The Real Liberation Theology
Perhaps no decent, middle-class American, Christian or otherwise, considers himself a greedy monster, who is prospering because millions are starving across the world today. In fact, he may hardly know that there are many in the Third World who think that he, that affluent American, is the cause of their poverty and even starvation.
Our typical American no doubt contributes to worthy causes and considers himself as rather the Good Samaritan and certainly not a Shylock, demanding "his pound of flesh." yet J. Andres Kirk titles his chapter on Latin America in his book on liberation theology: "The Rich Man's Table Is the Poor Man's Grave" (Theology Encounter's Revolution, p.114).
Our self-image is So different from their opinion of us that one would never guess that we are the people they are talking about, if they didn't make that very clear. We are the culprits; there's no mistaking that We might ignore their unkind remarks as idle gossip, except that the mounting tensions across the world are a threat to our survival too. Is there any way we can defuse the powder keg?
For those who have not kept up on these developments in the Third Word, liberation theology came into being about 1970, a consequence of the frustration would-be reformers encountered in these impoverished lands. The landmark book in this new intellectual fashion was Teologia de la Lilberacion, Perspectivas, written by Gustavo Gutierrez and published in 1971. It was promptly translated into five other languages, including English, and more books of the same sort quickly followed.
The writers are all very critical of the prosperous nations, with the United States as the chiefest of sinners. They are also obviously and conspicuously pro-Marxist. Evangelicals of North America and also those "south of the border" who are acquainted with the problems firsthand have found it hard to relate to the group, because of their Communist commitment.
Needless to say, these left-wing theologians think that conservative Christians are the "priest and Levite" bypassing suffering humanity, while they are the good Samaritans. 'The two groups have not yet learned to communicate with each other.
One is impressed - or depressed - in reading the literature, that the liberation theologians seem to be unaware of any approach to their problems except that of the French Revolution of 1789 and the Communist Revolution of 1917. Both utterly failed to achieve their stated objectives, but produced a bumper crop of everything they were trying to escape from.
The French dethroned and executed an easygoing and incompetent king to make way for Napoleon, and the Russians got rid of their czar to provide a place for Lenin and Stalin. The loss of life and freedom was great in both cases. If one knew only of these tragedies, he would be convinced that liberation was utopian and impossible, a costly delusion that only makes a bad matter worse. Fortunately, that is not the case and we should be the ones to tell them.
Slavery, exploitation, and oppression are as old as mankind, but we human beings have had some success in bettering our conditions. One only needs to read the first halt-dozen chapters of the Book of Daniel to have some understanding of the overwhelming power of an Oriental despot. We also find the foundation of freedom in the great book: "The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men" (Dan. 4:25) in spite of what the U.S. Supreme Court says to the contrary.
The monarchs of the Near East were god-kings and there was no appeal from their decrees. This was not true of the Hebrews. "Even Solomon in all his glory" was not Jehovah, and God's chosen people knew this well.
Moving down closer to our own time, the English were wont to remind their tyrants that "the king is also under God and under the law." Few people see any connection between God and politics anymore, which has left the governments of our world free to work their will on us.
Of course, the liberation theologians can quote scripture, and do, although Marx was an atheist. They should not overlook the fact that the peoples of the Communist bloc have not yet discovered how to find freedom without God. Surely they ought to look elsewhere for the solution to their problems.
The story of how we in the United States, England, and a few other Western nations achieved a degree of political stability, liberty, and prosperity, which is now the envy of the world, should be no secret. In a large measure the good that we have known has been a by-product of our Christian faith.
To take one example only, the English disciples of John Wesley, such as William Wilberforce, were the leaders in the abolition of slavery, and the rest of the nations reluctantly followed the British example. But with the decline of our faith the world is again being enslaved.
Science helped to liberate us too. Many of the scientists back two or three centuries ago were devout Christians, men like Sir Isaac Newton, who believed that their research was "thinking God's thoughts after Him." They did their experiments "for the glory of God and the welfare of mankind." Their efforts bore much fruit. Poverty and famine were as common in Europe as they now are in the Third World, but an industrial, commercial, and agricultural revolution brought great improvements for us and some for them too. Science now threatens to destroy us.
The economic system of the European nations two or three centuries ago was irrational and repressive. designed to benefit the few with political power at the expense of the poor - just what our present economic system, national and international, is pushing today, according to the liberation theologians. This was changed also. In the 1840s and `50s the English reordered their political and economic system, seeking to make the law of God their standard. This was the basis of British greatness during the long reign of Queen Victoria.
A Christian civilization is possible and it is the only way to achieve stability and freedom with a decent standard of living for all. But the world will not know this until we do. Since so many of these great reforms were a natural outgrowth of the Wesleyan Revival, we who come out of that tradition, as Dr. A. Wingrove Taylor says, "ought to be the real liberation theologians."