Liberation Theology and the Church: A Series

“Christ is to be found, as always, where men are enslaved and trampled under foot; Christ is found suffering with the suffering; Christ is in the ghetto – there also is the Church.” – James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, page 66.

When one graduates with an undergraduate theology/philosophy degree, and doesn’t plan on going to seminary, more graduate school is usually one of the only options. So I packed up my parents’ car and we drove down to Waco, Texas, in the middle of summer, so I could begin my graduate degree in English literature. By the end of my two year tenure in Waco, my attitudes on church, community, and faith had shifted immensely.

As a Master’s student, I had the option of either taking comprehensive tests or writing a 100 page thesis on a literature topic of my choice (provided I could convince a professor to work with me). After a Religion and Literature course and a summer independent study with me, Dr. Greg Garrett agreed to take on my thesis topic of Harry Potter and the church. I would spend my time buried in both theology and literature texts over the course of about eight months (though the actual writing of the work took about a month). I first had to develop a cogent theology of Trinitarian community before I could possibly apply it to the text.

It was this study that has influenced much of my thinking about the church universal in the four years since I graduated. Viewing God first as a triune being whose very essence is community and love has placed such love as a top priority in my faith. Entering into that equation, too, was a healthy dose of reading liberation theology, in which the values of justice and mercy are inextricably tied into the act and dissemination of God’s love. Mercy without justice (not punishment, but justice) is nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.

So this is how I land where I am today – a Christian who believes feminism is perfectly compatible with her Christianity, engaging in a long tradition of liberation theology. I’ve mentioned liberation theology a lot over the past couple years here on the blog, and it’s time that we sat down and actually discussed what these things mean.

Liberation theology is a theology of margins. It is a theological tradition deeply grounded in lived experience of humanity. It is deeply invested in centering voices not traditionally heard in the church and in speaking to the culture as we live in it.

Liberation theology, by contextualizing the universal truths of Christianity as relevant to our lived experience, both rejects and embraces orthodoxy. Theologians in this tradition believe in God. They affirm the creeds. But they reject certain theories of atonement that treat atonement as an individual journey rather than a corporate salvation. They believe God is deeply involved in understanding and liberating God’s people from the oppressions we are experiencing in our embodiment here on earth.

This is the good news of the Incarnation – that Jesus as God and Jesus as Man knows our oppression deeply and intimately through His entrance into the world as a poor carpenter’s son into a religion steeped in oppression and pain.

Throughout the month of June, we’ll be exploring these varied concepts of Liberation Theology as grounded in the historical lived experiences of the theologians. We’ll be starting with James Cone and the tradition of black American liberation theology – a theology developing out of a slave tradition and the historical narrative of the black church in America. From there, we’ll head south to Latin America, where we’ll examine Gustavo Gutierrez’s influence within Latin American liberation theology, much of which developed during the dictatorial regime in Chile (this was my introduction to the genre). And finally, we’ll land at the ongoing tradition of Feminist Liberation Theology, examining various female authors from around the world and how they fit into this tradition.

I’m glad that you guys will be joining me on this journey. The month will also feature guest posts about what church community means and personal reflections about liberation and oppression. (If you want to submit a guest post, pitch me over on my contact page).

Thanks for reading!