Back in junior year of college, 2011-2012 academic school year, I underwent a metamorphosis in my thinking. I went from a die-hard passionate liberal to a socialist and eventually communist. The reason being was that modern-day liberalism didn’t extend economic and social equality far enough so my next best option, I thought was to go further on the spectrum to a system that did. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Vladimir Lenin and Eugene V. Debs. To this day, my Amazon account is loaded with books that I ordered from this time on the topic of socialism and communism.
Also during this time, my oldest brother became passionately involved with black conscious politics. Everything from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X and even others like Chancellor Williams or Amos Wilson. Just learning about black struggle and ways to address deep embedded structural issues caught my attention. What the authors said, I believed. Similarly, my Amazon account is loaded with books on Black liberation, Pan-Africanism, and Black Nationalism.
To make this situation more complex, I considered my self a Christian. I was baptized in April of 2010, attended church weekly, and considered myself an average sola-fide Bible believer. However, something that really discouraged my religious beliefs was Black authors that painted Christianity in a negative view. To them, Christianity was associated with colonialism, imperialism, and everything white supremacy. I walked away feeling these authors attacked my faith. In addition, Black conscious authors attacked socialism and communism because of its leadership and lack of concern for Black advancement.
I was in a horrible spot. I wondered how could I reconcile all three beliefs into one. Then out of nowhere, I heard of Black Liberation Theology (BLT). It was like the heavens opened and gave me a clear pathway to merging all three areas of my life.
Essentially, BLT sees the Bible, its characters, its stories, and Jesus as a great metaphor for Black suffering and pain in America. Developed during the Civil Rights Movement by Dr. James H. Cone, in a nutshell, sees Black advancement for equality deeply rooted in stories such as the Exodus, breaking away from the chains of mental, societal, and economic institutional slavery into freedom. BLT is a branch of Liberation Theology which shares most of the same tenets as BLT but on a broader spectrum for all peoples. Developing from the Latin American context of the 1960s and 1970s, Liberation Theology stresses a Marxist type approach to societal change, such as dismantling or overhauling institutions maintaining the power that oppresses and marginalized groups.
Yep, I had finally found it.
Thankfully, by the end of my senior year (2012-2013), for the most part, I had abandoned BLT, socialism/communism, and Black Consciousness. Primarily, because I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ and eventually saw the ideologies incompatible with the Bible and the economics of a free market system. Paul said to renew your mind, so I did.
Fast forward almost 6 years since I graduated from college, a Catholic, and more learned, I have a few thoughts on Liberation Theology.
Focus on the poor
We live in a privileged time period regarding wealth. There are countless billionaires, millionaires, and an abundance of wealth and wealth creation going on today like no time before. With that said, there lies a lot of inequality among disparities between the rich and the poor. God wants justice to be carried out equally among the rich and the poor. He encourages fair treatment between the two (James 2:1).
When I read the Bible, I can’t help but notice God has a soft spoke for the poor and oppressed. Again, He doesn’t value one group more than the other, but I think He truly understands the hardships of the poor. The poor are more likely than the rich to be judged falsely, receive unfavorable treatment, suffer unbearable pains, and face discrimination because of their status. All of these things Jesus Christ faced. Great how the Incarnation unites the plight of the poor to the humble God-Man.
To count the verses where God commands justice for the poor and oppressed are innumerable but some that come to mind call us to advocate for the poor and destitute (Proverbs 31:8-9), looking out for the needs of others (1 Corinthians 10:24), and practice giving to the poor (1 John 3:17).
So here I believe Liberation Theology gets it right. The poor and oppressed need their concerns heard and fulfilled.
1. Institutional salvation
A major con with Liberation Theology is the Bible isn’t a guide for salvation, but a playbook on achieving social justice. The Bible is turned into a guide for defeating class struggle or class warfare pretty much.
Whenever I read Black Liberation Theology, I don’t recall reading about the need for baptism and confession of sins or persevering till the end in grace. Everything was tied to racism or classism. This makes me wonder what the real intent of this theology is.
From Genesis to Revelation, God, If I may quote the Eucharistic Prayer, “Never ceases to gather a people to yourself.” That’s God’s principal mission.
Many anticipated the Messiah would overturn Roman oppression, but Jesus did the opposite for many reasons. Primarily, Jesus’ task wasn’t to be a revolutionary rebel. Keep in mind this was the same person who fled away from large crowds and demanded people not to spread the word about him to avoid attracting unnecessary attention away from his saving mission. The complete opposite of a revolutionary.
Yes, we should advocate for just and fair systems in major institutions but to advocate a complete overhaul of corrupt institutions isn’t the salvation God has primarily in mind.
Liberation Theology says the main struggle is with institutions and people that perpetuate oppression, while St. Paul dismissed both and by pointing to the real force of evil “With the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).”
Christians say “deliver us from evil”, but proponents of Liberation Theology utter “deliver us from capitalism. ”
2.Bad reading of the Bible
Many proponents of Liberation Theology think any verse that fits their agenda is suitable to advance their cause, but in the process they commit eisegesis, inserting their own judgments into scripture.
For example, in the film Fiddler on the Roof, Perchik, the Marxist revolutionary, claims the story of Laban deceiving Jacob about his daughter he would give to wed stressed the importance of not trusting an employer.
Liberation theologians find many stories and verses to insert their ideology. Not sure if they read verses out of context or are just completely ignorant about the cultural and historical context of the Bible!
Liberation Theology prides itself on being the God-inspired social justice approach, but actually, I think its biblically unsound. Its emphasis on the poor and oppressed are key points we need to always adopt. Thankfully, the Catholic Church has phenomenal social teaching that addresses many concerns of the poor and oppressed, not to the extent of Liberation Theology, but there are certain things that could be agreed on.
Overall, I think we should be concerned about the advancement of this theology, especially in our feel-good culture where social justice is thrown around easily. Not only is it bad hermeneutics, its hijacking the Bible to advance a distorted view of social justice. Even the right and left do this too. Most likely this is a case of good intentions but bad results I believe.
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