Resurrecting Liberation Theology – by Mark D. Tooley

Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.theird.org) and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Follow him on Twitter: @markdtooley.


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The 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse ought to prompt leftist churchmen to apologize for Liberation Theology, which tried to merge Marxism with Christianity, and aligned church groups with the Soviet Bloc.  Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s was especially active soil for Liberationists, where leftist Catholics and Protestants claimed that Castrosim and Sandinistaism were harbingers of God’s Kingdom.

Thankfully, most of organized Liberation Theology has collapsed, with the notable exception of the Middle East, where Western and Palestinian prelates still try to portray Israel as the colonial oppressor and the Palestinians as the victim of imperialism.  But the chief of Brazil’s Lutherans, who also is an officer in the Swiss-based World Council of Churches (WCC), is now claiming that Liberation Theology’s “death certificate” is premature.

Most of Brazil’s Christians are Roman Catholic or Pentecostal, so Walter Altmann, as president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession, cannot speak for more than a sliver of Brazil’s churches.  But as moderator of the WCC’s appropriately totalitarian-sounding Central Committee, the Rev. Altmann presumably does speak for some European and U.S. Religious Leftists who still dream of class struggle.

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, twenty years ago, many critics have been quick to sign liberation theology’s death certificate,” Altmann regretted in a recent column for the WCC.  “Most of them did so because they understood it to be an apology of bygone Soviet-style socialism. It seems, though, that this death certificate has been issued prematurely.”

Altmann admitted that Liberation Theologians deployed “Marxist categories for socioeconomic analysis and for a critique of capitalism’s evils.”  But he somewhat defensively insisted that the “core of liberation theology has never been Marxism.”  It was apparently only coincidental that Liberation Theologians were never very interested in “liberation” for communist Cuba or Nicaragua under the old Sandinista regime, since they were presumably already “liberated.”

Rather than Marxism, Altmann asserted that Libration Theology was merely the “compassionate identification with the poor and their struggle for justice, inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus himself, which is at its heart.”  Liberationists purportedly were only asking Christians to be faithful to the Gospel by overthrowing unjust social and economic structures.  According to Altmann, “Liberation theology is spiritually grounded on – and gets its motivation from – the life changing encounter with Christ as liberator and with our neighbors,” whose suffering results from “systemic injustices and oppression.”

Among its many heresies, Liberation Theology strove to reinterpret Christ away from Savior of the world to political revolutionary and kindred spirit of Che Guevera.  Rather than accepting orthodox Christian understandings of human nature, and the world, as naturally fallen, Liberation Theology’s utopians claimed that humanity was perfectible and only capitalism and imperialism artificially injected otherwise avoidable suffering into the world.  Political and economic “liberation” would permanently deliver humanity from oppression and unhappiness.  Revolution, and not salvation, was the answer.

Most Christians in Latin America, even when struggling with the rightist dictators of the 1970’s, never accepted Liberation Theology’s attempts to hijack Christianity.   But European and U.S. educated church elites deterministically insisted that Liberation Theology was the future.  Some of these elites still linger, many of them tenured in Western academia or clutching onto virtual tenure in fading church bodies, like Rev. Altmann.

Looking for a new breeze to reanimate imploded Liberation Theology, Altmann claimed that the “recent international financial crisis, produced by unrestrained capitalist forces governed by greed and private and corporate interests, has increased the number of the poor – or rather, the impoverished – in the world by hundreds of millions.”  This is only a partial truth, as free market growth economic growth of the last 25 years, concurrent with communism’s collapse, has actually raised hundreds of millions globally from chronic poverty into the middle class or near to it.

Altmann celebrated that Liberation Theology had strongly influenced the ecumenical movement and the WCC during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  He failed to admit that the Western-led ecumenical movement’s international decline also parallels this influence, as Global South Christianity surged under Evangelical Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism, and orthodox Roman Catholicism.  Instead, he hailed the movement’s struggles against old Latin American dictatorships and South African apartheid.   He preferred not to acknowledge that the collapse of rightist authoritarians in South America, with the old racist regime in South Africa, were concurrent with the Soviet Union’s collapse and the expansion of democracy in its wake, facilitated partly by reawakened U.S. influence and confidence.

Undeterred, and living in his own theological and political bubble, Altmann insisted that Liberation Theology was never “static” and has simply creatively morphed into new emphases, like “indigenous peoples, racism, gender inequalities and ecology.”  According to the Brazilian Lutheran, “Nowadays liberation theology deals as well with the interpretation of cultures and with anthropological questions, for example the temptation of power. The goal of striving towards a more just society where there is ‘room for all’ persists, yet the way of achieving it has shifted towards civil society action.”  In other words, Liberation Theology is no longer so much about guerrilla movements as angry anti-globalization rallies or, more aggressively, leftist populism in Latin America.

This is Altmann’s way of explaining that Liberation Theology has essentially redefined itself to include any struggle against free markets, constitutional democracy, and traditional Western Civilization.  No longer specifically promoting Marxist revolution, it now is almost entirely a negative force, defined more by what it’s against than what it favors.  Altmann enthused that Liberation Theology is vibrantly today shaping “Latin American political efforts towards a model of democracy that overcomes poverty and social injustices,” citing leftist presidents in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Paraguay.  Supposedly all of these presidents have “close contact” with Liberation Theologians, he claimed.

Note that Altmann omitted Hugo Chavez, but not the Venezuelan strongman’s disciples, from this litany of liberationist Latin statesmen.  Is Chavez too bold for a WCC column specifically to acclaim?  If so, WCC-style Liberation Theology has lost some of its vertebrae. Liberation Theology was once far more confident.  Altmann’s diluted version of a once potent revolutionary force evinces that Liberation Theology is mostly just a warm proletarian memory for aging leftist prelates.

  • Robert Bernier

    Better see it before it's pulled.
    No one should miss this video:

    http://xrl.us/bf29mb

    Look to the end ( 10 min.)

  • CowboyUp

    They confuse God with the state, and compulsion with charity. The cast off the individual choice and ownership of one's own soul that is at the heart of Christianity, and I'd argue Judaism as well. They mostly fool the ignorant and/or illiterate, who can't read the word for themselves, and I don't envy them when God makes them pay for leading others astray.

  • S. Lapidus

    Great synopsis of the current state of Liberation Theology!
    But I would point out that “Black” Liberation Theology in the USA is far from death.
    In fact, if there is one country on Earth where it is flourishing, it would be right here.
    No credible study has been done to determine the actual number of “Black” churches (“Latino” churches here often have the same demented philosophies) that preach Liberation Theology, but I'm fairly certain they are more numerous than we care to believe.
    “Liberation Theology” tenets have made their way to the street in the form of general distrust of “white” power structures, conspiratorial views of “white” ambitions and behaviors, and the often expressed view that “those old white men of 200 years ago who held slaves” (the Founding Fathers) have no credibility today and should be ignored as though they had nothing of value to offer in today's “modern” society.
    It's truly a shame that that at a time when we have finally turned the corner on race relations in this country, minorities are finally moving up the economic ladder boldly and with increasing momentum, we have churches essentially preaching hatred and separation instead of peace and unity.

  • USMCSniper

    Black Liberation Theology is the Marxist based creation of Professor James Cone, who currently serves at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. In 1969, Cone wrote Black Theology and Black Power, which has become required reading at Trinity. In it, Cone observed: “When we look at what whiteness has done to the minds of men in this country, we can see clearly what the New Testament meant when it spoke of the principalities and powers.”

    Professor Cone’s Black Liberation Theology is a mixture of Marxism and Afrocentric thinking. According to Cone, “Together, black religion and Marxist philosophy may show us the way to build a completely new society.” Capitalism is economic slavery imposed upon black Americans by whites. Cone serves as a contributing editor to Sojourners Journal, run by Jim Wallis whose leftist leanings are well documented in a report by TVC.

    Cone has openly admitted that Pastor Wright “is really the one who took it [his philosophy] from my books and brought it to the church.” This Black Liberation Theology was adopted by Trinity 10 years before Sen. Obama and his family joined it in 1991. Every person who joins Trinity goes through a new member class, where he is taught Black Liberation Theology.

    Cone has also written: “To be black is to be committed to destroying everything America loves and adores.

    President Obama, his wife Michelle attended Pastor Wright's Trinity United Church for 20 years sitting under the teachings of this blatantly anti-American, anti-capitalist and communist racist pastor. Members are expected to have a “non-negotiable” commitment to the continent of Africa, but not a commitment to the United States. The entire list is Afro-centric and, by implication, anti-white in its expression. Instead of viewing themselves as Christians committed to Jesus Christ and loyal citizens of America, members of Trinity apparently identity as Black only with a loyalty to Africa, not this nation.

    The idea of “economic parity” refers to Pastor Wright’s belief that America’s capitalistic system results in what he calls “economic mal-distribution.” This is basically a Marxist viewpoint that seeks to “take from the haves, and give to the have nots.” Wright clearly favors a socialist welfare state. As Dr. James Cone has written in For My People: “…the Christian faith does not possess in its nature the means for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality.

    These are the beliefs of the President of The United States.

  • veteranoutrage

    http://www.veteranoutrage.com

    This is a good article but i loved the part about
    the changing of christianity from salvation to
    revolution ..

    Until God comes back and smacks this earth upside the head
    the only way we can prosper is if we live free
    followign Gods principles in the BIBLE Not the koran..

    But that view just pisses off all liberals and communists..

    ohh well i never liked them anyway,..

  • PAthena

    Why is Professor James Cone employed at New York’s Union Theological Seminary? He preaches racism and communism. What kind of theologies are they?

  • USMCSniper

    Barack Hussein Obama was a practicing Muslim throughout his entire youth through high school, as an undergraduate at Occidental and Columbia where he studied under his selected Marxist professors, at Harvard law school, after graduating Harvard Law School and passing the bar, and only converted for political reasons to the Marxist based Black Liberation Christian sect under the anti American, openly racist, anti semitic Reverenr Jerimiah Wright in his 30's. He is a clandestine Muslim and a Marxist

  • jackhampton

    This has to be the same kind of muck that the good Rev Wright pumped into Obama's head for twety years.

  • Fabio

    The author is beeing very naif thinking that the libertation theology is only in the memories of the elder. For most people that dont know the basics of cristianity it is the model to be persuited – at least in Brazil.