I was first introduced to Liberation Theology in the late eighties while I was in seminary. As a young theologian then, I did not quite know what to make of it, other than to note that it bore the stigma of being liberal and radical as far as its analysis of the gospel was concerned. Further, its sphere of influence at the time was Latin America, and its origin was Roman Catholic (emerging with more force from Vatican II). I also knew that the poor figured largely in its analysis. Well, coming from the evangelical tradition, I believe I gave only intellectual assent to this movement, and after leaving seminary simply forgot about it. So in effect, it was simply a subject of mere intellectual interest.
As the years passed, Liberation Theology again came across my radar, and I decided to take another look at it. What I was noticing for the first time was that Liberation Theology was presenting a politicized version of Christianity and analyzing the Christian scriptures through Marxist lenses. Well, nothing wrong with that; that was fine with me. What I also found out was that there were reports that the Rockefeller Report of 1969, the Santa Fe Document of 1979, and the Rand Commission Report all saw Liberation Theology as a threat to U.S. national security. And I can understand that point-of-view - Marxist-Leninist notions wrapped up nicely in religious packaging.
So how specifically was Liberation Theology a threat to the status quo? Well, I think I get it. It was taking at face value the New Testament's message of liberation for the poor. Whereas Evangelical Theology was having in view "spiritual poverty", Liberation was focusing on the reality of poverty as brought on by the groups and forces in society. While Evangelical Theology was holding the individual responsible for his or her "spirtual poverty", Liberation Theology was holding oppressive governments, multi-national corporations, and other oppressive forces responsible for the individual's poverty. In any case, we know the outcome. Liberation Theology went by the wayside in Latin America, and in its place like elsewhere rose up the depoliticized, other-worldly version of Christianity presented by Evangelical Theology and the myriad of tele-evangelists.
[Photographic Art by Ric Couchman]