An intellectual and social movement in Latin America beginning in the 1960s
Rooted in Christian faith and Scriptures and developed from conscientious members of religious orders.
Members of the religious orders are committed to the vow of poverty and do not own property individually, nevertheless they enjoy a standard of living and security that separates them from the daily agony of the poor.
The question then arose for some of them: what is the ‘ideal of poverty’ in a situation where most are suffering dehumanizing poverty, and what should the Church and Christians do about it?
The theologians who formulated liberation theology had close contact with poor communities - didn’t teach in universities and seminaries.
Since they spend much time working directly with the poor themselves, the questions they deal with arise out of their direct contact with the poor.
Liberation theology interprets the Bible through the experiences of the poor.
It deals with Jesus's life and message: The poor learn to read the Scripture in a way that affirms their dignity and self worth and their right to struggle together for a more decent life.
The poverty of people is largely a product of the way society is organized therefore liberation theology is a "critique of economic structures".
Phillip Berryman described the liberation theology in the following terms:
"Liberation theology is:
1. An interpretation of Christian faith out of the suffering, struggle, and hope of the poor;
2. A critique of society and the ideologies sustaining it (profit, power, pride);
3. A critique of the activity of the church and of Christians from the angle of the poor".
Brief History of Colonial Latin America
Spanish Crown (1485-1530) – Golden Age
Ferdinand (Aragon) and Isabella (Castile)
United kingdoms = new power of Iberian Peninsula/Europe
Reconquista/Crusades – Evangelize the world
Columbus (1487 – 1506)
Honor, riches, pride (Capitulations of Santa Fe)
Zealot: believed he was the bearer of Christ to heathens
Treaty of Tordesilla
Pope Alexander VI divide the world between Portugal and Spain
Conquistadors and Colonization seeking treasure
Hernán Cortéz – 1519 enticed by gold, conquered Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) with less than 1000 men in 1521.
Francisco Pizarro – 1532;168 men (68 horses) conquered the heart of Incan Empire by tricking the Sapa Inca (king).
Emperor attempted to buy his freedom by filling a large room with gold and silver – this only fuels the flames of greed for riches.
Role of colonies
To enrich the Crown with bullion, raw materials and labor
“ The colonies' central purpose was to serve the interests of the metropolis [Crown] by producing raw materials needed to manufacture in the home country, and then by providing a market for what was made” (Bakewell, 2004, p.368)
Mercantile system of a kingdom created monopolies that provided raw materials to the homeland. Monopolies ensured the Crown got their slice of the wealth (taxation). Over-taxation, inefficiency in production, high prices to colonies.
Major colonial sources of wealth
red dye (brazilwood), sugarcane, cotton, coffee, gold and emeralds, cacao, rice, Indian labor
Mexico and Latin America:
silver, gold, sugar, leather Indian labor
Role of the Church in the Medieval/Classical worldview
God’s Church on Earth –> Roman Catholic Church
Pope was closest to God (hierarchy), was considered authority of God on Earth
“ Notion of church-state separation was scarcely conceivable in this time” (Bakewell, p 138, 2004)
Kings were faithful and obedient to the pope, tantamount to obedience to God
Kings had the ‘divine right of God’ and appointed bishops in their kingdom
Function of citizen of kingdom was to be loyal and supportive of king, and thereby God, by being obedient, faithful to position in life.
Consequences of a rigid, hierarchical social/ political/ economic structure, in which the Church and State are intimately intertwined:
Leaders of the Church benefit from close relationships with heads of state.
Church leaders do not advocate for change of this structure, that is, a more equal distribution of power/resources that would benefit the poor , because this would threaten their privileged position in society.
“ People are keenly and painfully aware that a large part of the Church is in one way or another linked to those who wield economic and political power in today’s world.”
“ This applies to its position in the opulent and oppressive countries as well as in the poor countries, as in Latin America, where it is tied to the exploiting classes.”
“ Is the Church fulfilling [its] role when, by its silence or friendly relationships, it lends legitimacy to a dictatorial or oppressive government?” (Gutiérrez, p65)
Economic Development vs Liberation
Development was a movement of the 1950s to beat 3 rd world poverty w/ economic policies
IMF, World Bank loans, foreign investment, new technology
“ development consists in increased wealth or, at most, a higher level of well-being”
“ development is a total social process , which includes economic, social, political, and cultural aspects”
Development failed to lead poor countries out of economic stagnation and oppressive poverty.
Failure of economic development in the 1950s – 1960s:
“ It has been promoted by international organizations [IMF, World Bank, WTO] closely linked to groups and governments which control the world economy.”
“ The changes encouraged were to be achieved within the formal structure of the existing institutions without challenging them.”
“ Great care was exercised not to attack the interests of large international economic powers nor those of their natural allies, the ruling domestic interests groups.”
“ The so-called changes were often nothing more than new and underhanded ways of increasing the power of strong economic groups.”
“ Since supporters of development did not attack the roots of evil , they failed [to cause true growth] and caused instead confusion and frustration” (Gutiérrez, p26).
Gutiérrez defines the root of evil as being the inherent selfishness of man
Three interpenetrating levels of liberation
Liberation expresses the economic, social and political aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes that put them at odds with wealthy nations and oppressive classes.
Liberation as the best of development is within this level of liberation, which includes internal and external liberation of man.
Liberation as man assuming conscious responsibility for his own destiny.
Liberation from a theological perspective: Christ is the one who liberates us, from sin, from sinful structures, which is the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression” (Gutiérrez, 36-37).