Readings in Liberation Theology

I.. The lower classes of the populace, forced to live on the margins of society and oppressed since time immemorial, are beginning to speak for themselves more and more rather than relying on intermediaries... They are less and less willing to be the passive objects of demagogic manipulation and social or charitable welfare in varied disguises. They want to be the active subjects of their own history and to forge a radically different society.

This discovery is made, however, only within the context of a revolutionary struggle. That struggle is calling the existing social order into question from the roots up ...private ownership of the means of production will be eliminated because it enables a few to expropriate the fruits of labor performed by the many, generates class divisions in a society, and permits one class to be exploited by another. In such a reordered society the social takeover of the means of production will be accompanied by a social takeover of the reins of political power that will ensure people's liberty...

For a long time, and still today in the case of many people, Latin American Christians displayed an almost total lack of concern for temporal tasks. They were subjected to a type of religious upbringing that viewed the "hereafter" as the locale of authentic life... On the surface it seemed to bear the hallmark of spiritual and religious traits, but in reality it stemmed from a seriously reductionist view of the gospel message... The gospel message was thus rendered as innocuous as a lap dog. From such a gospel the great and powerful of this world had little to fear and much to gain. Their support and backing of it was quickly forthcoming.

...Social injustice began to surface as the fundamental cause of the general situation. How could one claim to be a Christian if one did not commit oneself to remedying that situation? ...More and more we see a converging trend, initiated by young people in particular. In ever widening circles people began to abandon positions that did not go beyond some form of developmentalism rooted in reformist principles. The socialist revolution in Cuba opened up new political horizons... The figures of Camilo Torres and Che Guevara sealed the process irrevocably and had a decisive influence on various Christian sectors in Latin America... To the "institutionalized violence" condemned by the Medellín episcopal conference was added the indiscriminate use of force (imprisonment, torture, and assassination). That is how "order" was to be maintained in the face of popular movements and uprisings.

Love of neighbor is an essential component of Christian life. But as long as I apply that term only to the people who cross my path and come asking me for help, my world will remain pretty much the same. Individual almsgiving and social reformism is a type of love that never leaves its own front porch... On the other hand my world will change greatly if I go out to meet other people on their path and consider them as my neighbor, as the good Samaritan did... the gospel tells us that the poor are the supreme embodiment of our neighbor. It is this option that serves as the focus for a new way of being human and Christian in today's Latin America. But the existence of the poor... is not neutral on the political level or innocent of ethical implications. Poor people are by-products of the system under which we live and for which we are responisble... That is why the poverty of the poor is not a summons to alleviate their plight with acts of generosity but rather a compelling obligation to fashion an entirely different social order.

The realm of politics today entails confrontations between different human groups, between social classes with opposing interests, and these confrontations are marked by varying levels of violence. The desire to be an "artisan of peace" not only does not excuse one from taking part in these conflicts; it actually compels one to take part in them if one wants to tackle them at their roots and get beyond them. It forces one to realize that there can be no peace without justice. This is a harsh insight, and it disturbs people who... with the best of good will, confuse or identify universal love with some fictitious harmony.
But what does the gospel message command us to do? It tells us to love our enemies... The gospel does not say that we are not to have enemies; it says that we are not to exclude our enemies from our love.

...Viewed as the result of social injustice which is ultimately rooted in sin, poverty is now taken on insofar as it is a way of bearing witness against the evil it embodies... In this respect it is assumed for much the same reasons that Christ took on the sinful human condition and all its consequences... When it is lived in authentic imitation of Christ, the witness of poverty does not alienate us from the world at all. ...Only through concrete acts of love and solidarity can we effectively realize our encounter with the poor and the exploited and, through them, with Jesus Christ. To give to them is to say yes to Christ; to refuse them is to reject Christ (Matt. 25:31-46).
---Gustavo Gutiérrez, "Liberation Praxis and Christian Faith" from Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, edited by Rosino Gibellini, translated by John Drury, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1979.

Whoever is suffering, whether in body or soul; whoever is in despair, be he poor or rich, will have a special place in the heart of the Bishop. But I have not come here to help anyone delude himself into thinking that a little charity and social work will suffice. There is no doubt about it: there is crying misery to which we have no right to remain indifferent. Very often, we have no choice but to take immediate action, however inadequate. But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the problem is limited to a few gestures of reform; let us not confuse the beautiful and indispensable idea of order, the end of all human progress, with the mockery of order which is responsible for preserving structures we all know should not and cannot be preserved...
The church cannot stand apart from history. Through her free, adult, responsible laymen, she lives at its very heart... It would be an unpardonable scandal if the Church were to abandon the masses in their hour of greatest need... This does not mean - and I cannot repeat this too often - that the Church will be committed to any one person, party, or movement, whether political or economic...

We bishops of the Northeast found we had no choice but to encourage the farm workers to organize into unions as the only practicable way to enable them to discuss their rights with landowners who more often than not were transplanted straight from the Middle Ages into this twenty-first century in which mankind has already begun to live... And if we feel obliged to help rather than simply to leave to laymen the work which would normally be a sign of Christian presence in the temporal world, it is because we feel compelled to do so, faced as we are with the blindness, the coldheartedness, and the arrogance of certain lords of the world. We feel the necessity to lend our moral support to the fundamental task of defending human rights. If even bishops of the Holy Church, who have been entrusted with the most Christian mission of defending downtrodden human beings, are with impunity branded as Communists, what would happen to our priests, and above all to our laymen, if we abandoned them to their fate? ...We must not commit a sin of omission. We cannot remain outside the struggle. We have a human and Christian duty to take part in it.

...The truth is that both sides [the Soviet Union and the United States] are lacking in proper respect for the self-determination of peoples: there have been military occupations; there have been atrocities. ..."Western world," in the case of the liberal-capitalist or neo-capitalist nations, really means one which makes a show of being Christian when that suits its purposes... As Populorum Progressio points out, even liberal capitalism has materialistic roots and is directly responsible for the rise of an international dictatorship of economic power... Why not recognize that there is no longer just one type of Socialism and put in a plea for Christians to break free from adverse connotations of the term? can also mean a regime which serves the community and mankind...

Meanwhile many people, especially young people and often the best of them, lose faith in democracy and turn to violence.
Who among us does not know, does not feel, that the time has come - that it came long since - to carry out agrarian reform instead of merely using it as a slogan and as the object of interminable studies and discussions? It is urgent, most urgent, to remember that the Christian Message is meant not only to be heard and admired, but to be lived.
--Dom Hélder Câmara, Revolution Through Peace (originally Revolução Dentro da Paz), edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen, translated from Portuguese by Amparo McLean, 1971, Harper & Row, New York.

III. The Lord said,
I have seen the affliction of my people
who are in Egypt.
I have heard the cry of my people
Against their slave-masters.
I have taken heed of their sufferings, and
I have come down to deliver them
out of the hands of the Egyptians,
to bring them out of that country,
to a good and broad land,
a land flowing with milk and honey...
Exodus 3:7-8
In the summer of 1973, a group of Catholic bishops in the northeast of Brazil wrote:

These words from Exodus, spoken by God to Moses, are a fitting expression of our feelings in these days (Exodus 3:11-12; 4:12). Before the suffering of our people, humble and oppressed for centuries, we feel called by the Word of God to take up a position, a clear position on the side of the poor, a position taken in common with all those who commit themselves to people for their true liberation.

Following in the steps of Moses, we want to fulfill, together with the people of God, our mission as pastors and prophets. We are summoned to speak by the Word of God, which judges the events of history. In this way we have tried to understand the cry of our people, the daily facts and events of a suffering people - phenomena which recommend themselves to a serious study of our human situation.

April, 1976, in Buenos Aires, Argentina - Severino Croatto, Bible professor at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Educación Teológica (Ecumenical Theological Institute), wrote:

The Church appears as the refuge of the oppressed masses, deepening their alienation, not offering them a critical [questioning] faith which can arouse their consciousness about their own situation of slavery. There are expressions of popular Catholicism which are the opposite to a liberating faith and which internalize oppression instead. The popular celebrations of death, pain and suffering, such as La Polorosa, the Holy Death, the Cross, are sort of ambiguous symbols. They help to accept with resignation suffering and oppression as the loving will of God, forgetting that they are caused by people.

The tragedy is that this identification with the dying Christ has a great power of sublimation, introjecting in the people's conscience their situation of poverty and exploitation as an "imitation of Christ." But it is an imitation of his death - without resurrection. There is no expression of the resurrection in their economic and social lives. The oppressors are happy that the people celebrate Holy Week without resurrection.
--Esther and Mortimer Arias, The Cry of My People, 1980, Friendship Press, New York.