There I said it. Phew, that was tough.
Now, I know what you are thinking (“Click bait!”), but trust me, this is going somewhere. I get that to most people, the word “liberation” doesn’t really mean much. It is just a word.
But to someone like myself, who received their theological education in a generally-great-but-conservative school, “liberation” was a bad word because “liberation” was usually followed by “theology,” and everyone knew “liberation theology” was the worst.
I was told liberation theology was people letting Marxism run wild with the Bible. It was a distraction from the real work of the Gospel, saving souls. It was what those liberal gave-up-on-orthodoxy Christians did. Who would ever think that was a good idea?
Well…me. But for none of those reasons.
At this point, if you are like most normal people who steer a wide path around academic theology, you are probably wondering, “What the heck is liberation theology?”
Answer: Probably one of the most important theological methods of the modern era.
Let me catch you up.
The scene is post-Vatican II Latin America. Thanks to the recent council Catholic bishops from around Central and South America have finally gotten the chance to meet together and share what is going on on their home churches. They begin to realize a troubling pattern.
Though these bishops care for the poor and suffering in their churches, the official hierarchy and policies of the Church have often favored the violent and corrupt regimes across the continent. What is a bishop to do?
Well, what they did was go back to the beginning.
In this process of remorse and remembrance, the Catholic bishops realized a fact long forgotten by most, that God has always had a “preferential option for the poor.”
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about rich people, or that poverty is somehow a “blessing in disguise.” It means that if you want to know who God is and how to serve Him, you need to go ask the people who have no one else but God on their side. For the bishops, it meant heading to the slums and asking people to tell them about Jesus.
Now, trust me. There is more to that story, and yes, the long version might include a smidge of Marx. But at the end of the day, the bishops pretty much got it right.
When Jesus showed up on the scene, who followed him? Kings? Dictators? Millionaire playboys?
No, for the most part, it was the people at the bottom of the social ladder, the outcasts, the poor. Jesus liked the riff-raff and they seemed to like him back.
Liberation theology can be a lot of things, but at its most fundamental level it means this: if you want to know who Jesus was, ask the oppressed.
That is what the “preferential option for the poor” means. It means you start reading the Bible, doing theology, and serving God where Jesus did: among the people only God seems to care about.
In Luke 6:20-21, Jesus says this,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Jesus is talking to the poor, the hungry, the weeping. He’s talking to people who won’t think he’s clever for speaking in metaphors, for saying, “Everyone is poor deep down.” He’s talking to people whose “satisfaction” better include not watching their children starve.
He’s talking to people who need physical liberation. The question is… are we?
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