Option expressing preference for, and solidarity with, the poor

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Leininger: Notes on Liberation Theology Page of

Liberation theology is the reflection in faith of the “option expressing preference for, and solidarity with, the poor” [Puebla, Section 1134 (cited in Boff 474)]
Mich: Three forces that helped to form liberation theology

  1. Base Communities--small groups of lay (often poor) Catholics who pray, worship, educate each other, and reflect on their faith and their situation.

  2. Conscientization--the raising the consciousness of the poor to analyze their situation and move from passive objects of oppression to active subjects of their own liberation.

  3. Social Analysis--unmask the ideologies that legitimate injustice. Ask “Who are the beneficiaries of the status quo?” and “What social structures and ways of thinking serve to perpetuate injustices?”

Three Main Emphases of Liberation Theology

  1. Privileges Perspective of the Poor. Interprets Christian faith first and foremost from the perspective of the sufferings and hopes of the poor. Views the poor as the primary bearers of God’s Word. People in base communities “look at the Bible as in a mirror to see their own reality” (Mich 268).

  2. Inductive and Socially Committed Method. Shifted method of theology to “critical reflection on praxis.” Praxis is action that attempts to transform social injustice. Assumes that theological reflection starts with experience of social engagement on behalf of justice (not with a deduction from doctrine). Poor have epistemological privilege to know the truth over those invested in the status quo.

  3. Critiques Power Structures. Uses social analysis to construct a theological critique of existing power structures of church and society as well as their ideological justifications.

Boff: Nine Themes in Liberation Theology

  1. True faith must be truly lived by working to liberate the oppressed.

  2. God sides with the oppressed against the pharaohs of this world. Out of love, God takes sides against injustice. The triune God is a model for a society of equals who affirm and respect the dignity and individuality of all members of society.

  3. The Reign of God (“ROG”) occurs both in history and eternity. ROG “means the full and total liberation of all creation, in the end, purified of all that oppresses it, transfigured by the full presence of God” (Boff 478). “Liberative Christians unite heaven and earth, the building of the human city with the eschatological city of God” (Boff 482)

  4. Jesus took on oppression to set us free for the ROG. Jesus showed us that the a) ROG is a gift from God and b) reception of this gift requires both personal and social conversion, namely a change of our hearts and social structures.

  5. The Holy Spirit is present in the struggles of the poor. The Spirit is present in everything that liberates us to live in God’s justice.

  6. Mary takes on the face of the poor, e.g., the “Morenita” or little dark girl in Guadalupe, Mexico, a slave in Brazil, and a dark complexioned Virgin of Charity in Cuba.

  7. The mission of the church is to be a sign and instrument of liberation. It is at once both human (its members) and divine (sharing in God’s life and work). It serves the poor by “allowing the poor to become the church” and helping the whole church to become “the church of the poor” (Boff 481)

  8. The rights of the poor are God’s rights. “Whenever you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me.” Matt 25:40. Promotion of human dignity must begin with (prioritize) those who are most deprived of this dignity, i.e., with ensuring the rights of the poor.

  9. True conversion must include working to change unjust social structures and systems. Love has a social dimension: helping to form new structures that better embody love.

Theological Rationale for Option for the Poor

  1. Theological. Opting for the poor imitates God who feels impelled to help the oppressed poor. Pleasing worship of God involves working for justice and caring for oppressed.

  2. Christological. Christ made a personal option for the poor by living in solidarity with them and viewing them as the primary recipients of his message: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

  3. Eschatological. Our salvation and entry into God’s reign depends upon how we have responded to the poor. “for I was hunger and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25: 42-45.

  4. Apostolic. The early followers of Jesus shared all in common so that there would be no poor among them. “All who believed were together and shared all things in common; they would sell their possessions and good and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:44 “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything was held in common.” Acts 4:32

  5. Ecclesiological. The mission of the church is to be a sign and instrument of Christ’s liberating action to bring good news (gospel) to the poor. The whole church needs conversion to a preferential option for the poor and toward action that transforms unjust structures.

Two Types of Poor

  1. Socioeconomically Poor. Those who lack the necessary means for subsistence—food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, and work. Those who are discriminated against (or placed at the margins or outskirts of society) due to race, culture (indigenous), or sex. These poor “are preferred by God not because they are good, but because they are poor and wronged. God does not will the poverty they suffer.” (Boff 476) Instead, God wills justice to poor.

  2. Evangelically Poor. Live in solidarity with the economically poor. “Those who, without being socioeconomically poor, make themselves poor—out of love for and solidarity with the poor—in order to struggle against unjust poverty with them . . .” (Boff 476) They do not seek their security in material goods but seek first to serve others.

Official Church Criticisms of “Certain Forms” of Liberation Theology

  1. Reduces Scripture to one of its dimensions, i.e., it political dimension

  2. Uncritically adopts Marxism and becomes captive to it

  3. Attacks authority in the Church and creates an opposition between the church of the poor (base communities) and the hierarchical church

Other Criticisms

  1. Tunnel vision--too narrowly focused on economic oppression while failing to emphasize sufficiently racial, ethnic, cultural, sexual, and environmental oppression. In response, people have developed liberation theologies for Asians, Africans, feminists, womanists, minorities, etc.

Current Development Arising Out of Liberation Theology

Contextual theology—emphasizes the plural forms of Christianity in different cultural contexts. Just as western Christianity adopted and transformed pagan Greek and Roman religion and culture, so African, Latin American, and Asian Christianity will do the same with indigenous religions and cultures.

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