AN OPTION FOR THE POOR
Theology of liberation has contributed to the political changes in Latin America
By Michael Ramminger
[This short article published in: Junge Welt, 1/5/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.jungewelt.de/2007/01-05/054.php?print=1. Michael Ramminger is a theologian who works at the institute for Theology and Politics in Munster.]
Bolivia has nationalized its oil industry. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas are governing again and Venezuela is on the way to "socialism of the 21st century." Large parts of Latin America are no longer willing to submit to the dictates of US-American or local corporations and their political agents. The theology of liberation arising in the 1970s contributed to this development. The Brazilian theologian Alberto Moreira will speak about its influence at the XII Rosa Luxemburg conference in Berlin on January 13, 2006.
Millions of Christians in Latin America have been engaged in liberation movements and in the struggle against military dictatorships. They experienced God and gathered strategic experiences. Theology of liberation became the theoretical expression of diverse practical-political engagement. In Medellin (Colombia) the Latin American bishops' conference in 1968 emphasized the "option for the poor." In other words, the world should be analyzed from the perspective of the exploited.
The "liberating church" or the "church of the people" developed in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. "Base communities" arose. That one should not speak of the Christian God if one turns one's back on the misery of the people was the main theoretical insight of their theology. Their two main interests were: the ideological strengthening of Christians engaged in liberation struggles and confrontation with their own church that was part of the middle class and the oligarchies in most countries.
Although many bishops of the "third world supported the theology of liberation" it was massively persecuted under Pope John Paul II and his head of the Congregation of Faith at that time, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (as for example the Franciscan Leonardo Boff and Ernesto Cardenal, priest and minister of culture in Sandinista Nicaragua). Base communities also fell into crisis when these communities later broke down or replaced military dictatorships with social democratic or other pacification projects.
In the 1990s, a renaissance of the "church of the poor" and liberation theology occurred. In the meantime, similar movements have formed in Africa and Asia. The theoretical beginnings expanded. The question of the affiliation of popular groups, cultural identity and feminist theology and ecology were added to the themes economic exploitation and oppression. Several things changed. While there was still a clear Marxist and socialist line, it could be described more exactly as "anti-capitalist."
Up to today, the theology of liberation has not recovered from persecution by the church and military dictatorships. In many popular movements and parties of Latin America, in Africa and Asia, Christians are an obvious and indispensable element of resistance against neoliberal capitalism.