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July 2010

QUESTION:

The New Oxford American dictionary defines theology as the study of the nature of God and religious belief.  Based on this definition of theology I am led to believe that liberation theologists believe in God.  If I am wrong in this belief please inform me otherwise. However, if liberation theologists do believe in God and the Holy Bible, could you explain to me with Scripture examples the means by which the oppressed and the oppressors receive his/her salvation?  Thanks for your time.


RESPONSE:

Thanks so much for writing to me. As you know, people have been arguing about the topic of of salvation for a long time. I can’t speak for all the liberation theologians who have written thick books in the past fifty years, I can only speak for myself. (Although I think many liberation theologians would be sympathetic with my faith.)

As James Watkins documents in a wonderful article on this, at http://www.jameswatkins.com/faith.htm Jesus and the apostles approach the topic of salvation in a wide variety of ways. So I do not feel that there is only one right view of salvation. I seems to me that it is more like many spokes pointing toward a hub of light. People have different mind sets and need to be approached in different ways with different explanations, as you see in the story of Nicodemus struggling to understand what Jesus meant when He spoke of a person being “born again.”

Somehow in my life I have been moved by Matthew 25. Jesus talks about the final judgment and the focus is on active caring. With an emphatic force that startles me every time I read it, and inspires me every time I pray on it, Jesus asserts that we will will be judged in heaven by how we treated “the least of these” here on earth. There is no mention here of accepting His blood as shed for the remission of my sins, of believing in the virginity of Mary, or that the communion wafer becomes the literal body of Christ, or any of the other things that people claiming to be Christians have burnt each other at the stake for over the centuries. Just “I was hungry and you fed me.” I call this “the mysticism of kindness,” because it is a vision of kindness as a direct communion with God.

The Catholic priests in Latin America who gave voice to liberation theology saw themselves as not simply caring for the poor, but rather, caring for Christ, the image of God in which each of those poor people had been created. They eventually could not tolerate being mere ceremonial appendages in societies that were crushing large parts of their own populations while lifting a few up to fabulous wealth. These priests were being asked to bow down to the God of Wealth, and like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of old they would not bow down (and keep silent while their parishioners died). This is why so many died martyr’s deaths. (Please see this site’s page devoted to Archbishop Romero.)

I hope this gives you some of the flavor of liberation theologizing. My strand focuses on Jesus, but some of the most famous liberation theologizing focuses on the Exodus narrative and the symbolism of being led out of slavery. There are many forms. The book, “Liberation Theology,” by Robert McAfee Brown is a well known and excellent introduction. (Large parts of this book are readable online.)


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