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  • Writer's pictureMetta

Starting with liberation theology of Latin America

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

In the "Queer Liberation Theologies of Latin American, Asian, and African Contexts" course I've been in this fall through Starr King School for the Ministry, I first needed to start with understanding what liberation theology is. I've heard the term fairly frequently, but hadn't delved into it. I was curious, and then when I took the course taught by Dr. Hugo Cordova Quero, I knew it was time to understand more. So I explored some of the primary concepts of liberation theology as a base to begin from, as I expanded out into the area of queer liberation theology. I still have more to learn and delve into within the topic of liberation theology. That topic is definitely enough for many different courses, not just introductory material for this course. Thus my summary here should be taken as my putting together some pieces of understanding to build upon. This shouldn't be read as expert knowledge, nor does it reflect the deep historical complexity that liberal theology emerged from. This complexity includes the history of colonialism, class hierarchies that include Spanish vs. Indigenous ancestries, capitalism, and the complex relationship between Catholic church power and governmental power. The book Liberation Theology by Emilio A. Nunez C. covers this history in more detail. In general there are many many texts on liberation theology that should be consulted for a deeper dive into this subject. Further, I am a white person living in the global north, and have lived a life through a colonized lens even while I engage in the process of decolonization within for the rest of my life in a kind of recovery. It is important for me to highlight this because I know there are assumptions and conditioning that will continue to impact how I interpret writing and information, how I convey information, and will also impact my understanding of fields like liberation theology and global queer and transgender movements.

Liberation theology originated with Christianity, specifically Catholicism, but includes Protestantism, and began within Latin America. The term Liberation Theology was introduced in 1968 by the Peruvian Priest Gustavo Gutierrez. Clergy of Latin America had observed the poverty amongst those they served, and also observed little the church was doing to support the needs of their parishioners. Suppression and poverty was further exacerbated by changes made in economies within Latin America that benefitted the Middle Class and Upper Class, but created even more inequity for impoverished peoples. Industrialized nations were also enriching themselves at the expense of the global South. Looking to the story of Jesus, the proponents of liberation theology felt Jesus was a supporter of love and compassion for poor and suffering individuals, and thus that the church should be supporting justice for poor and oppressed people. Many church activists stepped forward in the 1960's, and Christian liberation theology swept Latin America. This is not supported by church leadership, and yet liberation theology has had an ongoing and important impact on practicing Christians in Latin America. In the 1990's the Vatican tried to curb the power of liberation theology. And yet liberation theology continues to have impact and has spread beyond Latin America, including to African and Asian countries.

I was curious if liberation theology in Latin America influenced the development of Black liberation theology, due to the overlaps in timing and some similarities in the theology. Black liberation theology was introduced by Reverend James Cone, and also deeply connects with how Jesus supported the oppressed and that there are core messages within the Bible and Christianity that have justice, equity, and the importance of deconstructing the violent structural and societal violence inherent in racism at their core. However, it is important to stress that Black liberation theology arose independently. Rev. Cone did note some of the similarities between the two theologies when he finally had access to English translations of liberation theology from Latin America, which had been mainly in Spanish for some time. Rev. Cone also pointed out though that liberation theology of Latin America has not included criticizing the harmful impact of societal and structural racism that also impacts people in Latin America, and that these harmful structures of domination are not supported within the core tenents of Christianity.

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