|| Key principle of liberation
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Though it has distant historical roots in 16th century Christian humanism, and more immediately in Vatican II, properly speaking liberation theology stems from the 1968 assembly of the Latin American bishops in Medellín, Colombia. That session endorsed a preferential option for the poor on behalf of the Catholic church in Latin America. The movement took its name from Gustavo Gutiérrezs 1971 book, A Theology of Liberation.
Today it is common to speak of a variety of liberation theologies. In his 1995 book Liberation Theologies, Jesuit Fr. Alfred Hennelly distinguishes nine: Latin American, North American feminist, black, Hispanic, African, Asian, First World, ecotheology and even a liberation theology of world religions. The focus in this article is on the Latin American form that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.
Four ideas have been central to the movement:
Liberation theology places a premium on social analysis. To remedy injustice, they believe, one must first understand the social mechanisms that produce it. To do this, many liberation theologians were drawn to Marxism. Critics found this alarming, insisting that one cannot distinguish between Marxist science and its ideological underpinnings -- atheism, materialism and totalitarianism.
Finally, liberationists stress the pastoral dimensions of their work. In Latin America, liberation theology came to be identified with the base communities, tens of thousands of small groups of Christians, usually 10-30 people, who come together for scripture study and reflection leading to action.
The base communities were at the roots of much of the Vatican alarm about liberation theology. Since they existed independent of clerical oversight, they seemed to represent a model of church from below; and indeed they were sometimes presented this way by some of their more enthusiastic advocates. Mainstream liberation theologians have repeated, however, that there is nothing necessarily adversarial about the base communities.
National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2000