, , , ,

The reactions against liberation theology from both the right and the left are misguided. Hannity acts as though liberation theology is inherently racist – ‘how dare they actually make a distinction between white and black’! The Conservative acts as if racial prejudice is simply a thing of the past. If anyone brings the issue of race into the conversation, then they must be a racist, even if they represent that minority. The race issue, in this case, has been moved to the unconscious realm. Prejudice still exists; blacks are imprisoned in droves, are kept from the better paying jobs, and are generally looked down upon in certain circles, but since the superficial issues of the “separate but equal” doctrine have been nullified, the white man has been cathartically satisfied. He feels as if he’s done his part.

On the other hand, Colmes reaction is no better. He simply wants to dismiss the real problems that liberation theology brings to the fore. He wants to excuse the ‘separatism’ as a necessary component of ‘angry black man’ syndrome, pacifying its true intent. He sees liberation theology as a healthy form of ‘community formation’, rather than the radical foray into socio-political critique that it is.

Here is where we need a true grasp of what Liberation theology really is; and we must distinguish between two different kinds: what I will call ecclesial Liberation theology, and radical Liberation theology. First, let us look at ecclesial Liberation theology through the eyes of Gustavo Gutierrez.

Gutierrez’s view of a proper liberation theology is founded upon the life of the church. Unlike the historical materialism of Marxism, Gutierrez wants a revolution founded upon the life and deeds of Christ – and that means a quiet revolution, but not in the sense of volume. As Gutierrez himself has said, “The Eucharist is the first task of the church.” The irony is that it is a revolution, but the weapons of our warfare are bread and wine, not guns and knives (or butter). As Karl Barth was fond of saying, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Because of the advent of Christ, the world has been changed forever. When God entered the world at the Incarnation, eternity was brought into our temporal existence. When God granted us the benefits of adoption through faith in Christ, He effectively nullified the necessity of violent revolution. Christ created a new path. If we are to live a cruciform life, a life that resembles the passive resistance of Christ and the apostles, then we must first pray, and then love. This is our revolution – when we are weak, then He is strong.

On the other hand, radical Liberation theology takes its cue from the violent revolutionary politics of the French and Russian Revolutions of the mid-19th century. Lenin and Robespierre are its heroes – not Peter and Paul. This is a theology that refuses to break down the dividing wall of Jew and Gentile, or rich and poor, or black and white, etc. It wants to create divisions, and it wants to do so violently. Unfortunately, I believe that Jeremiah Wright’s comments often fall under this rubric. This revolution will ultimately end just like the world’s other revolutions, with the guillotine. Violence rejects the peace of Christ, even though His peace does come packed with a sword. It returns back to the shadowy covenant of Moses, where God shows favor to nations and people groups rather than to sinners.

What we need is a new hermeneutic for understanding the social – a sort of theo-epistemology which leads to a theological social structure with theologically-centered living within. When we look to God, rather than utility or capital, to determine how we must live, we will come close to something radical – and possibly even socialist. Jesus Christ died because of His radicality, yet it was a radicalism that has not yet been duplicated. In the western academic realm, it is easy to speak as if we wish to throw down our pens and pencils and pick up a sword. It’s in our nature to react with hostility when we feel subjugated. But how difficult it is to pray for our enemies, and love those who despise us. This is why Herbert McCabe says that “Christianity alone, because it is the articulate presence of Christ, the future of mankind, cannot (however hard it sometimes seems to try) wholly betray its mission. As it seems to me, like St. Peter and the twelve, we remain Christians because there is nowhere else to go: if Christianity is not the revolution, nothing else is.”[2]

[1] Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, pg. 148.
[2] McCabe, Law, Love, and Language, pg. 172.