Liberation theology is a theological approach emphasizing the "liberation of the oppressed". It engages in socio-economic analyses, with social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples[1] and addresses other forms of perceived inequality.

Liberation theology was influential in Latin America,[2] especially within Catholicism in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council, where it became the political praxis of theologians such as Frei Betto, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, and Jesuits Juan Luis Segundo and Jon Sobrino, who popularized the phrase "preferential option for the poor".

The option for the poor is simply the idea that, as reflected in canon law, “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.” It indicates an obligation, on the part of those who would call themselves Christian, first and foremost to care for the poor and vulnerable.[3]

This expression was used first by Jesuit Fr. General Pedro Arrupe in 1968 and soon after the World Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971 chose as its theme "Justice in the World".[3][4]

Latin America also produced Protestant advocates of liberation theology, such as Rubem Alves,[5][6] José Míguez Bonino, and C. René Padilla, who in the 1970s called for integral mission, emphasizing evangelism and social responsibility.

Theologies of liberation have also developed in other parts of the world such as black theology in the United States and South Africa, Palestinian liberation theology, Dalit theology in India, Minjung theology in South Korea, as well as liberation theology in Ireland.

Latin American liberation theology

Main article: Latin American liberation theology

Liberation theology developed within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1960s, as a reaction to the poverty and social injustice in the region, which CEPAL deemed the most unequal in the world.[7] The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote one of the movement's defining books, A Theology of Liberation. Other exponents include Leonardo Boff of Brazil, and Jesuits Jon Sobrino of El Salvador and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay.[8][9]

Latin American liberation theology influenced parts of the evangelical movement and Catholic bishops in the United States.[10] Its purported use of "Marxist concepts" led in the mid-1980s to an admonition by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). While stating that "in itself, the expression 'theology of liberation' is a thoroughly valid term",[11] the prefect Cardinal Ratzinger rejected certain forms of Latin American liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin and for identifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that had long been oppressing Indigenous populations from the arrival of Pizarro onward.[12]

Black theology

Main article: Black theology

More or less at the same time as the initial publications of Latin American liberation theology are also found voices of Black liberation theology and feminist liberation theology.[13] Black theology refers to a theological perspective which originated in some black churches in the United States and later in other parts of the world, which contextualizes Christianity in an attempt to help those of African descent overcome oppression. It especially focuses on the injustices committed against African Americans and black South Africans during American segregation and apartheid, respectively.

Black theology seeks to liberate people of colour from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christian theology as a theology of liberation – "a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ," writes James Hal Cone, one of the original advocates of the perspective. Black theology mixes Christianity with questions of civil rights, particularly as raised by the Black Power movement and the Black Consciousness Movement.

Dalit theology

Main article: Dalit theology

Dalit theology is a branch of Christian theology that emerged among the Dalit castes in the Indian subcontinent in the 1980s. It shares a number of themes with Latin American liberation theology, which arose two decades earlier, including a self-identity as a people undergoing Exodus.[14] Dalit theology sees hope in the "Nazareth Manifesto" of Luke 4,[15] where Jesus speaks of preaching "good news to the poor ... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" and of releasing "the oppressed".[16]

Palestinian liberation theology

See also: Political theology in the Middle East § Palestinian liberation theology

Palestinian liberation theology is an expression of political theology and a contextual theology that represents an attempt by a number of independently working Palestinian theologians from various denominations—mostly Protestant mainline churches—to articulate the gospel message in such a way as to make that liberating gospel relevant to the perceived needs of their Indigenous flocks. As a rule, this articulation involves a theological underpinning of Palestinian resistance to Israel as well as Palestinian national aspirations, and an intense valorization of Palestinian ethnic and cultural identity as guarantors of a truer grasp of the gospel by virtue of the fact that they are inhabitants of the land of Jesus and the Bible. The principal figure in Palestinian liberation theology is the Anglican cleric Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.[17]

The Northern Ireland Troubles and armed struggle

In Ireland, liberation theology has been associated with the ideas and praxis of the Belfast Roman Catholic priest Des Wilson.[18][19][20] Following the onset of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Wilson defended the right of communities systematically failed by the state, the churches and other institutions to create “alternative education, alternative welfare, alternative theatre, broadcasting, theological and political discussion, public inquiries and much else”. More controversially, citing the example of Brazilian archbishop Hélder Câmara,[18] he argued that this right extended to “alternative police and alternative armies”.[21]

During the military dictatorship in Brazil, Câmara, who called on clergy to engage in the struggle for justice without fear of identification with the revolutionary left ("When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist"), refused to condemn armed resistance. In a famous interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, he explained that while it was not his choice ("not my road, not my way to apply the Gospels"), he would never say "to use weapons against an oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian".[22]

Wilson argued that a church, not itself pacifist (as a schoolchild he recalls being taught to revere General Franco as a soldier of Christ), needed to develop a new "theology of pacifism". Acknowledging the predicament of those who had "a duty to protect others--their families their homes", this would need to do more than satisfy the needs of "an oppressive government or of people seeking undemanding respectability".[23]

Peace Movement

The Christian peace movement has been associated with liberation theology in many ways. Participating theologians have been in all continents and countries, including countries with Christian minorities. A central theme has been peace as a way of redemption and liberation.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Dictionary of Historical Terms (1998), 2nd ed., Chris Cook, ed., p. 203.
  2. ^ Løland, Ole Jakob (July 2021). Usarski, Frank (ed.). "The Solved Conflict: Pope Francis and Liberation Theology" (PDF). International Journal of Latin American Religions. 5 (2). Berlin: Springer Nature: 287–314. doi:10.1007/s41603-021-00137-3. eISSN 2509-9965. ISSN 2509-9957. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 9, 2021. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Dault, Kira (January 22, 2015). "What Is the Preferential Option for the Poor?". U.S. Catholic. 80: 46. Archived from the original on July 10, 2020.
  4. ^ Crosby, Michael (October 17, 2016). "In 1971, the Bishops Sounded a Call for Justice". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  5. ^ Alves, Rubem A. (1988). Towards a Theology of Liberation. Princeton Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  6. ^ "Rubem Alves – Liberation Theology Pioneer". Critical Therapy Center. New York, NY. July 21, 2014. Archived from the original on January 13, 2015. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  7. ^ Protección social inclusiva en América Latina : una mirada integral, un enfoque de derechos (in Spanish). CEPAL. March 1, 2011. ISBN 978-921054555-6. Archived from the original on January 9, 2021. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  8. ^ Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism (Harper Collins, 1994), chapter IV.
  9. ^ Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 1st (Spanish) ed. Lima, Peru, 1971; 1st English ed. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York), 1973.
  10. ^ Travis Kitchens (June 21, 2010). "Chomsky on Religion". Archived from the original on December 11, 2021. Retrieved October 17, 2017 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ "Instruction on certain aspects of the "Theology of Liberation"". Vatican. Archived from the original on June 27, 2020. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  12. ^ Wojda, Paul J., "Liberation theology," in R.P. McBrien, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia (Harper Collins, 1995).
  13. ^ Vuola, Elina (2005). "Liberation Theology". New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Archived from the original on September 9, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  14. ^ Rao, Anand (2004). Soteriologies of India and their role in the perception of disability : a comparative transdisciplinary overview with reference to Hinduism and Christianity in India. Berlin-Hamburg-Münster: LIT Verlag. p. 232. ISBN 3-8258-7205-X. OCLC 54973643. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  15. ^ Luke 4
  16. ^ Schouten, Jan Peter (2008). Jesus as guru : the image of Christ among Hindus and Christians in India. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 247. ISBN 978-1-4356-9523-8. OCLC 302001445. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  17. ^ Ateek, Naim (1989). Radford Reuther, Rosemary (ed.). Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (3 ed.). The University of Michigan: Orbis. ISBN 9780883445402. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Garland, Sidney (1986). "Liberation Theology and the Ulster Question" (PDF). Journal of the Irish Christian Study Centre. 3: (40–54), 44.
  19. ^ McVeigh, Joe (2020). Des Wilson: A Voice for the Poor & Oppressed. Belfast: An Ceathrú Póilí.
  20. ^ "Fr Des Wilson obituary: Priest who fought oppression and injustice in North". The Irish Times. December 7, 2019. Retrieved August 17, 2023.
  21. ^ Wilson, Des (2005). The Way I see it: an Autobiography by Fr Des Wilson. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications. p. 128. ISBN 1900960281.
  22. ^ "Entrevistas históricas: Oriana Fallaci entrevista dom Helder Câmara". Socialista Morena (in Brazilian Portuguese). March 31, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2023.
  23. ^ Wilson (2005), pp. 133-136
  24. ^ Hans Ehrenberg, Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (Sons for Peace), "Ways of Peace, Lights of Peace", Vol 1 & 2, (Rome: Vatican Press, 1910, New York: Bible Society, 1910).

Further reading

On Pope John Paul II's relationship to Liberation theology