Click here to go back to
Click here to go back to the Concerned-Methodists homepage
Father Uriel Molina, the head of Nicaragua's "popular church," Nicaragua's premier liberation theologian, conducted a rather strange commemorative Mass in November 1985. He draped an M-19 banner across the altar and called the M-19 guerrillas "martyrs." Then he allowed a representative of M-19 to speak from the pulpit.1M-19 are Colombian Marxist-Leninist guerrillas, and they were being commemorated because forty-one of them had died six days before. The Colombian army attacked them after they had invaded Colombia's Ministry of Justice in Bogatá. Before the guerrillas were routed, ninety-five people were dead.
It is ironic that "liberation theology" should present itself as a legitimate interpretation of Christian faith. It might be a theology, but it is not a Christian theology. It claims to be a new aspect of Christian social teaching. It is not. It is an activist humanism based on Marxist theory which seeks to completely change the focus and the meaning of traditional Christianity: it replaces faith in Christ and hope of resurrection with the justification and sanctification of political revolution. Father Molina is not the exception, but the rule in action.
As such, liberation theology has been, and is, extremely dangerous. This is neither a prediction nor a supposition. Liberation theology serves as an excuse for much of the radical politics of the American mainline church; it has seduced some of its missionaries and has infected whole orders of Roman Catholicism. Liberation theologians greatly assisted the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua, which as we shall see in the next chapter has had terrible results for the Nicaraguan people. Those same theologians are now busy in other parts of Latin America.
Worse, liberation theology has had such a profound effect On Philippine priests and nuns that hundreds have joined the New People's Army (NPA), a ruthless Marxist-Leninist organization. In fact, the NPA is so bloodthirsty that it has been compared to the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian guerrillas who attempted genocide against their own people.
Back to Top
Marxism And Liberation
When the nature of liberation theology is studied, it is not difficult to understand why these events have occurred. Although there are some variations of liberation theology, most liberation theologians either use Marxist analysis, or Marxist concepts, in their thesis. They justify the use of Marxism as a new way of understanding the Scriptures, or have adopted the Marxist goal of social transformation, or both. The salvation of this world is Christianity's proper role, they believe, not the search for God's grace, a practice which is considered "otherworldly."2
Leonardo Boff, the liberation theologian who was disciplined by the Roman Catholic Church as a result of his writing, thus describes the Kingdom of God as the "realization of a fundamental Utopia of the human heart, the total transformation of this world."3 Father Molina describes Nicaragua as a country which now has "the option to create the Kingdom of God on earth."4 There should be a "preferential option for the poor" in real Christianity, liberation theologians believe. Many go so far as to proclaim that the struggle to liberate the poor and oppressed becomes "the true sacrament of God's historic saving activity."5
Most liberation theologians subsequently accept the concept that all history is a narrative of class struggle, which will continue until the underclasses triumph. Much of their teaching flows from this premise, Liberation theologians, for the most part, do not believe that Christ's return is the aim of history: it is, they think, the triumph of class over class. They place the emphasis on the poor to such an extent That they infer others cannot be redeemed. "The Gospel has not the same message for all," Father Joseph Comblin has said. "To the poor it announces Liberation and to the rich deprivation."6
Jesus the redeemer is replaced, in liberation thought, with Jesus the symbol, one which sums up the struggle of the oppressed. His death is given an "exclusively political interpretation . . . in this way its value for salvation and . . . redemption is denied." The Eucharist is then viewed as the celebration of the "people in their struggles," not as the symbol of the sacrificial gift of Christ.7
Back to Top
The Realm Of The Natural
These ideas place both Marxism and liberation theology in the realm of the natural. Supernatural metaphysics places importance on the spiritual. Belief in an all-powerful God assumes that God can, and does, intervene in this world. What is not subject to God's direct intervention is left to humanity's free will. The realm of the natural, however, is the opposite. Liberation theologians and Marxists are both humanists. They believe that humanity is both the beginning and end of study.8 History then becomes all-important to both. Liberation theologians pay lip-service to the idea of God, but deny Him any place in this world; Marxists deny His presence altogether. They accept history as the "independent driving force behind human actions. . . . The Marxists and liberation theologians use history where the Catholic uses the Supreme Being."9
Their attitude also declares that humanity is perfectible, and will be perfected by the cleansing action of history. Christians, however, believe that moral authority comes from God and have traditionally viewed humanity as fallen into sin, redeemable only by God's grace.
Back to Top
The idea of violence is inextricably woven into liberation theology because class struggle implies that society is founded on violence. This is often explained as a type of self-defense, economic repression being the original aggressive action. Justifying this violence is the foremost priority of liberation theologians because believers claim the revolution and "subsequent establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth" is inevitable. When they claim that the revolution is the only way to this perfect society, they are then forced to justify the violence inherent in it.10
Justification is usually presented in an argument citing the necessity of total revolution to change entrenched economic systems. Having already discarded the Biblical injunctions against the anger which causes violence,11 justifying violence itself is easy. "The revolution is the criterion of everything; of truth, of culture, etc.," one prominent liberation theologian explained.12 The prized revolution which they justify is almost always a Socialist revolution, one which transforms (abolishes) the "private property system."13
One of the greatest dangers in liberation theology is that because it shares Marxist goals, its adherents often identify fidelity to their beliefs with fidelity to a Marxist-Leninist political organization. This is a form of madness, but it is logical madness. The Marxists-Leninists have been sanctified, in the minds of liberation theologians, because they are also allegedly working for social reformation. What Christians can expect from the Sandinistas, a Nicaraguan theologian explained, ". . . and not as a literary expression . . . is that they make us Christians."14
Those theologians have been working toward that goal for some time. Nicaragua's liberation theologians were allied with the Sandinistas in the fight against Anastasio Somoza. Once he was defeated in 1979, and the Sandinistas revealed they had no intention of establishing democracy, the revolutionary Christians did not denounce them. Instead, they stated they believed that "preference for and solidarity with the poor" meant that they had to work with the regime. Father Juan Hernandez Pico, one of Nicaragua's prominent liberation theologians, declared that there was "no other way for a Christian to show his faith in the Kingdom than by committing himself absolutely to a contingent project (the Sandinista regime)." Thus their logic brought them to conclude that one's identity as a Christian depended on a partisan political commitment."15
That liberation theology produces partisan political commitment is proven in action as well as words. One short example of this is the five Salvadoran priests who now travel with their country's Marxist-Leninist guerrillas. They have declared that the guerrillas will bring the "new society," and that liberation theology was the "revelation" that led them to this conclusion.16
"There is no great contradiction between Marxism and Christianity.... Marxists try to fight for justice. They try to resolve the situation of exploitation and inequality. The new society they desire and the kingdom of God are the same," one of the priests said.17
Back to Top
Another dangerous viewpoint shared by both Marxists and liberation theologians is the "dependency theory." It asserts that the developed world, especially the United States, is responsible for the poverty of the Third World. America has exploited its natural resources, drained its capital, and imposed its consumer culture on Latin America, they claim. This is an interesting way to absolve Latin America as the originator of its own problems, but it does not explain why the southern half of the continent has been poor for over four hundred years. Poverty existed in Latin America "long before capitalism was a gleam in Adam Smith's eye."18 It also fails to explain why other Third-World countries, such as Taiwan, have managed to become prosperous despite having many of tne same problems as Latin America. When the evidence is examined in depth, the dependency theory becomes irrational.
Dependency theorists rarely note that only about one-fourth of U.S. foreign investment is committed to less developed countries. The same thing is true of other developed nations. The majority of their capital is invested in First-Worid projects. It is unfortunate that the United States and other developed nations do not invest more in developing countries because studies have proven that where foreign investment is lowest, income and output remains very small. Africa, a continent where foreign investment remains minuscule, has twenty of the world's thirty-one least developed countries. As for exploitation, only 11 percent of U.S. investment in the Third World is in petroleum and only about 6 percent more in "extractive" industries. Thirty-five percent of the investment is in manufacturing, 10 percent in trade, and 27 percent in finance and insurance.19
Even if the United States concentrated on extractive industries, reasonable people would have a hard time believing it was unfair to the Third World. Most nations extract minerals and sell them to other countries - or they hire someone to do it for them. Minerals and oil are useless in the ground. John Kenneth Galbraith has pointed out that the greatest suppliers of wheat, feed grains, coal, wood, wood pulp, and cotton fibers are the United States and Canada, countries no one claims are exploited.20 When dependency theorists charge that exhaustion of resources causes poverty, they ignore Japan - a country with very, very few natural resources, but one that is very, very prosperous.
However, these facts are ignored by both Marxists and liberation theologians, an attitude which turns the dependency theory into nothing but a convenient party line.
Back to Top
Terminology And Meaning
One of the more puzzling aspects of liberation theology is that although its belief system is different from Christianity, it freely uses Christian terminology. Since its method of interpretation (called hermeneutics) of the terminology is completely different, it perverts traditional Christian meaning. There is a clear difference between what is traditionally meant by "the poor" and what liberation theologians mean. The poor are now the proletariat in a Marxist sense. It is also quite possible for a priest who favors liberation theology to proclaim that he believes in personal salvation - and not be discussing Christ.21
There are now many liberation theologians, and they offer variations of their faith. This makes it difficult to cover all aspects. The man on whom most liberation theologians rely for their mail, thesis, however, is Gustavo Gutierrez. In his seminal A Theology of Liberation, published in 1973, Gutierrez prefaced his work by presenting prior assumptions which have been accepted by most of his colleagues. These assumptions must be accepted before the theology as a whole is viable.
Gutierrez first argues that theology is a science, which he states was a traditional viewpoint until the fourteenth century. It is an intellectual discipline born of the meeting of faith and reason, he said, which produces rational knowledge. That is standard Catholic thinking. However, he goes a great deal further and asserts that reason is found (and implies only found) in the social sciences - that is, in the study of man, not in the study of God or Scriptures. Therefore, he concludes, any theology not characterized by this rationality is invalid.22
Back to Top
Theology As Science
Taking this line of thought to its logical conclusion, Gutierrez suggests that since reason is found in social science, theology should start with "real questions" derived from this world, not revelation (Scriptures). He quotes Henri Bouillard's assertion, "A theology which is not up to date is a false theology." A theology is only prophetic insofar as it interprets historic events for our day, with the purpose of making Christian commitment more "radical and clear." A person only discovers the meaning of the Kingdom of God, he concludes, by making this world a better place.23
This is specious reasoning, however, and it totally contradicts traditional Christian thought. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, has pointed out that it is "the light of faith" which provides theology with its principles. "It is only in the light of faith and what faith teaches us about the truth of man and the ultimate meaning of his destiny that one can judge the validity or degree of validity of what other disciplines propose."24
Back to Top
World Transformation As Salvation
Marxist thought has influenced him, Gutierrez admits, because it is geared to the "transformation of the world," which he, throughout his work, claims is Christianity's proper goal. He dismisses orthodox Christianity as "an obsolete tradition or a debatable interpretation" and proffers "orthopraxis," which he believes will balance or cause orthodoxy's primacy to be rejected. It is a term which he explains recognizes the work and importance of action which is taken to change society.25
Gutierrez really reveals his deviance from traditional Christianity when he states that it teaches universalism - the idea that all people will he saved. That is nonsense. Nothing of the sort has been accepted
by traditional Christianity, Protestant or Catholic. Individual theologians may proffer such theories and some clerics may believe them, but Roman Catholics and most Protestant churches still believe in the atonement of Christ for the sins of humanity and His subsequent resurrection.26
Protestant and Catholic doctrine is based on the Apostie's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, and all these creeds affirm the resurrection and the atonement.
Back to Top
When Gutierrez asserts that universal salvation has been accepted as a fact, he is then able to claim that real salvation is in this life; and one is not truly a Christian until one works for social and political revolution. He openly declares his commitment to socialism and "appears to believe that greed began with capitalism and will end with its demise."27
His theology, then, is internally valid because he has dismissed the need to search for the will of God and the need to believe in the sacrifice of Christ, and replaced them with the deification of humanity.
Gutierrez obviously believes that humanity "can make heaven on earth. He traces sin and evil to systems, not to human nature."28 Scriptural Christianity, of course, is based on the premise that unredeemed human nature is the cause of evil. Hearts, it suggests, must be changed or evil systems will persist.
Back to Top
Salvation By Works
Cardinal Ratzinger points out that liberation theology explains Christianity as a "praxis of liberation" and claims that it is the guide to that praxis. Praxis is generally interpreted as practical application of a branch of learning. Gutierrez, Ratzinger points out, said, "Nothing remains outside political commitment. All exists with a political coloration." This means, the Cardinal pointed out, that any theology that is not political is considered "'idealistic' and condemned as unreal or as a vehicle to maintain the oppressors in power."29
Ratzinger, who is known as the principal foe of liberation theology within the Catholic Church, attributes the rise of political religion to events within Roman Catholicism. After Vatican II, many in the church began to believe that the existing theological tradition was "no longer acceptable," and that new theological and spiritual directions must be developed. The idea of openness to the world and of commitment to the world was "often transformed into a naive faith in science, a faith which accepted human sciences as a new gospel without trying to recognize their limits and their own particular problems. Psychology, sociology and the Marxist interpretations of history were considered as scientifically certain and as instances of Christian thought that are no longer debatable."30
Christian scholars then began to attack the traditional interpretations of Scriptures, Ratzinger added, which shook the historic credibility of the Gospels. Instead of the traditional Jesus which the church taught, the revisionists substituted the idea that Jesus is only important for what He can say to our age and new terms were needed to explain what that is. In order to use these new terms, Ratzinger explained, the revisionists included certain preliminary decisions.31
Theologian J. Sobrino gave a good example of such decisions when he stated the experience Jesus had of God is radically historical. "His faith is converted into fidelity," Sobrino writes. "Fidelity" means "fidelity to history," which replaces faith altogether. He then asserts that God was "revealed historically and scandalously in Jesus and in the poor who continue his presence. Only one who maintains these two affirmations together is orthodox."32
Back to Top
Truth Through Practice
Sobrino, Gutierrez, and most other liberation theologians believe that truth cannot be understood in a spiritual way, because it is "idealism." Truth, they say, must be realized in history and in practice (praxis). Action, to them, is truth. Ratzinger points out that even the ideas that are used for action are "interchangeable. The only decisive thing is praxis. Orthopraxis becomes the only true orthodoxy."33
According to liberation theologians, the hierarchy (Magisterium) of the church is no longer the interpreter of the Scripture. Liberation theologians believe that the community should interpret, and this allows a new interpretation when anyone feels the urge. Because the experience of the people explains the Scriptures, Ratzinger points out, the "people" become opposed to the hierarchy of the church and, theoretically, participate in a class struggle against it.34 This premise is the basis for the establishment of the "popular church" (by liberation theologians) in Nicaragua.
Back to Top
History As Revelation
Liberation theologians also believe that the Bible "reasons exclusively in terms of history of salvation," and therefore in a nonspiritual way is compatible with the Marxist idea of history as the "authentic revelation." They then take this idea one step further and say that Marxism is the real interpreter of the Bible. Liberation theologians then progress to the viewpoint that since the hierarchy of the church insists on permanent spiritual truths, it is hostile to progress because it contradicts history.35
Cardinal Ratzinger made some pertinent points against liberation theology in his official Instructions on Certain Aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation.' Orthodox Roman Catholicism maintains, he said, that liberation is liberation from sin, which is the "gift of grace." That deliverance is offered to all, Ratzinger pointed out, be they politically free or slaves - the New Testament does not require a change in the political or social condition as a prerequisite.36
The heart of evil, Ratzinger further pointed out, does not lie in systems, but in "free and responsible" persons who have to be converted by the grace of Jesus Christ "in order to live and act as new creatures . . . to demand first of all a radical revolution in social relations and then to criticize the search for personal perfection is to set out on a road which leads to the denial of the meaning of the person and his transcendence, and to destroy ethics and its foundation, which is the absolute character of the distinction between good and evil."37
It is "illusionary and dangerous" to accept Marxist analysis, Ratzinger maintained, while failing to see the sort of "totalitarian society to which this process leads." The core of Marxist praxis is atheism and the denial of liberty and human rights. To integrate into Christian theology an analysis which depends on an atheistic premise "is to involve oneself in a terrible contradiction," he said.38, 39
Back to Top
Nicaragua And Liberation Theology
This contradiction has proven both true and fatal in Nicaragua. Influenced by liberation theology, the Catholic bishops criticized the Anastasio Somoza regime and "explicitly condoned the use of violence."40 In 1979, immediately proceeding Somoza's overthrow, the bishops wrote a pastoral letter which "proclaimed the right of the Nicaraguan people to engage in revolutionary insurrection."41 Nicaragua is a devoutly Catholic country, and it can be safely assumed that the bishops' blessing of violence had an impact on political affairs.
These were not simply blessings on a justified revolution. In 1972 the bishops of two of Nicaragua's largest dioceses declared their support for "a completely new order."42 The new order should include the "preferential option for the poor" and a "planned economy for the benefit of humankind."43
Another translation of liberation theology into politics occurred when a "progressive" faction of the moderate, democratic Social Christian Party broke away and formed the Popular Social Christians. That faction was heavily influenced by liberation theology and rejected gradual change. They adopted a "revolutionary Christian attitude."44
The Popular Social Christians aligned themselves with the Sandinistas, a move which weakened the anti-Somoza democratic movement. The Sandinistas obviously appreciated these developments and made Social Christian leader Reinaldo Tefel a member of the revolutionary junta.45
Further, many of the Sandinistas were educated at Managua's Jesuit-run Central American University, and the Jesuits were, and are, enthusiastic advocates of liberation theology. Some of them are now Sandinista advisors.46 All four of the priests who were given positions in the Sandinista government were advocates of liberation theology.
Back to Top
Christians Turn To Politics
Perhaps most important for the revolution, liberation theologians (many of whom were foreigners) established Christian Base Communities all over Nicaragua during the decades of the sixties and seventies. The community members - who were usually from the very poor neighborhoods - were taught the Bible as a story of liberation. The effect was "profound."47 In Matagalpa, in 1972, the Base Communities soon "produced enough political organizations to lead to conflict between parishioners and the government."48 They subsequently began to collaborate with the Sandinistas and were soon considered subversive themselves. The government eventually used the National Guard against some of them. Another organization which was important to the Sandinista effort was the Association of Rural Workers. It used homes of peasant members as places of refuge, storehouses for arms, and supply depots for the guerrillas.49
The Rural Workers were an outgrowth of the Committees of Agricultural Workers, which were, in turn, outgrowths of the Evangelical Committee for Agrarian Advancement. The latter was created in 1969 by the Jesuit order with the expressed purpose of training peasant leaders to "politically organize their communities."50
Not only did radical Christians work behind the scenes before the revolution; many of the clergy gave the Sandinista guerrillas active support. Some churches provided food and medicine and at least one church was used as a drop-off and pick-up point for messages. Churches were used as places of refuge and as sources of fresh drinking water (which was stored in baptismal fonts) and "even as centers for the making of bombs and the storage of arms."51
Back to Top
The Church Legitimates The Sandinistas
Some priests and nuns who were, undoubtedly, practitioners of liberation theology fought with the Sandinistas.52 Edward Lynch, who wrote about liberation theology and the Nicaraguan revolution in an insightful, well-documented Master's thesis, points out that these developments were highly beneficial to the guerrillas. It "legitimized" the Sandinistas "to an extent unthinkable without their participation," and created "enormous difficulties" for Somoza. When Somoza tried to fight the Sandinistas, it often looked as though he was persecuting the church.
As Daniel Ortega, the current president of Nicaragua, said, "The best arguments the Sandinistas had urging the people to take up revolutionary struggle were Christian arguments."53
This is not to say that Somoza was a good man, or that he should have been tolerated, or that the bishops should have been silent about his abuses. It does mean, however, that clergy should not practice violence and the church should work for nonviolent change. Violent revolutions rarely bring about the positive change they seek. It is also true that while violence may be necessary for a people in order to rid themselves of an abusive government, it is not the church's place to encourage it. Most of all, it means that collaboration with Marxists-Leninists leads to Marxist-Leninist governments.
Back to Top
Liberation In The Philippines
The same pattern is now repeating itself in the Philippines. First, the liberation theologians created the "theology of struggle," a liberation theology that baldly states the church should be actively involved in a "struggle for justice."54 They subsequently established Christian Base Communities, which teach "liberation" and "themes which have sounded similar to the propaganda of the Communist-led New People's Army insurgency."55 Many of the base communities now form the "basic infrastructure for the NPA (New People's Army)."56
The New People's Army of the Philippines is the "fastest growing, most threatening, and arguably the most brutal Communist insurgency in the world today." The NPA has over twenty thousand guerrillas who are "waging a largely unreported campaign of terror, assassination, and torture in the Philippine countryside." An independent Philippine leftist told Time correspondent Ross Munro that he was afraid that if the New People's Army were victorious, "We might be staring at a Pol Pot future." Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Marxists-Leninists who murdered millions of their own countrymen.57
Back to Top
Clergy Joins The New People's Army
Yet, "Nowhere else in the world, it seems, have so many priests and nuns been so committed to the Communist cause. As a Philippine leftist puts it, 'Liberation theology has gone much farther in the Philippines than in Latin America. In Latin America it justifies collaboration with the Communists. Here it means joining the Communists.'"58
Approximately twelve hundred priests and nuns have joined the "highly secretive" Christians for National Liberation59 and have formed "secret cells" in the church. The organization's constitution requires members to promise support for a "protracted people's war" and the "armed struggle and the underground movement." Another section of the constitution states that one of the group's aims is to fight for "self-reliant and self-determining Filipino churches against the intervention of foreign Church bodies and institutions." Munro believes this includes the Pope.60
True to their promise, Liberation members provide shelter for wounded guerrillas, serve as message drops, and help guerrillas move safely through their towns.61
Munro believes that one of the particularly "insidious" aspects of the Christians for National Liberation is that it is so secret. Leftists Munro interviewed told him that priests live and work with other priests for years and never reveal they are Liberation members. Therefore, there is no debate about the merits of the organization or its aims. Because little is known about the group in the Philippines, Munro points out, Filipinos still believe that the presence of Catholic clergy in the Marxist-Leninist movement is a "force for moderation and mercy. . . . Yet the evidence suggests that the Liberation members are more radical and rigid than other Communists." When the Filipino Communist Party in 1983 called for protest against the government, both violent and nonviolent, Christians for National Liberation only called for "armed struggle."62
Priests have progressed to the point that they organize sugar workers for the Communist Party. One man told Munro that "When priests come to organize the workers under the banner of religion, better yet when the priests are Australian or Irish, it's easy. The landlords will never think that this is a Communist organization. But that is what happened; the Basic Christian Communities (organized by the priests) in Negros became the infrastructure of the NPA (New People's Army)."63
During an interview with writer John Whitehall, four New People's Party commanders said they had known a total of over twenty Priests and nuns who had actually fought with their army, as well as a Protestant pastor of the Philippine United Church of Christ. When asked how the clergy were recruited, the commanders said they were lot told, at first, that Communists do not believe in God. Only when the clergy "progress in the education" is the topic approached. "Some accept the ideology of communism and lose their belief in God; the longer they stay, the fewer believe."64
In order to gain more clerical support, the NPA may have changed its tactics. The nonmilitary front of the Philippine Communist Party has decided, one leftist priest said, that the "religious" are no longer "pushed to repudiate religion. . . . Even the word 'Communism'is no longer encouraged - they just say 'nationalism.'"65
The commanders admitted that the New People's Army is "fiding on the programs of the church." Hundreds of thousands of dollars are also going to Communist-controlled organizations and projects in the Philippines through church-related organizations.
One such turn of events, which proves the commanders' veracity, occurred in 1982. The bishops of twenty dioceses in the southern region of Mindanao-Sulu were forced to withdraw their support from the secretariat of their own Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference. They explained that the secretariat (the conference executive committee) had become sympathetic "to those who view armed rebellion as necessary for liberation and that it claimed to speak for the entire conference."66 The "Farmers consultation program" is a current example. The commanders said it was organized by the church, but is largely attended (therefore controlled) by NPA underground supporters.
In fairness to the Catholic Church in the Philippines, less than 10 percent of the Philippines' fourteen thousand priests and nuns are Liberation members. However, Munro claims that even the "most conservative bishops" try to ignore pro-Communist activism among their priests and do not themselves make anti-Communist statements. The bishops and official organs of the Catholic Church constantly lament government abuses, but rarely say anything regarding the horrible atrocities committed by the New People's Army.
Since the ascension of Corazon Aquino to the presidency of the Philippines, it is possible that the New People's Army will lose its appeal for Catholic clergy. There is no way to ascertain that, however, until Aquino has been in office for a reasonable length of time.
Back to Top
In the Philippines as well as the rest of the Third World, the development of liberation theology has been so threatening to the integrity Of the church and so dangerous politically that it takes on a dramatic cast. It is not, however, the first variation from the faith, merely the latest. The history of Christianity is marked by beliefs which were based more on wishful thinking than on Scripture. A prime example is Arianism, the belief that Jesus was not of the same essence as God, but
merely the highest created being. The Gnostics, an early Christian sect. believed that Jesus never had a human body and that the created universe is evil. Salvation was attainable, they believed, only by the few who were able to transcend matter.
In the Middle Ages, the doctrine of Cathari was widely accepted. its basic assertion was that the principle of good and evil equally reign in the universe, neither taking precedence. Both were considered timeless, The reward of choosing good, the Cathari believed, was in having a superior life.
Some of these deviations from traditional faith flourished in Catholic orders. The Jesuits, for instance, practiced accommodation with other cultures in their missionary activities. One famous example of this was Father Ricci, who concentrated on the resurrection in his teaching to the Chinese because be could not get them to accept the crucifixion. He also made changes in the Catholic Mass, so it would appear similar to Confucian rites.67 Jesuits also created Probabilism, which was the practice of searching for several church authorities who would agree with a desired moral judgment. The purpose seems to have been to make moral judgments more flexible, thus keeping people in the church.68
There have also been historical precedents for some aspects of liberation theology. The clergy, especially those in Catholic orders, have many times placed themselves in opposition to the state. The Jesuits were widely known for this practice, so much so that it was believed they advocated regicide. They believed that if temporal rulers forced their subjects to commit a sin in order to obey them, they would lose their right to rule and it would revert to the people. In earlier centuries it was assumed the people would then search for another ruler.
To the Jesuits' eternal credit, they were stridently opposed to slavery in the new world. In their effort to protect the Indians from the slave-owning classes in Latin America, they earned the violent and 11 everlasting hatred" of those classes. In the sixteenth century the Jesuits gathered Peruvian, Bolivian, and Brazilian Indians in villages (which they ruled themselves) modeled on utopian thought. After losing approximately thirty thousand of the villagers to abduction and death, the Jesuits armed them against the incursions of slave hunters. This use of armed force by the Jesuits, to protect themselves, is often used as a modern justification for the use of violence by liberation theologians.69
Although there are some precursors to liberation theology in Catholic thought and practice, the church has always affirmed the light of people to own property. Pope Leo XIII said in the encyclical Rerum Novarum that land, earned through the renumeration of labor,
was "inviolate as the renumeration itself."70 On the other hand, the Catholic hierarchy has always rejected pure capitalism and pure socialism. The encyclical Quadragessimo Anno of Pope Pius XI put forward the notion that economic life cannot be left solely to free competition.71
Back to Top
Medellin And Its Effect
Therefore, when the (Catholic) Conference of Latin American Bishops met in 1968 for their fateful conference in Medellin, Colombia - which ignited the liberation theology movement - they had the precedent of past doctrinal differences within the church, a history of conflict with the state, and disapproval of pure capitalism. Medellin produced the atmosphere for liberation theology, but it was not an extraordinary event. It was the meeting of frustration with apparent answers built on past deviance.
It is understandable that the bishops, as well as priests and nuns, are frustrated when faced with Latin America's poverty and oppression. It is a system highly resistant to change. Latin America's upper classes often fight any change in the status quo which they feel will threaten their privileges, and these people generally control the military. Anyone touring Latin America feels queasy observing the shacks no better than bare boards thrown together, the lack of sanitation, running water, electricity, the children running half naked and hungry through the streets. A theology which preaches social revolution can seem attractive in these circumstances.
At Medellin the bishops produced rhetoric which advocated this social revolution. That rhetoric and the documents which followed created an electric atmosphere in Latin America, one which encouraged the most revolutionary of social visions. Unfortunately, it was also stained with Marxist concepts and hostility to free enterprise. That is not surprising since many of Latin America's bishops "look upon Marxism with favor." The bishop of Cuernavaca and the archbishop of Recife have been "unambiguous in their preference for Marxism."72 Their political preference, however, was not the correct way to approach Latin poverty (as the failure of Marxist praxis in Nicaragua proves). It would have been much more useful to confront the real reasons for Latin poverty and create solutions to those problems.
Back to Top
Why Latin America Is Poor
Venezuelan journalist Carlos Rangel believes that Latin American history has been the product of Hispanic culture, which has a long record of failure. He cites the inability of Hispanic cultures to evolve into "harmonious and cohesive nations" capable of improving the lot of their people; Latin America's "impotence" in its relations with the world, militarily, economically, politically - hence its vulnerability to outside action; the lack of stable governments except dictatorship; the absence of "noteworthy" contributions to the sciences and arts; its population growth, which is one of the highest in the world; its own feelings of inferiority."73
In 1700, Rangel observed, the Spanish Americas "still gave the impression of being incomparably richer (which it was), much more powerful, and more likely to succeed than the British colonies of North America."74
By 1830, however, Simon Bolivar's final judgment on Latin America was shattering. The hero who freed Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela from the Spanish, the man who is called "El Libertador" (The Liberator), said Latin America is "ungovernable and whosoever works for revolution is plowing the sea." With bitterness in every word, he advised the sensible to emigrate, correctly predicted that the countries he had governed would end as mobs or as the fiefs of tyrants, and that Latin America was destined for poverty and chaos.75
It is very difficult, however, to persuade Latin America to be objective about itself as it has a long intellectual history of blaming everything but its own nature. America has been a convenient scapegoat. However, the major problems of Latin America spring from its Spanish traditions. They have left a legacy of mysticism which created a general disdain for material well-being, a tradition of centralized authority and social hierarchy. The centralized authority, seen both in traditional Roman Catholicism and in Latin government, has produced a mentality which feels comfortable in taking orders instead of thinking for oneself. The social hierarchy, perhaps the most destructive of all the Spanish legacy, has made it very difficult for anyone from the lower ranks to rise in life.76
Those in the hierarchy have also found it difficult to understand that private privilege is not the same as public. Traditionally, public servants have felt they could do anything they chose, a belief which helped create and perpetuate oppression of classes. The marriage of centralized authority and social hierarchy also produced a "patron" system, both on a public and private basis. The patron system establishes one man, or a social oligarchy, as the source of material privilege. These combined systems have discouraged private enterprise.
Nonetheless, from 1945 to 1975 (until the OPEC-induced depressioti) Latin America averaged an annual growth of 5.2 percent, one of the strongest in the world. Since World War II, manufacturing has grown at the rate of 6.5 percent each year and agricultural output per
worker grew 2 percent a year. Total agricultural output grew by 3.5 percent annually. Wages and salaries have also grown more than 2 percent a year since World War II. The figures are even better when compared with population growth. From 1945 to 1975 Latin America's population grew from one hundred and forty million to three hundred and twenty-four million. Despite this, the per capita income grew at rates "seldom equaled" anywhere.77
At the same time, infant mortality was almost cut in half, life expectancy extended by twenty years, illiteracy reduced by 25 percent, and school attendance increased to 90 percent. Obviously, something had been working in Latin America.78
Instead of facing these problems and these truths, instead of opting for real solutions and gradual change based on proven methods, the bishops chose to blame capitalism and encourage revolution. There was bitter fruit in that choice. Two years later, after the bishops had put their stamp of approval on "progressive" thought, the first liberation theologians began to publish their work.
So accepted has been its legitimacy that the basic tenets of libetation theology are rarely questioned in many orders of the Catholic church. The Dominican Interprovincial Conference of Latin America held its first seminar in Costa Rica in 1993. Its final document asserts that Latin America's troubles are "the consequences of world-wide imperialism," instigated by the United States. They advocate socialism and condone any violence needed to institute this system. Just to make sure that all Dominicans agree with them, the conference recorinmended that future Dominicans be screened as to their political beliefs.79
Back to Top
American Clergy Accept Liberation Theology
Although the first liberation theologians were Latin (and Catholic), liberation theology soon jumped to the United States and began to make an impact on Catholic orders. The Maryknolls, based in New York state, are the principal distribution point of both liberation theology literature and activism in the United States.
Orbis Books, the Maryknoll publishing house established in 1970, publishes a very large volume of liberation theology literature and authors every year. A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez was first published in the United States by Orbis Books. Father Miguel D'Escoto, a Maryknoll priest who is now foreign minister in the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, worked for years as the editor of Maryknoll magazine. He then founded Orbis Books. Shortly thereafter he went home to Nicaragua and began fighting with the Sandinistas.
Approximately half of the books in the Orbis catalog each year are devoted to liberation theology and radical political thought. Maryknoll has almost deserted the traditional missionary emphasis and now devotes its issues to leftist political themes. The editors and writers seem to particularly appreciate Cuba as a role model for the Third World. The Maryknoll priests and nuns have been so politically active in Latin "liberation movements" that their presence is unwelcome in Honduras and many other Latin countries.
Never far behind the latest leftist movement, the Protestant mainline church is also now imbued with the rhetoric of liberation theology. United Methodist Roy Sano, the president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, declared in 1984 that it is "profanity" in theological thinking when God's salvation is seen only in acts of "reconciliation," the forgiveness of sins, and rebirth in Christ. People have to understand the importance of liberation in salvation. "That is why I have supported liberation theology and the liberation movements that are under attack," he said. Sano had strong words for a mission board which published a pamphlet criticizing the Board of Global Ministries for embracing liberation theology. He called it "an act of blasphemy" against the Holy Spirit.80
Back to Top
United Methodists Spread The Word
Considering that viewpoint, it is not surprising that Peggy Billings, head of the World Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, wrote Fire Beneath the Frost in 1984. It was written for denominations who are members of the National Council of Churches. It sings the praises of "Minjung," a liberation theology slanted for Korean consumption. The book portrays the United States as the oppressor of South Korea (instead of its liberator) and presents the South Korean government as an unmitigated oppressor.
?Today, in the ancient nation of Korea, lives a generation of people battling foreign occupation, war, human rights violations and restricted freedom," Billings wrote. The book did not mention that the American presence is required to keep North Korea from invading or how the North Koreans (who are some of the most oppressed people on earth) are treated by their government.
Indignant South Korean Christians immediately charged that the book is distorted and pushes a theology of Which most Koreans have never heard. At the time Billings wrote the book, Korea's ten million Christians were reporting a church which was rapidly growing, were building hundreds of new churches, and were reporting a climate of eased political repression. Fire Beneath the Frost focused on a small percentage of Korean Christians who are political activists, they charged, but ignored "the vast majority of Christians who are moving toward a more humane society in a slower and more indirect way."81
Billings admitted to the United Methodist Reporter that the book "has a bias." Spokesmen for the editor and publisher said that the material was not meant to provide a balanced overview but to introduce the "cutting edge" of theological thought in Korea.
It appears that liberation theology has infiltrated the ranks of Methodist missionaries. After the newspaper articles appeared, several missionaries contacted the Reporter. Their ranks were divided over which route to take in serving Korean Christians. Some, characterized as "old-style," identified with the "pietistic," church-growth-oriented majority of Korean United Methodists. Another faction identified with Christians who are working against oppression in their country. The latter, obviously influenced by liberation theology, seemed to disapprove of the "pietistic" missionaries and noted that many of them are near retirement.82
It is true that the South Korean government is oppressive and it is true that it needs to change. It does not follow, however, that the American church should attempt to lure Korean Christians away from traditional teaching for political purposes.
To sum up, liberation theology is not only a serious deviation from traditional Christianitv, it justifies violent revolution and is often aligned with destructive political movements. And like all ideas which blur. the distinctions between the moral and immoral, it has rapidly gained followers.
Rejecting liberation theology as unacceptable does not mean the Christian church should hold itself aloof from social issues. The church should lead the drive for social justice. But that drive should be based on Christ's admonition that we love our neighbors as ourselves, not a call for armed revolution. The church should condone revolution only when it is the last resort to cruel tyranny - not as a means to overthrow unjust (or allegedly unjust) economic systems. Most iinportantly, the church itself should not participate in violence for any reason. The Christian church is the bride of Christ, and to stain that church with blood is to destroy its sanctity.
Those who believe that the ends justify the means should do two things. They should read what ends the means of liberation theology has brought Nicaragua, in the next chapter, and they should remember what Pope John Paul said to Peruvians sympathetic to Communist guerrillas: "Evil is never a road to good . . . violence inexorably engenders new forms of oppression and slavery, ordinarily more grave than those which it pretends to liberate. . . . I ask you, then, in the name of God: Change your course!"83
Back to Top
The Betrayal of the Church Copyright © 1986 by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois 60153
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.
Website designed by JCN