e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


liberation theology in the Times

A great piece in today's NY Times about liberation theology and Pope Benedict's visit this week to Brazil, birthplace of the movement:
Over the past 25 years, even as the Vatican moved to silence the clerical theorists of liberation theology and the church fortified its conservative hierarchy, the social and economic ills the movement highlighted have worsened. In recent years, the politics of the region have also drifted leftward, giving the movement’s demand that the church embrace “a preferential option for the poor” new impetus and credibility.
That "preferential option" forms the heart of both liberation theology as well as the heart of Catholic social teaching regarding economic issues. This latter point is often obscured by church leaders invested in Rome's continual shift to the right--a shift that has charecterized the decades since Second Vatican Council. As the article acknowledges, even as Rome was moving to the right, the "church" (which means "people") itself was moving to the left, especially in Latin America, and keeping alive a social justice tradition that's rooted in the prophets, and in the preachings of Jesus.

That tradition--especially the part about a "preferential option" for the poor--is hard on many, many levels. It's a tradition that's not in keeping with the ideologies of unchecked, unregulated capitalism. By extension, it's not in keeping with U.S.American ideology. It's hard to butt up against the logic (or "ideologic," to borrow Sharon Crowley's term from Toward a Civil Discourse) of work harder and achieve something for yourself! The diocese where I grew up (historically, a "labor democrat" stronghold that itself has moved SWIFTLY to the right in recent years) recently appointed a Jesuit bishop. Although I don't know much about that particular individual (not all Jesuits are the same, of course) I'm curious to see how that arrangement will play out.

I'm so thankful to be at a church where liberation theology's spirit informs the mission and the rituals (especially having grown up in a church invested in a reactionary, post-Vatican II conservative restoration). I'm thankful that when I was 19, I took my first class with Fr. Art McGovern, one of the greatest teachers I've ever had, a Jesuit whose courses in ethics and social justice all engaged with "the local" and taught concepts like the preferential option. I'm thankful that I discovered his book Marxism: An American Christian Perspective, sadly out of print. I'm thankful the Times is covering the Pope's visit to Latin America in ways that are contextual. But I'm sad that the hierarchy doesn't always make room for this tradition and put its resources behind the social movements advancing that long tradition.

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