not getting the right kind of stimulation. To me, video games and the like cannot replace reading and the imagination it demands. The poet Robert Bly has written some elegant commentary on this.

 

That would be another good example. Having televisions as babysitters, spending money on video games instead of books, misplaced priorities -- more important to look cute than to eat properly, go to a musuem...

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My understanding of LT is pretty weak. But I have heard that another element of LT has to do with preserving "the best" of mixed cultural values. In other words, this is why Rev. Wright's church also seeks to preserve the best aspects of the African culture and blend it with the best aspects of American culture. I could be very wrong about this. Could anybody let me know if I am on the right track?

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My understanding of LT is pretty weak. But I have heard that another element of LT has to do with preserving "the best" of mixed cultural values. In other words, this is why Rev. Wright's church also seeks to preserve the best aspects of the African culture and blend it with the best aspects of American culture. I could be very wrong about this. Could anybody let me know if I am on the right track?

 

Hi Minsocal,

 

I would think that we are beyond the issue of African and American culture as we all are part of a global community and we need to stop the tribal division.

 

There is a need for a change in how we think some of these issues out. We have to pin the historical events to the current of the conversation, ie. What caused the Rev. Wright to give such a sermon etc. ??? Why would an organization claim to hold fast to historical dogma?

 

I saw you did a thesis on Satan and the creation of Evil in early religions, it is funny how the obvious is so unique, in that only a few get it. ;) Did you want to give or write more about your conclusion? I know my answer to the need to remove antiquated beliefs and why... :)

 

I'm interested in what others will have to add and to see which track we are on... :)

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Hi Minsocal,

 

I would think that we are beyond the issue of African and American culture as we all are part of a global community and we need to stop the tribal division.

 

There is a need for a change in how we think some of these issues out. We have to pin the historical events to the current of the conversation, ie. What caused the Rev. Wright to give such a sermon etc. ??? Why would an organization claim to hold fast to historical dogma?

 

The idea is that where there is value in tradtion, it should be preserved. What no longer works can be discarded. As we form a "global" community, we have to start somewhere.

 

As to Trinity UCC and Rev. Wriight, I can assure there is little "dogma" involved. This is a rather Progressive Church (see prior posts).

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