From Liberation Theology, Part 3

Welcome to the third part of our tour through Liberation Theology.

For Part 2, please click here.

In this section, we will not delve into Liberation Theology:  A Documentary History.  We will return to that book soon, but for now, we will, instead, encounter Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation by Jose Miguez Bonino and A Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone.  Before we reach that point, however, I should add a quick section on the Conference at Medellin, which is a critical moment for Latin American Liberation Theology.

On Medellin

Though I have read through them, I have skipped over documents leading up to and produced from the Conference of Latin American Bishops at Medellin that are in Liberation Theology:  A Documentary History.  I have done this because each of these documents is worthy of its own read.  Also, each document, in some way, depends or plays off of another document, so in making selections, there is so much that I’d be not informing people about.  (I should also add that we will now begin skipping chunks of the book as, at this point in the book, many of the critics of Liberation Theology are quoted, and while they make for an interesting read, quoting the critics’ works is not our primary goal in these short blog posts.  Their writings, however, can be found in the book and are worth a read in order to get a full picture of the history of Liberation Theology.)

With that being said, ironically, I do want to quote a piece of one of those documents here in order to give a small sample of the really great work that was done at Medellin:

We express our desire to be very close always with those who work in the self-denying apostolate with the poor in order that they will always feel our encouragement and know that we will not listen to parties interested in distorting their work.  Human advancement has to be the goal of our action on behalf of the poor and it must be carried out in such a manner that we respect their personal dignity and teach them to help themselves.  With that end in mind we recognize the necessity of the rational structuring of our pastoral action and the integration of our efforts with those of other entities.” (The Latin American Bishops, Liberation Theology:  A Documentary History, p. 117)

And now, onward!

On Bonino

Bonino, like Gustavo Gutierrez and Hugo Assmann, is one of the early Liberation Theologians.  His book entitled Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation is probably his most famous work.  It is very helpful in establishing the contextual situation pre-dating and during the composition of Liberation Theology.  Almost half of the book is spent explaining the context which brought about Liberation Theology, and it therefore is a useful guide in getting some additional information on the timeline of Liberation Theology.  A number of important early figures in the movement are also covered in the book, such as Camilo Torres and Dom Helder Camara.  The downside for our study, however, is that choosing a portion to quote limits us to a few sections which are not part of a chronology or larger story.  Ultimately, I highly suggest the book to anyone who wants to know more about Liberation Theology and its roots.  Yet, in order to sample the book, we will look at one portion below.

Jose Bonino
Jose Miguez Bonino, Liberation Theologian, Sparring Partner of Jurgen Moltmann

Liberation Theology as a Critique of the Entire System

One of the most challenging aspects of Liberation Theology is the scope of its critique.  It is challenging because it involves our whole societal structure.  This paragraph from Bonino’s work is a concise summary of that critique.  Of course, more could be added to it, but I was impressed with its succinct and clear statement of Liberation Theology’s evaluation of our world’s situation.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with this assessment, it typifies Liberation Theology’s assessment in my opinion.  Here it is:

We are not dealing with particularly wicked people or with cancerous outgrowths of a system which has to be cleansed and restored to health.  We are simply facing the normal and unavoidable consequences of the basic principles of capitalist production as they work themselves out in our global, technological time.  The concentration of economic power, the search for higher profits, the efforts to obtain cheaper labor and to avoid higher costs are of the very essence of that system.  When theoreticians of neocapitalism in the developed countries point out that the most cruel consequences of these principles have been eliminated in the Northern nations, they usually pay insufficient attention to the fact that these changes have been obtained through conflict and that they have been made possible by the discovery and exploitation of another proletariat, that of the third world.”  (Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, p. 29)

This is a hard critique to stomach, especially for people living in the Northern countries.   As an update, however, we might add that, currently, we in North America are increasingly experiencing the “cruel consequences of these principles” as less well-paying jobs are available for people in the United States.  We see labor departing.  We see a decrease in people moving ahead and moving on up, unless of course one is in the Top 5% or, especially, the Top 1% where growth in income is actually happening.  Much more could be said about that, but I believe that other people, especially renowned contemporary sociologists, such as Robert Putnam, have stated the case better than myself.  In summary though, let us say that we too are now seeing an increase in the experience of poverty in our Northern part of the world.

A Black Theology of Liberation

James Cone is a prolific writer and theologian.  His critique of white theology is stunning, deep, and vast.  Usually, I quote from a section of a theological book and then put down some commentary.  Here, however, it seems fitting to simply quote from a section of A Black Theology of Liberation and let the reader wrestle with these hard words from James Cone.

There is a close correlation between political and religious conservatism.  Whites who insist on verbal infallibility are often the most violent racists.  If they can be sure, beyond any doubt, of their views of scripture, then they can be equally resolute in imposing their views on society as a whole.  With God on their side there is nothing that will be spared in the name of the ‘laws of God and men.’  It becomes an easy matter to kill blacks, Amerindians, or anybody else who questions their right to make decisions on how the world ought to be governed.  Literalism thirsts for the removal of doubt in religion, enabling believers to justify all kinds of political oppression in the name of God and country.” (Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 33)

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