Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pondering Liberation Theology: Defining the Church's Responsibility to the Poor -Part 2

Recently, I have been acquainting myself with the fundamentals of Liberation theology. In some of the books I've read, I've come across some powerful ideas. I want to take some time here to communicate some passages from Raymond McAfee Brown's book: Spirituality and Liberation (The Westminster Press, 1988). 

Here, Brown continues to summarize Gustavo Gutierrez's understanding of genuine spirituality, this time from Gutierrez's first major work, A Theology of Liberation (esp. pp 36-37 and 176-181): 

"Liberation when radically understood includes liberation. We can make our point by calling once again on Gutierrez, who, as the practitioner of a life in which spirituality and liberation cannot be separated, has particularly compelling credentials. We need to call attention to only a single point made in his first major work, A theology of Liberation (esp. pp. 36-37 and 176-181). If this point is clear, the cause for inclusiveness of spirituality and liberation has been established. It is Gutierrez's contention that liberation has three levels of meaning but that no one of them is properly understood unless all three are simultaneously affirmed.

The first level is liberation from unjust social structures that destroy people. These structures may be political, economic, or cultural, they may grow out of warped attitudes based on race, class, nation, or sex, and they may also (as Gutierrez has personal reason to know) be embodied in church structures, operating in concert with any of the others. The attention of liberation theologians has been strongly focused on this level, since it is the most immediate barrier to full personhood that their constituencies face, and it has thrust many of them into conflictive situations.

The second level with which liberation is concerned is more subtle but equally devastating. It is liberation from the power of fate, from the sense that one's station in lie is foreordained, and that not only is there nothing one can do about it but it would be presumptuous and arrogant even to try. If one is born rich, that, too, is the way it is meant to be. Good news to the rich, bad news to the poor. Result: apathy or despair among the poor, and exhilaration among the rich who are determined to keep things that way. The counsel to accept whatever cards fate deals serves as a magnificent justification for the status quo, a fact not lost on the rich and powerful.

For hundreds of years, the church played a major role in supporting this position, by the simple device of substituting "providence" or "the will of God" for the pagan concept of "fate." Accept your lot without complaint, the sermons went, and God will reward you in the afterlife.

The liberation message on this second level is that things need not remain the way they are, that the biblical God  is working actively for justice and seeks to enlist all people in the struggle. The operative word is hope.

The third level of liberation is liberation from personal sin and guilt. This is not an add-on to the liberation agenda, inserted late in the day to forestall the critics, but has been there from the start, as any examination of the literature will show. Critics who fail to see it testify only to their own myopia. If the third level receives less quantitative treatment than the others, this is for the good reason that it has always been the central if not exclusive message of the institutional church, hardly in need of new champions, whereas levels one and two have only infrequently been acknowledged as part of the Christian agenda. Even so, the quantitative as well as qualitative attention given to such matters in Gutierrez's writings is impressive. Prayer, Bible study, worship, Eucharist, and (as we have seen) grace are central to his understanding of liberation." [pp. 121-123]

Tomorrow, we will let Brown sum up all that's been said thus far. Then, we will try and make sense of it ourselves. 




Joshua said...

Thank you for the long quote. I've never thought so deeply as I might have about the multi-level complexity of liberation theologians' understanding of their central term.

ChrisK said...

I am glad you enjoyed it, Joshua. I have definitely been stimulated as well by some of text I've read recently. Its always good to upset the apple cart from time to time. :)