Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Liberation Theology, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck

I posted an earlier post asking the question -- what is Liberation Theology?  The answer to the question is important, because it is being misused by Glenn Beck for political purposes.  As we ponder the question, which isn't just about President Obama, but about how we understand the Christian faith, I want to recommend an excellent Huffngton Post article by Jesuit theologian James Martin, SJ that carries the title:  Glenn Beck vs. Christ the Liberator."

Before getting to the question of Liberation Theology, I must confess my discomfort in even giving attention to Glenn Beck, who is little more than a snake-oil salesman and panderer in cheap conspiracy theories that hearken back to the John Birch Society, a group of crazed right wingers that the Republican Party beat back in the 1960s, and which is making a comeback in a new guise.  That said, it is important that we try to understand the nature and purpose of Liberation Theology.  Martin gives an excellent discussion of this movement that emerged out of a Latin American context in the 1950s and 1960s.  He writes:

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn't see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more--uh oh--social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."
Since Beck, who infamously told Christians to run from churches that preached social justice, wants to call us back to God (I do find it ironic that evangelicals who consider Mormonism a cult seem to ignore Beck's off-beat version of Mormonism), and wants to tell us that Jesus didn't preach social justice, but only salvation, I want to leave you with the words of the Savior himself -- Jesus the Christ.  

 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’  (Luke 4:16-21 NRSV)

4 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bob,

While I do not take too much issue with your post, it also needs to be said there is a reason why Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI pushed back against liberation theology. Both of them felt the brunt, especially the former, of the oppressive Marixism that went hand in hand with many forms of libertion theology.

I know about this all too well. As a young seminary student I was into liberation theology big time and embraced the Marxist tenets that often went along with it. I have since come to reject it, but we must heed the words of John Paul, who was also very critical of the oppressive nature of greed that can result from free markets.

Opposing Glenn Beck on this is like shooting a flea with a cannon. There are more serious critiques that need to be engaged. John Paul and Benedict must be taken seriously.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bob, You also write, "Glenn Beck, who is little more than a snake-oil salesman and panderer in cheap conspiracy theories..."

Agreed... but I hasten to add that Keith Olbermann on the loony left fits the description as well.

This is why I am proud to say that I am neither a progressive nor a conservative.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Allan,

I think the difference between Beck and Olberman, is that Olberman is pretty much a late night host. Beck is trying to claim the mantle of leader of Christian America.

There is a loony left, but it has little influence and muted voice. MSNBC is not Fox!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Allan,

I guess I'm taking your responses post by post. I do understand where John Paul came from, having been in Poland.

Like you I dug deeply into liberation theology, and even wrote a lengthy paper on the role of Marxism. LT, for the most part made a distinction between Marxist analysis and Marxist ideology. There was, of course, differences here.

While, Benedict needs to be heard, he tends to be over reactive, so we need to hear other voices -- such as James Martins.