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Liberation Theology: A New “Christianity” Part 2

Guest Post

In 1959, the Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope John XXII created Vatican II, one hundred years after Vatican I. The First Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church was the twentieth ecumenical council that took place three centuries after the 1869 Council of Trent. Vatican II was a shock not only to the Catholic Church but to the world because so much time had elapsed since the first. This second Vatican council came together to discuss doctrine and issues regarding reconciliation where they sought to give themselves permission to pray with other Christian denominations, work with non-Christians, make it permissible to use other than Latin languages for Mass services, discuss divine revelation and finally, declare that education is a universal human rights issue.

On September 6, 1968, four years after Pannenberg published Jesus-God and Man, , and nine years after Vatican II, another major milestone that advanced liberation theology was the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), held in Medellin, Columbia. It was here that Latin American clergy and theologians created an agenda that included coining the term “preferential option for the poor”. In essence, the Catholic Church wanted to become the “evangelizer of the poor and one with them”[34]. It was this Latin American conference where a distinct “theology of liberation” was born. This theology of liberation was influenced heavily by Paulo Freire’s education for liberation [35], developed out of his experiences in literacy and education that occurred in various Catholic ministries in Brazil [36], , which emerged out of Vatican II. Years later, in 1996, Gustavo Gutierrez attended a seminar at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in the U.S. and stated that Paulo Freire “significantly contributed to liberation theology” and affirmed that Freire “lived a liberating Christian faith [37].

Freire, an unapologetic Marxist philosopher and educator from Brazil authored the original Portuguese work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1968, where he presented his educational and social change theories that included the idea that education was crucial to the “completion of ourselves as human beings” [38]. In this work, Freire provided a clear Marxist class analysis theory of education that “explored the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized” , which included a belief that education had the power to humanize and transform the character of a person and that human transformation cannot occur in isolation or individually, but in fellowship and solidarity [39], meaning in a larger community or societal context. Freire’s philosophy was the driving force behind Latin American liberation theology and gave theologians the language needed for liberation theology to take on a formal form [40]. The similarities in Freire and Gutierrez’s language can be seen in how they used the term “liberation”

“The theology of liberation seeks to provide a language for talking about God. It is an attempt to make the word of life present in a world of oppression, injustice and death” – Gutierrez, 1990.

“The theology of so-called development gives way to the theology of liberation – a prophetic, utopian theology, full of hope” – Freire, 1985.

Liberation Theology was the main root where several branches of termed theologies [41] would emerge. It became obvious that the various forms of liberation theology veered away from orthodoxy, though many early liberation theologians held to the premise that liberation theology originated with Israel, Egypt and Exodus, as well as the Greco-Roman practice of slavery and freedom. Liberation theology is often embraced by the various demographic groups being advocated under its guise. As mentioned above, liberation theology was birthed in Medellin, Columbia at the CELAM conference and included a praxis-oriented approach to Christian theology [42], meaning it became a “doing theology” form of Christianity that sought to help the oppressed and the poor, using James 2 as its foundation.

Liberation theology includes black theology, third world theologies that differentiate between Latin American and Asian perspectives, as well as feminist theologies, which birthed intersectionality. The initial development of formal liberation theology began with Paulo Freire, Gustavo Gutierrez, and James Cone in the late 1960’s and early 70’s and the main thrust of liberation theology centered around classism, racism, and oppressive power structures [43].

Where Freire had a liberation of education, influenced by his Roman Catholic experiences and revealed at Vatican II, James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez developed theologies of liberation that sought to transform Western Protestant theology. Both Gutierrez and Cone were profoundly influenced by Karl Barth, so much so, Cone’s dissertation was on “The Doctrine of Man in the Theology of Karl Barth”. However, Cone eventually came to believe that Barth and other white theologians were irrelevant to “black students who came from cotton fields” and began to merge Christianity with black power. He began to believe that “if the gospel and Jesus have nothing to do with the black struggle for liberation, then he wanted nothing to do with the gospel or Jesus and if faith was not liberating, it was not worthy to be kept around”.

Cone used much of his own experiences to write his prominent work, Black Theology and Black Power and described that his writing “was a conversion experience that symbolized the death of white theology and the birth of theology that matched his own lived experiences”. Interestingly, one of the main characteristics of Critical Race Theory, liberation theology’s “first cousin”, is to dissect culture, society, and self according to personal experiences, which is called narrative or counter storytelling.

Counter storytelling is a method of telling stories of people whose experiences are not often told, which specifically are the stories of people of color, women, those who are LGBTQ, and the poor. These “minority” stories are theorized to stand in opposition to the narratives of the dominant majority, who are assumed to be whites, men, middle and upper class, and heterosexual, assuming that because they are the majority, their stories carry “multiple layers of assumptions that serve as filters“, or rather, they are believed to establish the normative.

Feminist theology is divided into two distinct but similar concepts. One of those divisions is womanist theology, which is a religious framework that looks at black women’s lived experiences, taking into account the Bible, slave narratives, and African-American literature written by women. The term “womanist”  originates with activist and author, Alice Walker in 1983, who was influenced by Jacquelyn Grant, the first black woman to earn a doctorate in systematic theology and whose doctoral advisor was the father of black theology, James Cone. Grant’s doctoral thesis was titled, The Development and Limitations of Feminist Christology: Toward an Engagement of White Women’s and Black Women’s Religious Experiences. She later published her best seller in 1989, “White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response”, which solidified the erroneous distinction that Christology from above was for white women and Christology from below was for oppressed and marginalized black women.

A second division of feminist theology is “Mujerista” theology, a perspective from Latina women that sought to provide epistemological and hermeneutical contributions to theology and academic disciplines for the purpose of creating a space for voices of Latino communities, specifically Latina voices [44].  The “mother” of Mujerista theology is Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, author of Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Mujerista’s insist that non-Christian religions, or what Diaz calls popular religions, can offer normative graced infused salvific manifestations [45], which is far from orthodoxy that states that there is but one, very inclusive belief that is salvific, faith in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Regardless of subdivision, these different groups share some common features that can help understand the driving force behind liberation theology, and now Critical Race Theory. The main commonality is the idea that humanity has a major problem with the powerful oppressing and exploiting the powerless, separating two groups that are either the poor vs the rich, the powerful vs the oppressed.  However, black theology also included skin color differentiation that view whites as the oppressor and non-whites as the oppressed. They attempt to advance the idea that the oppressed have no power of their own and need deliverance or “liberation” from the powerful. They believe that there are two contributing factors that continue the exploitation of the powerless – 1) capitalism is inherently wrong 2) the Bible identifies with the oppressed and that Christ’s message of salvation was directed specifically to them [46].

Liberation theology includes aspects of Marxism, with certain similarities evident in how both work themselves out. Both view sin or evil as the inequitable distribution of power and wealth, with solutions that take into account the removal of inequities and all forms of oppression [47]. In both liberation theology and Marxism, human behavior is the result of the inequalities of power and property that arise through economic struggle, with the greatest “sinners” being those who promote economic inequalities and those who fight various forms of injustice have less or no sin [48]. When one takes into account the various countries that embraced Marxist systems into their society, it becomes evident that sin and evil does not disappear with a redistribution of power or wealth [49]. Liberation theologians who have an insufficient view of sin fail to understand the Biblical reality of sin.

In his Theology of Liberation, Gutierrez wrote that Marx, along with Hegel and Feurerbach, who were German philosophers and sociologists, made a significant impact on theology by declaring that faith was rigid, authoritarian and repressive, with love exhibited towards others as the antithesis necessary to redeem humanity [50]. Gutierrez asserts that this ideology aligns with Marxist beliefs, and the only thing “missing” was revolution that looked to the future, void of a classless society that had new relationships, based on love for humanity, as its focus [51].

That “future” is now forcefully being pushed by social justice Christians who have adopted the language of popular culture and secular liberals. It is also seen in politicians who call themselves Democratic Socialists. Gutierrez, Cone, Friere, and Marx’s ideology is now upon us.

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Ariel Gonzalez Bovat and published by Used by permission. Title and photo changed by Pulpit and Pen. Views expressed are those of the original author]


[33] A Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez

[34] Nairn, Thomas A. PhD. “Roman Catholic Ethics and the Preferential Option for the Poor”, AMA Journal of Ethics, May, 2017

[35] Escobar, Samuel. In Search of Christ in Latin American: From Colonial Image to Liberating Savior

[36] Ibid.

[37] Kirylo, James D. Paulo Freire: The Man from Recife. Chapter Seven: Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire.

[38] Knapp, Sarah, Bale, Jeff. Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation. 188.

[39] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

[40]. Kirylo, James D. Paulo Freire: The Man from Recife. Chapter Seven: Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire.

[41] Erickson, Eric. Christian Theology

[42] Green, Gene., Pardue, Stephen., Yeo, K.K. Jesus Without Border: Christology in the Majority World.

[43] Kirylo, James D. Paulo Freire: The Man from Recife. Chapter Eight:Paulo Freire, Black Theology of Liberation, and Liberation Theology: A Conversation with James Cone.

[44] Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. Mujerista Theology.

[45] Diaz, Mujerist Theology.

[46] Erickson, Eric, Christian Theology.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Gutierrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation. 126.

[51] Ibid