20110717 Herrera LiberationTheology

I came across a surprising claim when I was in seminary it caught me off guard stopped me momentarily in my trajectory my trajectory you have to understand started in a working-class neighborhood which is to say lower class let’s not dress it up here I was born with an inability to suffer fools gladly really unfortunate when you’re 10 years old and all of the fools are adults lordy I had a reputation for backtalk and from an early age I was filled with anger a righteous anger about oppression I saw it all around me all the time oppression of women by men of brown neighbors by white neighbors and of our whole social class which as a young person I slipped lower and lower into for a while due to circumstance I was filled with the kind of anger that happens when the world as it should be is not the world as it is not an impotent chaotic misdirected kind of anger a creative generative kind of anger that burned in my heart for many years and while it was there got into a conversation with love capital L now the kind that can turn your life around and led me into the ministry the Unitarian Universalist ministry I had gone to the unitarian church during my childhood so this was my spiritual home and it was clear to me it was the path to a vocation of blessing and loving and liberating the only work i could imagine doing in the only faith tradition I could imagine belonging to and so imagine my surprise when I picked up one of the required texts for you you seminarians and I read these words about liber raishin by Paul razor director of the Center for the Study of religious freedom at Virginia Wesleyan College and one of our most visible contemporary liberal theologians he wrote religious liberals often respond positively to liberation theology when they first encounter it this makes sense because liberation theology is concerned with many of the same things liberals are also concerned with such as overcoming oppression and working for justice in the world what is often difficult for liberals to see is that liberation theology is not friendly to liberal theology say what and he went on liberation theology is not part of the liberal theological tradition instead it operates as a profound critique of liberal theology the two are incompatible that’s not what I thought perplexing right unsettling let’s flush this out when razor says liberation theology he’s referring to a distinct theological tradition classic liberation theology in the vein of theologians Gustavo Gutierrez and James cone Gutierrez is a theologian and a Dominican priest who now teaches at the University of Notre Dame and is regarded as the founder of liberation theology growing up in Peru Gutierrez witnessed that sixty percent of his country was poor and eighty-two percent of those lived in extreme poverty when he became a priest he observed that the church’s priorities were out of touch with this reality Christians and others had come to see poverty as a misfortune a personal short coming a lack of resources Gutierrez on the other hand could see that while luck or personal improvement or charity might help individual out of their impoverishment these things would never be able to end the larger problem of poverty because they do not address the systems of oppression that keep creating more poor people Gutierrez couldn’t imagine that Jesus wanted us to simply feed people while keeping them far away from the source of food and the means to get there it’s not enough that Christianity is based on a Bible in which Jesus blessing blesses the poor is that teaching manifest is it given the

priority it deserves in light of the suffering in the world one of the truths Gustavo Gutierrez wish to emphasize the most is that faith and life are not separable in the 1970s he wrote a book called a theology of liberation in which he argued based on the Bible that while God’s love is universal God especially stands with the poor God Gutierrez says a boar’s poverty and suffering think of the Prophet Amos in the Hebrew Bible who says he has heard the voice of God and God is angry with the people of Israel for buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals think of maquiladoras sweatshops where the poor literally make our sandals in exchange for barely barely scraping by where are your shoes from mine are no better Gutierrez argued that God’s will is that systems of social inequality be dismantled and that this should be one of the top priorities of the church as a global institution now not everybody within the Catholic Church appreciated Gutierrez’s critique and his vision the Vatican set up a gathering of latin-american bishops for the express purpose of condemning Gutierrez and theologians like him especially because liberation theology theology was associated with socialism which the Catholic Church has long been against but they were unsuccessful the bishops would not condemn him and even when other liberation priests were excommunicated or even killed Gutierrez squeaked by Liberation Theology made sense to many in Latin America since then there have been some new developments liberation theology though it is always very contextual has broadened James cone is a black American liberation theologian whose writings reflect the pressing issue in his context the oppression of black people by White’s like Gutierrez cone defines liberation theology as one in which God is primarily concerned with the poor and the weak in society while all God’s children our beloved saints and sinners alike God is on the side of justice and anti-oppression and stands with the poor and the oppressed wherever they are whoever they are Cohen says black liberation theology is not just for black people in a narrow sense of that term it’s an understanding of the gospel that sees justice for the poor as the very heart of what the Christian gospel is about and the heart of what God is doing in the world now this focus on a personal God who is active and involved in history is one of the things that razor is concerned about when it comes to the question of whether there is a God liberal religion tends to take the stance of that agnostic bumper sticker that says I don’t know and you don’t either but liberation theology is not a lukewarm enterprise razor also raises the issue of who our theology is directed at or speaking to he argues that liberal theologies conversation partner has always been what another theologian called religions cultured despisers cultured despisers educated people who view religion with suspicion as though it were dishonest and superstitious meanwhile liberation theology speaks directly to the poor and the oppressed it’s their theology it does this because power is not given up easily no powerful people in history has dismantled its systems of oppression without enormous pressure from the oppressed think of the civil rights movement the farm worker movement the feminist movement think of how far we still have to go in these areas Liberation Theology encouraged the oppressed to take the situation into their own hands with the courage that comes from knowing that the universe’s highest power is on their side this is related to another critique razor lobs at us that religious liberals tend to favor moderation gradual change let’s not go crazy we say sometimes we get caught up in thinking things through so much and debating the finer points and worrying about what we don’t understand well enough that we can get stuck in the mud of our own process not always but I’ll let you know what I mean a little less conversation and a little more action right but big change is scary

especially for the privileged who would have to change the most razor points out that when it comes to helping our neighbors liberalism seeks to level the playing field by creating programs of social uplift while liberation theology sees this as too individualistic and approach because it does not address the underlying social structures such as class inequality that perpetuate poverty another difference razor says is that liberals look inward for religious authority while liberation theology looks to scripture external Authority and looks at it through the lens of poverty now when you’re an underdog with little credibility speaking truth to power this is a good strategy drawing on the authority of the text that the oppressor claims to believe in and finally razor says when it comes to deciding whether a theology is a good one liberal theologies biggest test is reason does the theology hold up to the latest discoveries of science if not then it isn’t acceptable but in Liberation Theology reason is never an end in itself liberation theology is final test is praxis the practical application of the theology in the world it’s pragmatic what effect does the theology have on humanity is it liberating if so then it’s true in the only way that matters now there’s some truth two razors claims as we imagine the liberal Church of the future and how different it is from the 20th century we could learn a lot about the tradition we have inherited by paying attention to razors descriptions on his critique but I’ve got a bone to pick with him his assessment of liberalism and liberation theology is incomplete first of all new voices have challenged the stereotype that liberating theologies depend on a God who acts in history or that they require outside Authority like scripture take William R Jones he wrote the book called is God a white racist you can’t come up with a more attention-getting title than that in stark contrast to the black liberation theologians before him Jones argues that a personal God acting in history on the side of the oppressed is not only unnecessary but might actually reinforce racism by playing down the role of human beings there’s no evidence God is on the side of the oppressed he says if God were why would the oppressed still be struggling he makes a case for humanists liberation theology meaning they have to acknowledge that it’s humans who systematically inflict oppression on others and humans are responsible for stopping now we’re getting somewhere meanwhile although it might be advantageous for debates within the Christian Church Rene k Harrison a theologian at Howard University says that the authority of Scripture is not essential to liberation theology stew she applauds theologian Azana Freitas and Stephanie Paul cell who encourage women to start with their personal experience and not necessarily scripture as a grounding for feminist liberation theology razor does not take feminist liberation theology into account yet it may be that liberalism’s non-hierarchical ways are more compatible with it than classical liberal the liberation theology is it could be argued that a dependence on outside Authority actually perpetuates oppression the Catholic Church is itself a prime example with its official hierarchical worldview God is the father and christ as the head of the church which is led by the infallible Pope who is head of the priests who minister to families headed by men and so on the feminist critique is that oppression is built in within such a structure its inherent to the hierarchy and what about razors characterization of liberal theology first of all to say that liberalism is conversation partner has always been cultured despisers and to suggest that it hasn’t included oppressed people is to ignore the reality that at least half of you use our women that we have quite a bit more economic and cultural diversity than is generally acknowledged in the collective we and that many of the people who come into our sanctuaries today are not despisers at all not people looking for a refuge from orthodoxy many of us are unchurched folks looking for a faith

that can bring meaning to our lives looking for a transformative life-changing kind of faith we want to get not despise religion we just want the theological breathing space to do it in a way that feels honest for some of us this honesty comes through the freedom to think and ask questions about God or no God for others it’s honoring our own experiences of the sacred not having to try to fit them into somebody else’s theological box not having to have them scrutinized to death here there are multiple ways of knowing rational metaphorical narrative emotional experiential and all are part of a faith that as a whole and honest next to claim that liberal theologies final test is reason or any other abstract concept is perplexing to me it does not account the deep restlessness I’ve witnessed in this and other uu congregations to do something that matters to address the injustice is that we are bound up with and that are hurting our souls we too are a pragmatic people frustrated by ineffectiveness and subject to a deep existential discomfort when faced with only partial answers our theology is one about being deeply interdependent one in which we can come to understand as razr hopes we will that not only are we connected to the other as in other human beings we are completed in the other whoever wherever they are whatever you do to the least of these you do it to me do you know humanist wisdom if only we knew what to do and could get over our fear any shortcomings religious liberals have in confronting and working to end depression are more likely to be reiated related to socio economic dynamics and worries about giving away comfort in other words more likely to be related to the limitations of human nature than limitations in the nature of liberal religion so my bone to pick with razor is that he’s referring to historical unitarian universalism and historical liberation theology and does not flesh out completely enough what’s essential within them it’s a new world now and there’s a lot at stake so what does a Unitarian Universalist theology of liberation look like uu Minister Patricia Jimenez says that liberating theologies must include both a denunciation of what is oppressive and an enunciation of what the future will be telling what the future will be is an opportunity for us to dream she says one thing we can say is essential for any theology of liberation to have is a perspective in which oppression is viewed as against the will or the highest order of the universe whether that highest order involves a god or not oppression is the opposite of its fulfillment I read a quote once that said oppression is the presence of the absence of God oppression is the presence of the absence of God an interesting way to put it since it is difficult for those on the side of privilege to generate among themselves the courage and the sustained sense of urgency required for rebalancing power the inclusion of the oppressed as audience speaker and actor is also necessary to a theology of liberation the increasing multiculturalism and awareness of who is already present within our denomination is a good step in this direction a systems perspective meaning a commitment to systemic change is also essential and it must place responsibility for action in human hands a service model will not suffice because services delivered from privileged to underprivileged people do nothing to change the larger systems that create more oppression a few weeks ago and met a man from agua prieta mexico who came to albuquerque looking for help in building a self-sustaining micro economy in his community he wanted to get out of the cycle of maquiladoras often us factories setting up shop in Agua Prieta luring people from the countryside to that border town in search of low-paying work and then leaving them stranded and desperate and likely to become undocumented immigrants in the u.s. when the company relocated to China the cycle had created a community of stranded people at the whim of globalization and corporate interests

but this man Jose did not want handouts he wanted hands to literally go down and help build the micro economy handouts he said reinforce and perpetuate dependency only real relationships create lasting change he was determined not to help people learn to survive or even thrive within a bad system but to change his communities system into something better his project by the way is called Dougal aprieta works named after their partnership in Douglas Arizona it isn’t that lending others a helping hand is always wrong sometimes it’s absolutely necessary people in the desert need water and we need to fix the broken immigration system right that’s why in this congregations year of learning and action on immigration justice we’re taking a holistic approach but by itself without systemic change service is inadequate finally a sound Liberation Theology must begin with the assumption that all theologies are biased meaning they reflect the context and the level of privilege of the people who hold them this is the shortfall of the first liberation theology which did not recognize the oppression perpetuated in their own hierarchical Church structure and it’s why I think it is important to take razors critique of liberalism to heart and continue to reflect on how who we are and our location in society limits our capacity to dream of liberation and equality to dream not wish how it affects the way we hold how that affects the way we interpret the texts that we hold sacred in Unitarian Universalism our sacred texts are diverse that include old ones like the Bible which like the name of God has been overused and misused to the point of being almost unrecognizable some of us struggle with that one but our texts also include art and poetry and nature and the living texts of our lives in which we can read and reread our own stories and the ways they intersect with others and be struck with new understandings of them that we never imagined before have you ever come up with a new take on an old story in your life that is sudden breakthrough understanding of something about yourself or relationships or God or love that changed the way you understand the text of your life what if you are to read the text of your life through the lens of poverty and oppression looking for the intersections with those what then would you discover what will we dream into reality next rise up won’t you and join me in our closing hymn come and go with me to that land the words are in your order of service you you you