Liberation Theology


Here’s the question for You Choose Sermon number 3 – “how is Liberation Theology historically and presently similar and different to mainline belief?”

I begin by defining what exactly liberation theology is. 

Liberation theology begins with the idea that Christ is liberator. This is straight out of Luke 4. Christ’s liberation of the least of these mirrors God’s liberation of the enslaved in Egypt. 

According to Liberation Theology, the biblical story as a whole is about liberation, about God freeing those stuck at the bottom. God and God in Christ seeks to save those at the bottom first and foremost. Yes, as the idea goes, a rising tide will lift all boats. But it lifts those boats at the bottom first.

There’s a phrase that is often attached to the discussion of liberation theology. “God’s preferential option for the poor.” God sides with the poor and oppressed. And God in Christ primarily comes to save the poor.

For liberation theology, the God of the Bible again and again joins the poor and oppressed to raise them up and out. God comes to first save those most in need of salvation, those in the gutter, those down and out, those at the bottom, those void of hope.

Christ famously says to the powerful in Luke 5, it’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the ill. Liberation theology points to a corollary truth: it’s not the wealthy that need help, but the poor. Didn’t Jesus say, after all, blessed are the poor, woe to the rich?

Here’s another thing Liberation theology preaches: if God comes down primarily to lift up the poor and oppressed, we as Christians must accompany God in that movement. We are to join God in the task of liberation.

For liberation theology, being politically neutral, not taking a side, means rejecting the side of God. Siding with God who himself sides with the poor means siding with the poor. 

In other words, the church must answer that question posed by the old Union song – which side are you on, boys, which side are you on? If you are not on the side of the poor, you are not on the side of God who himself always sides with the poor.

I realize this sounds rather strident. That’s purposeful. Liberation theology isn’t joking around. Liberation theology is purposefully strident. Liberation theology in fact is born out of the desperation that comes with being poor and oppressed. It is a theology born from the bottom.  

How is this different from mainline theology, the question asks. Well, quite simply, the question gives the answer away. Liberation Theology is not mainline. Mainline as a word means what? Get out an old thesaurus and look up mainline, and you’ll see words like predominant,” predominant, primary, prominent. Liberation theology isn’t mainline. It is born from just the opposite. from those who are dominated, marginalized, dismissed. Liberation theology comes from marginalized peoples, peoples historically marginalized by the mainline. And so liberation theology historically first rose out of the Black church and out of poverty, war stricken Latin American and poor Catholic church in the late 1960s.

What’s more, mainline Christianity prefers neutrality when it comes to the world’s affairs. It prefers to stay above any kind of fray and avoid taking sides when it comes to socio-political or economic issues. It prefers to just stick with religion, as if religion is separate from the world.

Liberation theology would critique this and say, theology by nature means taking sides. Being neutral and above the fray, liberationists would say, in the end means taking a side, the side of being above it all. 

The side of being above it all is not the side Christ took. Christ at one with the Father in heaven came down to us, taking the form of a human. But not just any old human. Certainly, not a human at the top. No, Philippians 2 says Christ takes on the form of a human slave. Christ becomes the least of these. Why? Just because? Just to stay put? No, Jesus lifts humanity up and into God’s kingdom, beginning with the least of these, beginning with the enslaved, beginning with those at the bottom. 

We can’t forget what the goal is for Jesus, a liberationist would quip. The goal is God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, disparity and division end. In God’s kingdom, disparity and division are overcome and equality and oneness reign. In God’s kingdom, to quote Dr. King quoting Isaiah, “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight.”

Anyway, as for me, a pastor of a mainline church in the suburban town of Plainville, how do I approach Liberation theology?

The key word for me is “pastor.” As a pastor, meeting people and the community where they are is a must

Yes, I preach the liberative Christ. I preach the Christ who comes to serve and exalt those at the bottom. I preach the Christ who himself preached blessed are the poor; woe to you who are rich.

But I also preach the Christ who said, blessed are the poor in spirit.

There’s more than just material poverty and oppression. We don’t live by bread alone! Spiritual poverty, feeling profoundly down and out in spirit, is a real thing. Being poor in health, whether poor in mental or physical health, is a real thing. Grief so profound that it breaks the heart, that is a real thing.

There’s a reason Jesus places the poor and the hungry next to the grieving and the brokenhearted. It seems Jesus wants the grieving and the brokenhearted to see themselves in the poor and oppressed, to help as much as possible, and to stand in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. And vice versa. The poor and grieving share in the pain of the human condition, after all. No one wants to lack what is needed. No one wants to grieve the loss of a loved-one. No one wants to bear the heartache and the heartbreak that goes with these kinds of suffering.

But together, we get through. Together, we commiserate and heal. Together, we lift each other up. Together, we grasp onto Christ as he rises up, bringing us with him into new life! Together, as the church, we share resources, whether they be material or spiritual.

In the end, it is the human condition, the reality of struggle and loss, that connects us. We all suffer. Seeing the suffering in one another, feeling the pain another feels, sitting with those enduring it, trusting the other to do the same when one’s turn of suffering comes, and loving and lifting one another up when and where we can – this is the best we can do. This is the faith we live.

Compassion, folks, compassion, I preach compassion. For only where there is compassion will we all flourish. And isn’t that what we all want – for all to flourish? Isn’t that what we as Christian all want – “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

I hope so. I pray so.



Popular posts from this blog

Music as a Metaphor for God

Mustard Seed Farming & a Country Made Whole

Temptations of the Church in the Wilderness