- liberation theology
- During the 20th century, various groups challenged the universality of traditional Christian theology. They suggested that established church theologies did not speak for the whole church, but only for the ecclesiastical and political leaders and those who supported them. They condemned theologians who found it relatively easy to support corrupt governments, oppression of the poor, colonial structures, and other institutionalized social injustices. Most crucially, they claimed, theology reacted blindly to the Nazi Holocaust.Such critiques were very popular in Latin America. In the late 1950s, a new organization, Church and Society in Latin America, initiated primarily by Methodists and Presbyterians, began to analyze social and church structures from a Marxist perspective. Thinkers such as Emilio Castro (b. 1927), Julio de Santa Ana, Ruben Alves, and José Mi'guez Bonino, together with Roman Catholics such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Juan Luis Segundo, reflected on the relationship between faith and poverty, and between the Gospel and social justice. They began to call for revolutionary change in how the church operated and for an end to unjust social patterns. They drew energy from the actions of Vatican II. Among their early works were A Theology of Human Hope (1969) by Brazilian Presbyterian Ruben Alves and A Theology of Liberation (1971) by Peruvian Gustavo Gutierrez. Within the Catholic Church, many priests associated with Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, have identified with liberation theology; Maryknoll's press, Orbis Books, has published many of the movement's texts.The liberation theologians asserted that genuine theological reflection had to begin with a commitment to the struggles of the poor. Their position drew heavily on passages in the Gospels in which Jesus spoke of the poor and other outcast groups. As liberation theology developed, it saw liberation as the main theme of God's work in history: Christ's liberation of individuals from sin; the formation of a new humanity for a new society (the kingdom of God); and the liberation of the poor from oppression economically, politically, and socially.Liberation theology found an international advocate in Uruguayan Methodist Emilio Castro, who became the general secretary of the World Council of Churches in 1985. However, critics saw liberation theology as politicizing the church to an unacceptable degree. They said it led Christians to a too-hasty identification with violent revolutionary movements. other critics were opposed to any use of Marxism, which they saw as an atheist philosophy that had produced communism, a far greater scourge than Latin American governments.Liberation theologians have continued to evolve and remain a strong force in Latin America. They made common cause with emergent Protestant communities in Africa and Asia as well. in the United States in the 1970s, women and African Americans created new traditions of theological inquiry - black theology, feminist theology, and womanist theology.Further reading:■ Ruben Alves, A Theology of Human Hope (New York: World, 1969)■ Emilio Castro, Amidst Revolution (Belfast: Christian Journals, 1975)■ Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1971)■ Arthur F McGovern, Liberation Theology and Its Critics (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989)■ Paul E. Sigmund, Liberation Theology at the Crossroads (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.