Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Bible and Politics, pt. 6.3

Liberation Theology

Though the phrase ‘liberation theology’ arose from a Latin American Catholic movement in the early 1970s, it is now used as an umbrella term for several groups with similar approaches to theology and politics. Black, feminist, queer, ecological, mujerista (Latina), womanist (black women), minjung (Korean), and other theologies fit under this wide umbrella.

Distinctive about liberation theology is its commitment to reading the Bible and doing theology from the perspective of the poor and oppressed. Liberationists believe the God of the Bible sides with the poor, and thus we should too. Accordingly, liberation theology has focused on organizing the oppressed into faith communities which become bases for prayer, Bible reading, and political action.

Theologically, liberation theologians emphasize the kingdom or reign of God that can be actualized now through revolutionary action on behalf of and with the oppressed. This stance led many early liberationists to support violent revolutions, such as the Cuban revolution and the Sandanista revolt in Nicaragua. More recent liberation theologians tend to advocate theologies of non-violence.

The political rhetoric of liberationists tends to be highly biblical, but it also draws from recent sociological analysis. Liberation theology is usually committed to listening for God’s voice in sources outside the church, so Marx and others are regarded as valuable companions to the Bible in advancing the revolutionary agenda.

Because liberation theology is church-based in practice, its political speech tends to take place in the form of sermons and theological writings; because it is revolutionary in character its political speech tends to take place in churches and other grassroots locations. Nevertheless, its sociological analysis allows it to convey some of its central ideas (e.g., land reform, democracy, anti-capitalism) in broad terms to wider audiences.

On the American political scene, liberation theology is an active force behind many denominational and interfaith advocacy alliances. Through their demonstrations and lobby work, we can see the blend of biblical and non-biblical discourse, political speech that is as unafraid of using the Bible as it is comfortable using more ‘common’ terminology.

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