Back in the 1960s and '70s, something in Christianity eventually called "Liberation Theology" became ascendant, given a boost especially in South America by such theologians as Leonardo Boff of Brazil.
The basic idea was that God had a "preferential option for the poor." God, in other words, was most concerned about the marginalized, the downtrodden. And God wanted people not just to feed, clothe and house the poor but also to work against the systems and structures that contributed to poverty, racism, sexism and lots of other destructive isms.
Liberation Theology eventually attracted critics, including a pope or two, who asserted that its thinking was Marxist in nature and wasn't in harmony with traditional Christianity. Pushing back, Liberation Theology advocates acknowledged that some of the economic and societal concerns Marxism raised were similar to the ones they were raising but that, unlike Marxists, Christians were motivated by a commitment to justice, love and mercy for people who also were children of God.
Religion&Politics.org has just published this interview with the author of a new book called, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology The article to which I've just linked you says that in this book, independent scholar Lilian Calles Barger "traces the history of liberationist thought back to its ascendance in the 1960s and 70s, situating it atop the prior movements and thinkers who paved the way."
The piece also notes that some politicians and others in the U.S. today are drawing on Liberation Theology to help energize what some are calling the Christian Left.
As Barger explains Liberation Theology in the interview, she says that "the tension between transcendence and immanence has been at work in theology for a very long time. At certain points, God has been imagined as a distant, otherworldly figure, while at others, God has been very much an interventionist in human affairs.
"With the social gospel in the early twentieth century, theologians began to swing decisively in the latter direction, emphasizing a God at work in the everyday of every day. By the 1960s and '70s, liberationists were situating God not simply among human beings on earth but specifically among the poor and the oppressed, to advocate on their behalf. God was not only close at hand, but God was found among oppressed people in their struggle against oppression. This was a shift in the character of God from one who had equal universal regard to one who was partial to black people, the poor and women."
Thus the phrase "preferential option for the poor."
Theological movements come and go, of course, but in this politically charged era in America leading up to the midterm elections, it's been intriguing to see Christians who have felt estranged from what has been called the Religious Right begin to express their political views using theological underpinnings.
Barger notes, correctly, that Liberation Theology has "a very splintered history." And it's unclear whether those who use it in some way to define their political positions can convince American voters that they should elect officials whose policies would be rooted in Liberation Theology.
Pay attention to candidates to see if you can pick up on this thread in their positions. It's often been more subtle and harder to find than has the often-harsh and rigid -- at times angry and arrogant -- theology of politicians who identify with the Religious Right. But it can be found if you watch closely.
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A SEXUALITY ISSUE AMONG MENNONITES
Matters of human sexuality, as most of us know, have divided various religious traditions, causing institutional splits and various realignments. It's happening among the Mennonites, too, as this RNS report shows. It's difficult, apparently, not to have an opinion about how theology and sexuality meet. But here's a good rule: If your views on sexuality, even if you think they're based on holy writ and approved by God, demean and divide people, it's time for a rethink.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about religion and the #MeToo movement -- now is online here.