Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is liberation theology a "dying old lady"?

by Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
July 4, 2014

"The relevant figures of liberation theology are all very elderly, and liberation theology as such, as the expression of what it was, is very archaic, if not already dead ... Today, the theme of liberation theology, which had been put forth with a sociological foundation that did not square with theological foundations, is no more."

No, these are not statements by the Lefebvrist, neoconservative, or fundamentalist sectors, nor by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so prone to discrediting theological trends that don't agree with Roman theology. They were made by Monseñor Carlos Aguiar Retes, the all-powerful president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), and published by the Catholic information agency ZENIT. He made them at a very significant occasion -- CELAM's meeting with Pope Francis -- when the Vatican has been showing signs of rapprochement with that theology.

In face of the criticism he received for such contempt towards liberation theology (LT), Archbishop Aguiar himself wanted to qualify it in some statements to Noticelam but, in my opinion, his rejection of that theology has become even more evident. He brings up the existence of a current "based on Marxist analysis which led to ideologizing the Gospel message" and he believes it is necessary to redirect it through developing "a liberation theology with a biblical and spiritual foundation."

What do the first very disrespectful statements from the mouth of a qualified dignitary of the Catholic Church with a bad attitude, who arrogates to himself the representation of some hundreds of millions of Catholics on the continent, and the second, very unfocused declarations on liberation theology reveal? Ignorance, manipulation or, more simply yet, confusing wishes with reality? Whether it's one, or the other, the third, or all three at once, I would like to brief, at least summarily, the president of CELAM on the current state of liberation theology, which today is far from old age and further still from death.

LT, born in Latin America at the end of the '70s -- it has just turned 45 --,  is one of the most creative currents of Christian thought born in the South, far from the centers of political, economic and religious power, with its own signs of identity and theological status. As such, it isn't a branch of theology developed in the North. Quite the opposite: It has broken down theological North-centrism, be it modern or postmodern, European or North American.

It has been an object of suspicion since its beginnings, especially during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It has received some of the coarsest, least provable accusations such as advocating violence, being a branch of Marxism, introducing class struggle into the Church and partisan politics into Christianity...Many of its practitioners have been condemned, dismissed from their professorships, and their books have undergone strict censorship. The most serious condemnation -- comparable to Pope Pius IX's syllabus against modernism -- was the one contained in the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", drafted by Cardinal Ratzinger when he was president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and ratified by John Paul II.

But, despite the persecution to which it has been subjected, LT has not surrendered to Vatican orthodoxy, nor has it renounced its first insights or the principle of liberation, but neither has it remained a snapshot of its origins, since it is not a perennial theology, immune to change, nor one that is purely of the mind, but a theology of practical, historical reasoning, in fieri, that is reformulated and reconstructed in new liberation processes.

Just as LT at its onset tried to answer the social, economic, religious, spiritual and cultural challenges of the Latin American continent, it continues to do so today and is elaborated from the new subjects that are emerging and advocating for structural changes in society and the denominations -- women, doubly and triply oppressed by the dictatorships of patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism in alliance, the Earth, subjected to depredation by the voracious scientific, technical and economic development system, landless peasants, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendant communities, humiliated throughout centuries of imperial domination, the growing number of groups excluded because of neoliberal globalization, former religions destroyed by imperial Christianity, persecuted and stigmatized identities.

They are all denied alterities that make up the different faces of poverty and marginalization, whom LT recognizes as active agents, aware that they are becoming empowered and that from their empowerment, they are contributing to overcoming racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, and thus they are leading the struggle against ethnocide, genocide, and biocide caused by the development paradigm of Western modernity.

From this, new liberation theology trends have emerged, all counter-hegemonic: feminist, indigenous, Afro-descendant, peasant, ecological, and queer theology, theology of religious diversity, of gender diversity. A whole mosaic of theology and wisdom that makes up the diverse panorama of LT, which is not a dying old lady, but is still living and active, trying to respond to the new challenges of the Latin American continent.

Today, it is present throughout the South, but also in the areas of marginalization in the North, and it has been visible at the World Social Forum, where it has created its own religious alter-globalization space, the World Forum on Theology and Liberation, which questions credulous beliefs, revolutionizes the consciences of believers and non-believers, and aims to transform their alienating practices into emancipating ones based on the conviction that "Another theology is possible" -- and necessary! -- in full harmony with the slogan of the Social Forums that "Another epistemology is possible!" and with the epistemologies of the South that are being developed in the different disciplines and sciences.

If Monseñor Aguiar Retes wants to bury liberation theology, he should know that he will be doing it to a living reality and that this is a greater and more serious crime than deeming it archaic or dead. How far the current president of CELAM is from the bishops who bid farewell to the paradigm of the conquering, colonial and developmentalist Church of the conquest, and initiated the paradigm of the liberation Church at the 2nd CELAM Conference in Medellin in 1968! They laid the foundation for the Church of the poor that Pope Francis wants to recover. With his statements, Monseñor Aguiar is blowing up that foundation.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who is enthusiastic in declaring the death of a particular theology is also responsible to highlight a 'life giving theology' to the church of the poor. What is the theology of the archbishop in which the Living Christ of the gospel is prophetically active?