Liberation Theology with Chopsticks
Published on: August 31, 2011
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  • Young Yoon

    I’m not sure how accurately the title of this article defines Minjung Theology though I agree with your theological and empirical criticisms of liberation theologies. The only reason why I think the title is quite irrelevant to Minjung Theology is that you might put it under the category of Latin American liberationism instead of valuing its uniqueness. This is not to say that there’s nothing common in both. I’m just pointing out the fact that the title doesn’t seem to consider Minjung theology seriously in its own terms. What would then be a description for Black Theology or Feminist Theology in terms of liberation theology? Would it be Liberation Theology with Black Jesus?

  • Etna Alvarado

    I’m a Latin American and I grew up witnessing the ideas from Liberation Theology (I say witnessed, because my family was basically atheist and I didn’t go to church). Let me just say that from a theoretical perspective, your analysis may have a few good points (good as in ‘close to reality’): the marxist influence in liberation theology, and the efforts of John Paul the second to eliminate Liberation Theology’s influence. The rest is sadly theoretical. It is cold analysis of a bloody period in Latin American recent history, where dictatorships (all of them recently proven by CIA disclosed classified
    docs to be backed up by your beloved capitalism, say the US), and where the influence of a colonial social structure had all the calls. Before judging a social current of thought, please and stop and inform of the actual reality (not the theoretical, the kind that newspapers report).
    The indigenous and all aboriginal ethnic groups were indeed marginalized COMPLETELY in Latin American societies at the time (this can easily be confirmed by checking prominent social and economic figures). Liberation Theology came out as a bridging initiative of these marginalized groups to the rest of society. This last thought, I dare to say, more in the sociological perspective (yes, I know you are a sociologist) that refers to discrimination and minorities, than in the strict marxist interpretation that you cite.
    Again, these thoughts come from a Latin American who witnessed the movement, as opposed to a gringo who just read about it.

  • Etna Alvarado

    I’m a Latin American and I grew up witnessing the ideas from Liberation Theology (I say witnessed, because my family was basically atheist and I didn’t go to church). Let me just say that from a theoretical perspective, your analysis may have a few good points (good as in ‘close to reality’): the marxist influence in liberation theology, and the efforts of John Paul the second to eliminate Liberation Theology’s influence. The rest is sadly theoretical. It is cold analysis of a bloody period in Latin American recent history, where dictatorships (all of them recently proven by CIA disclosed classified
    docs to be backed up by your beloved capitalism, say the US), and where the influence of a colonial social structure had all the calls. Before judging a social current of thought, please and stop and inform of the actual reality (the kind that newspapers report).
    The indigenous and all aboriginal ethnic groups were indeed marginalized COMPLETELY in Latin American societies at the time (this can easily be confirmed by checking prominent social and economic figures). Liberation Theology came out as a bridging initiative of these marginalized groups to the rest of society. This last thought, I dare to say, more in the sociological perspective (yes, I know you are a sociologist) that refers to discrimination and minorities, than in the strict marxist interpretation that you cite.
    Again, these thoughts come from a Latin American who witnessed the movement, as opposed to a gringo who just read about it.

  • Joseph Erbal Konrad

    I strongly recommend a 1984 book called ‘The Ratzinger Report’, a summary of conversations by Italian journalist Vittorio Messori with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Its chapter on Liberation Theology was a brilliant and perceptive penetration of this idea, and whatever one things of Ratzinger/Benedict, he was and is nothing if not perceptive. One of his most important observations was that Liberation Theology was almost entirely European in origin, specifically among European intellectual elites, and was exported to places like Brazil. The fact that the article above describes one of the godfathers of Korean minjung theology studying in Germany is entirely of a piece with this. The irony is that those expousing political theology of this nature would almost certainly never consent to live themselves under the kinds of regimes that such a ‘Kingdom-of-Heaven-on-Earth would produce.

  • Derek Nelson

    I share your dissatisfaction with the direction Minjung theology ended up taking. I think you’re a bit hard on Ahn, who was, by all standards, an outstanding New Testament scholar, and who was, by and large, much subtler and more reliable than his heirs. I trace the devolution of Minjung theology in chapter 6 of a book, called “What’s Wrong with Sin” (T&T Clark, 2009) if you’re interested.
    Thanks for the stimulating essay!

  • jaqo

    So-called liberation theology, in all of its convenient opportunistic and politicized guises (so-called Feminist, Black, Liberation, Minjung, even so-called Palestinian [ck. Orbis’ books catalogue for a good laugh]), sucks and doesn’t and didn’t liberate scheiße. Marxistoid unthinking by any other name ain’t nothing but…

  • Peter

    Thank you for an interesting and provocative read. I recently returned to the United States after living in Cuernavaca for a year, and I worked closely with many people who hold Sergio Mendez Arceo in high regard. I’m curious what rejoinder you have for Mendez Arceo after asserting that he was wrong to suggest that there is no other way out (but socialism). Try living in & among the Mexican underclass for even a short time and you’ll see that capitalism is certainly not the way out, either. You’re right when you imply that it would be inconvenient to American interests, both political and commercial, for much of Latin America to embrace a left-leaning socialist program (as some countries have, to varying degrees). Christianity may not be a political program itself, but that certainly doesn’t mean it will never have implications for the political lives of believers. It is to this shared public life that Mendez Arceo was referring, in my view. Critique liberation theology all you want, but it is undeniable that some form of liberation from decades (hell, centuries) of economic exploitation is urgent for the Mexican poor. Liberation theology, flawed as it may be, was & is simply an expression of this desire. Why the political interests of Latin American Christians should necessarily align with North American business and political interests is not clear to me.

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