Liberation Theology

There are some things I find attractive about liberation theology. With its focus on the least-off, it avoids the trap that much of "mainstream" Christianity has fallen into, the preoccupation with wealth and success. In addition, liberation theologists place as much import on the corporate as they do on the individual; which I think is definitely a shortcoming of Christian thought in America. The only thing that gets me about liberation theology is that at its essence, it's not scriptural. To be sure, it's no more unscriptural than some strains of fundamentalist thought, but my error is not a free pass for somebody else's mistake. While the goals of liberation theology are admirable, its philosophical underpinnings and the way that it plays out on the street leave much to be desired. I don't think there's any question that we should be working to ameliorate the suffering of the poor. I'm not just talking about sharing the Gospel with them, although that is certainly the first and most important step. Without that, all the rest is a temporary stopgap. Governmentally-sanctioned faith-based initiatives or not, I think the Christian church should be at the forefront of any effort to improve the lives of the disenfranchised. (And there shouldn't be any argument from Christians on the left as if it's a bad idea just because a Republican President said it.) To that extent, liberation theology is on track. However, liberation theology loses its way because it places the oppressed at the center of the gospel instead of keeping Jesus there. A principal problem is that oppression tends to be defined in political terms so that the oppressed are not a powerless, marginalized out-group, but any group that is not represented by the "hegemonic" ruling class, i.e. heterosexual white males. Thus we have different liberation theologies for different groups; there's Black theology, Latino theology, feminist/womanist theology, and there's probably a queer theology somewhere out there, too. In every case, the goal is to render a reading of the Bible that affirms the experiences of the group in question by using the following syllogism: God is on the side of the oppressed: we are oppressed: God is on our side. The important distinction there is the "God is on our side," not "we are on God's side." This is problematic in two ways: first, because liberation theology is primarily concerned the Bible in a political context, it tends towards a long historical view. While an understanding of the past is necessary to properly contextualize and evaluate what has happened, it is not so good for moving forward. Sure, things happened; some of them are so awful that the English language is not equipped with the words to express the degree of evil or suffering or whatever happened in that particular instance. Still, knowing that does not really help us today. I hate it when people try to act like the past was some halcyon occasion, like people weren't suffering, or when they try to marginalize the events of the past like it wasn't that important, but when it comes down to it, the past has passed. It's not about what happened, it's about what you're going to do about it. In the biblical passage I used last time, note that Jesus told the woman to go forth and sin no more. He wasn't worried about what she had just been caught doing, or about all she had done before that. He just said, "Go forth and sin no more." What are you gonna do now? The second way in which liberation theology's political definition of oppression is problematic is that it leads to philosophies which run counter to the Word. I said last time that even self-styled fundamentalists are actually liberal when it comes to the interpretation of some scriptures. That is, the interpretation of Scripture is based, at least in part, on an understanding of the context in which the passage was written and the audience to whom the passage was written. The difference between fundamentalist theology and liberation theology is fundamentalists see the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God even as they seek to understand it in the proper context. Liberation theologists see the Bible as the Word of God as perhaps inspired, but certainly not inerrant. That is, they look at it through postmodern lenses so that the real message is not in what's written, but in the ideas behind what's written, which can only be gotten at when the biases of the authors are revealed and accounted for. Barbara Essex writes in Bad Girls of the Bible,
The Bible is composed of words—chosen by human beings who have been shaped and influenced by the culture within which they live and work. Words and their meanings change over time and are shaped by events of particular eras. The same holds true for the words of biblical texts.
(In the interest of complete honesty, I will say that I am sometimes curious about pronoun choice as it refers to God. Since God is a spirit and as such does not have a gender in the same way that a human would, why do we use a gendered pronoun? This is particularly puzzling considering that some of the names of God and some of the descriptions are feminine. Can't pretend I have an answer here…by and by when the morning comes, yahmeen?) One other thing to note is that liberation theology is ultimately a response to willful misapplication of the Word by individual and collective entities for their own gain. If people didn't try to justify unrighteous actions with the Bible, there would be no need for a separate "theology" to address the discrepancies. However, given that for as long as there has been an America (longer than that, of course, I'm just talking about America because this is where both my home and heart are) people have been using biblical passages, usually taken out of context, but sometimes not, to explain why they should be at the top of the political/socioeconomic spectrum and why those who are on the bottom belong there. While this does not justify leftist esigesis, there should be no misunderstanding of the reasons behind some peoples' skepticism regarding biblical interpretation. I think this plays out most sharply in any discussion of America as a Christian nation, past present or future. There's a certain element that likes to claim America's Christian "heritage." Like I said in my post on Americanity, I don't debate that there is an element of Christianity in America's heritage, as passed down by the Founders and other significant historical figures, but Christianity is not the only thing they passed down. Moreover, the degree to which they passed down biblical Christianity is arguable. My point here is that many of the battles in the "cultural war" that some Christians seem to feel we are fighting are skirmishes that the church let "walk." If the church is operating properly, Elijah Muhammad has no rap. Can't say it's the "white man's religion" if it's not complicit in the destruction of Black people. But it was. Gays try to use Loving v. Virginia as shield against the church's opposition to gay marriage because in many places, the church really was (and in some places, may still be) against interracial marriage-- not as a personal opinion, but as an edict from the Lord. Nowadays, there seems to be more of a direct effort to address social concerns, but let's not get it twisted: we as Christians are in this situation because we put ourselves in this situation, whether actively or passively. In short, liberation theology is a response to unchecked oppression theology, or perhaps more accurately, unchecked oppression under the guise of theology. However, not everybody who claims to be "oppressed" really is. For instance, nowadays, we have homosexuals claiming to be oppressed because they can't get married like heterosexuals. Personally, I don't see what the big deal is – from either perspective. If Butterscotch and I get married, the fact that two dudes in San Francisco got married doesn't cheapen my commitment to Butterscotch, nor does it change the spiritual concept behind our marriage. Really, marriage exists on two levels: one is civil, one is spiritual. On a civil level, what difference does it make? Two dudes getting together doesn't change marriage any more than two dudes getting together changes sex. I don't think gays marrying puts David's Bridal or Zales or any wedding planners or anybody else in the red. That is, heterosexuals aren't going to stop marrying because gays start. I think the only argument against gay marriage is that it's not biblically permissible. According to some Christians, neither is marriage involving at least one divorced person. To the literalist, it would seem to me that divorce would be more problematic than gays getting married. The gay thing is just more outrageous and gets more attention. Just like if I went to Vegas and got lit up and married somebody other than Butterscotch—that wouldn't be just as much of a desecration to marriage as Adam and Steve? At the same time, I'm confused by the gay marriage lobby. I've actually seen gay activists say that the push for gay marriage is not an attempt to make homosexuality "mainstream" or "normal." Then what the devil is it? What else could it be if you're going from "keep your laws off my sexuality" to "include my sexuality in your laws?" That makes no sense. Nor does it make sense to claim some type of persecuted status. I'm not one of those people who thinks that gays have it easy just because there are some gays in high places, or because there seems to be a proliferation of queers on the IB. Still, I don't see the connection between gay rights and the Civil Rights movement. Honestly, I can see where somebody would try to make the connection; if I had a mass movement, I would probably pattern it after the civil rights movement, too. That don't make it righteous, though. To keep it focused on the theological aspect, I don't think it's oppression to say that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The Bible condemns all fornication. If gays are oppressed, then we all are. No matter what the civil law or any "inclusivist" preacher says, gay marriage can never be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church (his Bride), so any sexual activity outside of that is necessarily fornication. Now, a person may choose to deny the Bible's authority on the matter, but all the rest of the discussion is irrelevant. Whether homosexuality is a genetic predisposition or socially constructed makes no difference. I don't know if I like women because I was born that way or because I always knew I was supposed to. Maybe it's somewhere in the middle (I know for a fact that I knew I liked women when I saw the cover to the Ohio Players album, Honey), but in either case, my natural tendency would have me fornicating. I don't get fewer demerits because it's not with a man. So where's the oppression? Same thing goes for abortion. I recently read where Planned Parenthood has a chaplain who…I can't really imagine what his actual purpose is, except to lie to these women and make them think it's all good. It can be, if the woman repents just like everybody else has to, but I don't think there's too much in the way of biblical justification for abortion. When I looked, I saw a lot of secular logic; lotta talk about patriarchy and holding women down, but not too much Bible. Overall, I think that's the weakness of liberation theology. By using postmodern interpretative techniques like "deconstruction," the result is biblical nullification. The witness of the text is held subject to the political leanings of the individual in such a way that when there is a disagreement between the two, the political wins out. Not like so-called liberals have the market cornered, by the way. Their variances from scripture tend to be more sensational, usually having some connection to sex, but I seem to recall Jesus pointing out one or two people whose greed and self-righteousness represented a problem for their relationship with Him. Greed and pride, unlike sexual sins, are all but impossible to identify in another person. Honestly, they're even hard to self-identify. The difference between appreciating what God has done for me and being prideful for what I did is gossamer. I have to be very conscious of my intents and motives. Focusing on myself makes it very difficult to worry about where somebody else may be going wrong, even when their wrong is different than mine.