"Jesus says our Father sent him to stir up the social order, to raise up
the poor and scatter the proud. But Jesus’ radical idea of revolution is a
spiritual wave of individual conversions. The savior’s poverty, and power, is a humble spirit."
Jesus teaches us that our personal relationship with him is the heart of our service to others (Lk. 10:38-42).
Today in America, perhaps emboldened by a President who champions their beliefs, liberation theologians -- and not just black adherents -- are ramping up efforts to remake Christianity into a politicized Christology.
Considering the movement’s genesis, it is unsurprising that President Obama has found friends at University of Notre Dame, where liberation theology founder Gustavo Gutierrez holds a prestigious professorship in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.
Rev. Gutierrez’ bio at the Institute web site lists Latin America as his focus and “[t]he historical background and continuing theological relevance of the preferential option for the poor” as his current research topic. Gutierrez, a Peru native, is a Dominican priest.
Most associated with the Jesuits and 1960s insurgency in El Salvador, liberation theology hit a high pitch with assassination of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed March 24, 1980 because he publicly called Christian Salvadoran soldiers to obey God’s order and honor human dignity, and not follow government orders to oppress, abuse and kill countrymen.
A 12-year civil war ensued. Among 75,000 killed were six Jesuit priests, murdered in their home Nov. 16, 1989.
Fr. Jon Sobrino was not in the rectory that day. He continues to work and teach in El Salvador.
Two of Sobrino’s books published in 1999 are the subject of a Vatican notification to the faithful of March 14, 2007. Fr. Sobrino’s work with the poor is “admirable,” the Vatican writes, but he strays from church doctrine in his theological “presuppositions” that humanize Jesus Christ and neglect his divinity and “the salvific value of his Death.”
Fr. Sobrino’s material, rather than spiritual, view of Jesus and his teachings constructs the premise of liberation theology: That Jesus manifests social liberation from economic and political injustices imposed on the downtrodden by their oppressors -- not personal redemption from sins of immorality.
Along with Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff of Brazil (a former Franciscan priest twice admonished by Rome), and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay (a Jesuit priest, deceased in 1996), Sobrino was instrumental in formulating this humanistic view of social justice into a modern liturgy.
These liberation theology creators supposedly gained inspiration from the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium: “the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor…sees the image of (Jesus). It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ” (Chapter 1, paragraph 8).
Consider Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Like Fr. Gutierrez and the others, she lived among the world’s poorest outcasts and devoted her life to improving their condition. Unlike the priests, however, she embraced Jesus’ spiritual poverty, his acceptance of suffering and surrender to God’s will, and his divine power to show us the way to heaven.
Jesus says our Father sent him to stir up the social order, to raise up the poor and scatter the proud. But Jesus’ radical idea of revolution is a spiritual wave of individual conversions. The savior’s poverty, and power, is a humble spirit.
Salvation history, Jesus teaches, is God’s domain, not man’s. Our monumental spiritual task in our puny human existence is to transcend injustices with charity and forgiveness.
Largely diminished in Latin America after Rome’s 1984 rebuke of Marxist (and underlying atheist) concepts, liberation theology remains a current among liberal Catholics and a prominent force in American black churches.
Among notable U.S. liberation theologians is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose 1990 sermon “The Audacity to Hope” inspired the beliefs of longtime Trinity United Church of Christ member Barack Obama.