Okay, I’m no expert in theology. But, I was wondering, what exactly is wrong with liberation theology? I hear that some Catholics, (even Popes) say it is okay and yet others condemn it. Upon outward appearances, to me, liberation theology seems totally consistent with the Gospel message. What are the pro’s and cons of this way of thinking?
I’m certainly no expert either, but it seems to me that liberation theology had noble intentions: putting the social dimension of the Gospel into practice by seeking to alleviate the suffering of the poor. How it went about it, however, is where it seems to have run afoul. The claim is rightly made that some clerics became too enmeshed in politics and revolution in Latin America, in particular, allying themselves with Marxist forces. In a greater sense, it comes down to a conflict between conservative and progressive ideology.
As Jose Comblin puts it: “What was borrowed from Marxism was its critique of capitalism - which anyone can borrow without being a Marxist… Those who were involved in social movements Latin America regarded Marxist movements as historical allies which were seeking the same immediate objective. They thought they could work together. They thought that Christians or Marxists by themselves could never manage to change society. There was nothing wrong with this alliance, except that it happened to conflict with the strategy of the United States and NATO, and the Vatican as well. The mistake was not to have stated publically the criticisms of the policies of the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba and so forth, that were made privately. Silence seemed to indicate approval.”
Of course, the late Fr. Comblin was a supporter of liberation theology. I only include his words here because I have no doubt that someone on this forum will more than adequately point out the problems with the movement.
I have lost the link to this source, but it outlines some of the basics - (emphasis mine)
Simply put, Liberation Theology is an attempt to interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor. It is largely a humanistic doctrine. It started in South America in 1950s when Marxism was making great gains among the poor because of its emphasis on the redistribution of wealth, allowing poor peasants to share in the wealth of the colonial elite and thus upgrade their economic status in life.
Liberation Theology was bolstered in 1968 at the Second Latin American Bishops Conference which met in Medellin, Colombia. The idea was to study the Bible and to fight for social justice in Christian (Catholic) communities. Since the only governmental model for the redistribution of the wealth in a South American country was a Marxist model, the redistribution of wealth to raise the economic standards of the poor in South America took on a definite Marxist flavor.
As a result of its Marxist leanings, Liberation Theology as practiced by the bishops and priests of South America was criticized in the 1980s by the Catholic hierarchy, from Pope John Paul on down. The top hierarchy of the Catholic Church accused liberation theologians of supporting violent revolutions and outright Marxist class struggle.
The Christian understands sin and alienation from God as a dilemma confronting both the oppressor and the oppressed. Liberation theology’s emphasis upon the poor gives the impression that the poor are not only the object of God’s concern but the salvific and revelatory subject. Only the cry of the oppressed is the voice of God. Everything else is projected as a vain attempt to comprehend God by some self-serving means. This is a confused and misleading notion. Biblical theology reveals that God is for the poor, but it does not teach that the poor are the actual embodiment of God in today’s world.
Liberation theology threatens to politicize the gospel to the point that the poor are offered a solution that could be provided with or without Jesus Christ.
Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez is considered the founder of liberation theology, parts of which were roundly refuted by JP II and the (then) Cardinal Ratzinger.
Per the link above as posted by thistle, the document of the CDF warned that it is impossible to invoke Marxist principles and terminology without ultimately embracing Marxist methods and goals. Marxism as a political solution is concerned with economic equality; LT does not appear to primarily offer the message that salvation is the ultimate goal of man.
Many believe today that LT is alive and well and if you read some of these threads you will see that often times posts do echo thoughts as underlined in the quote above. Of on-going confusion is “the preferential option for the poor.” (Do research on Jesuit Fr. Pedro Arrupe) which caused some controversy. The wealthy today, frequently appear to be the object of condemnation and even hatred. “The filthy rich” are a descriptive term not uncommon in use.
Many who promote Liberation Theology emphasize, unilaterally, the liberation from servitude of an earthly and temporal kind. They do so in such a way that they put liberation from sin in second place, and so fail to give it the primary importance it is due. Thus, their very presentation of the problems is confused and ambiguous.
“Their errors stem from the tenets of “liberation theology,” a Marxist interpretation of religion. This “theology” originated in Latin America in the late seventies and was condemned by the Church on August 6, 1984, in the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation,” signed by the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.7”