Liberation Theology in a Contemporary Context: Examining how liberation theology is applied to current social issues. (e.g., Liberation Theology and the Black Lives Matter Movement)
1. Introduction

Liberation theology originated in the late 60s of the 20th century in the Latin American countries. It was the time when there appeared “theology of the people.” However, its intellectual father is rightly believed to be Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian, who firstly presented his ideas in the book “A Theology of Liberation” which was published in 1971. He argued that the main goal of the church and theology is to change society, making its structure more fair and helping the poorest layers of the population. His ideas and the ideas of other founders of this movement were critiqued many times for mixing theology with politics. However, currently liberation theology is considered to be one of the most influential theologies in shaping the religious and social life not only in Latin America (where it has a leading position among other theological currents) but far beyond its borders. Also, the impact of the liberation theologians could be noticed not only in theology itself but as well in the structure of some youth groups (they are characterized by the social orientation, keeping in touch with social projects and initiatives and cooperating with other religious and public organizations) and church organizations (the activity of some of them started to be more focused on the social side of problems). It is worth mentioning that liberation theology didn’t go unnoticed by the Vatican. In the middle of the 80s, the head of “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who became widely known later as Pope Benedict XVI), stated that the mixing of ideas of Marxism with theology is dangerous for the true members of the Catholic Church and disordered. Also, there were serious attempts made to isolate liberation theologians from society, and the leading figures of this movement were under constant pressure and critique from the side of the officials of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, it didn’t cause any severe harm to the movement, and nowadays it is still alive, along with its main ideas.

1.1 Background of Liberation Theology

In recent years, the term liberation theology has been used to define this form of political and social expression. The Second Vatican Council, whose four sessions ran between 1962 and 1965, brought revolutionary changes in the way language was expressed during worship. This action brought major shifts in the Catholic Church. On top of this, it gave way for a large number of regional vernacular languages to be expanded, thus undermining the traditional language of the Western Church (Latin). Since then, the Church has encouraged regional development of theology. However, liberation theology really began after the Second Vatican Council in the Latin American countries of Peru, Brazil, and Nicaragua. At this time, the Catholic Church had a good deal of power as they controlled most of the institutions and land. As a response to this and out of recognition of radical socioeconomic disparity and poverty, liberation theology began to develop among radical priests from the late 60s onwards.

1.2 Significance of Liberation Theology in Contemporary Society

Liberation theology holds a significant place for a number of people and for a number of different reasons, and these reasons are often varied based on perspective. The practical applications and interpretations from a believer in their everyday life to the core principles being implemented to run a government are all influenced by this particular brand of theology. However, with this prevalence in society and the variety of roles it plays in different areas, the question of how it impacts contemporary society’s developments and state is often asked and is key to understanding the relevance of liberation theology today. Today’s global society is increasingly swayed and moulded by political discourses, developments in technology and what is now an almost global capitalist economy. This, and other modern cultural and political factors, has led to a western society especially becoming more and more isolationist and capitalist in its thinking and policy because the classic liberal emphasis on the individual suits the concept of a capitalist economy. However, liberation theology offers a narrative that often conflicts and challenges the premises upon which this government and cultural functions by providing a counterbalance towards a more community-based and compassionate system by actively discouraging religious apathy and encouraging active leadership and participation, using biblical interpretation and the profiles of specific figures in the church to inspire social change and crossing traditional boundaries such as gender, race, and economic status. This is especially prevalent in the developments in Latin and South America; the impact of liberation theology can be seen from individual acts to actual changes in government policy given that many countries in Latin America have experienced some form of Protestant revolution in recent decades. The rise in political influence and the spread of a desire for a better and more equally governed state, as found in the teachings of liberation theology, has led to governments being formed with a focus away from isolating themselves and their people from their neighbors either locally or internationally and a focus on alleviating the stresses of capitalist life with true compassion and solidarity. So, while it cannot be ignored that the role of liberation theology in society today is one of a challenge and a call for change in many different areas from the individual to the collective, it is also a call for opportunity. Opportunity to develop and influence a modern and relevant socialist narrative to challenge and reform flawed and dangerous modern discourse and opportunity to build and maintain diverse and fair communities for the common good. This optimistic and encouraging potential for social change is, I believe, the reason liberation theology continues to be relevant and of great significance in modern society today.

2. Application of Liberation Theology to Social Issues

In the recent years, liberation theology has been applied to various social issues, reflecting the contextual developments of the world. Such theology advocates the freedom from unjust and oppressive systems, and stresses the needs of the poor and marginalized. It’s a way of doing theology with a group of God’s people who have a different story from the elites in that society and reading the Bible from the perspective of the poor people. Each and every major changed aspect of society regarding theological development, and practical outworking of faith in the world is gaining more attention as well at the present in liberation theology, with its overall focus on the politics of social salvation. However, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is one of the most important movements that attempts to eradicate white supremacy and has made quite an effort to incorporate liberation theology to emphasize and serve the needs of black people who are oppressed not only by unjust social structures but also by the church. This can be seen through Jesus’ moving with the oppressed and his solidarity in human suffering throughout his time on earth. Therefore, liberation theologians see Jesus as the liberator who represented the poor and the oppressed. According to the theologians, the church should have the same attitude and action as Jesus does. On Black Lives Matter as a movement, it lacks a clear institutional presentation; it’s more of a social than political movement. However, it contains a clear goal and a very meaningful purpose to gather as many people as possible to speak out against the suffering and injustice towards black people in the United States. And the general response and support of the movement from the public, by using liberation theology in Black Lives Matter, and making a connection between Jesus’ love and human fear towards those who are oppressed, can help the theologians to demonstrate that Christians should not only involve themselves with different problems that exist in the modern world, but also need to take concrete actions to change and operate values from the problem of different aspects that can be eliminated.

2.1 Liberation Theology and the Black Lives Matter Movement

This interconnected flow between the transcendence and immanence of religious experience with equal political action underscores the potential of liberation theology to be a malleable and evolving force for spiritual inspiration, creating a path for dynamic forms of contemporary religious protest.

This emphasis on the materialization and political utilization of faith in response to contemporary crises is derived from the core vantage point of liberation theology, a “critical reflection” of praxis; a mentality in which religious activity must be inextricable from political engagement and common efforts to confront sources of the unjust social structures. This illustration of the intellectual work that connects religious materials to a practical platform of activism presents a sharpest contrast with the assumptions associated with traditional, conservative religious interpretations that appear to outlaw political radicalism from religious conversations. In such a way, liberation theology might be seen as an interdisciplinary anchor for theistic political action; serving as a mediating symbol between religious sentiment and its vitalization in social action.

For example, in the book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” Cone elaborated the religious symbolism of Christ’s crucifixion to describe the functionality of faith in the lives of African Americans under social oppression. He deconstructed the theological notion of Jesus as a futile sign of divine suffering in the Christian narrative, pointing out that such “universally” archetypal version of Christ did not reflect the terror and humiliation of lynching that African Americans faced in America. However, for those who are undergoing such profound existential agonies, faith could provide the possibility of redemption and an emotionally robust foundation for political mobilization.

Similar to other social justice initiatives, liberation theology presents an ideal religious foundation for the Black Lives Matter movement in light of its fervent emphasis on a preferential option for the oppressed and its focus on the material, tangible impacts of racial injustice as opposed to what other religious discourses may frame as individual or widely spiritual failings. As explained by Cone, the father of Black liberation theology, a Christian perspective void of God’s active partiality for the oppressed, theologically known as the “preferential option for the oppressed,” is hard to understand from a Black perspective. He wrote extensively on this concept and applied to black lived realities, speaking on the obfuscating socially unjust power dynamics present when Christianity is deployed from the oppressor’s perspective – a theology that does not recognize God’s presence in every facet of liberative struggle in the black community.

Another significant aspect of liberation theology in today’s society is its application to the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement began as a response to the unjustified killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 and has developed into a nationwide activism campaign. The movement seeks to build a new vision of a society where black people are free from systematic dehumanization. It also aims at fostering a collaborative society that emphasizes more on affording security and opportunities to all marginalized groups.

2.2 Liberation Theology and Gender Equality

On the other hand, by applying such a way of analysis, the existing patriarchal society can be dismantled at every level, not simply making women’s position and role in the Church more appreciated, but also nurturing a society in which both genders complement each other in God’s grace and love. Such an approach not only benefits women as marginal groups but prepares the society as a whole for an inclusive, progressive change which promises and realizes “new life” and “new Jerusalem” in God.

Lastly, incorporating liberation theology, feminist theology can then be seen as a social revolution in a much larger concept, involving the fight against poverty and capitalism, and the respect not only towards women’s rights but to all lives in the poorest. It often aims at providing “a strategy for women’s solidarity in their suffering – a solidarity based on a shared responsibility for dissecting the power dynamics that secure the privileged position of the oppressor,” so that “both women and men are freed for a full human life.” By providing the methodology and the fundamental principle in realizing a social revolution for gender equality, liberation theology outlines a new way of analysis and directs theological development.

Secondly, while feminist theology emphasizes breaking up the patriarchal structure and turning people towards a rhythm of sharing among women, from a faith system, John P. Burkhard points out that controlling religious practices and ideology are central concerns in feminist theology. This is to say, liberation theology seeks to create a future where there is no need to speculate about what a feminist society will look like, but the freedom and progressiveness are already embedded in every social and religious aspect.

However, because liberation theology shares the fundamental option to the oppressed with feminist theology, it enables addressing gender equality in a more comprehensive and specific way. Firstly, as Susan Rakoczy claims, many pioneering feminist theologians acknowledge the contribution of liberation theology to the development of feminist theology. This is because the biblical interpretation, that the poor and the oppressed are the people with faith and are worthy of it, motivates theologians to focus on the empowerment of women and to translate the Christian commitments into a progressive social change.

Gender inequality and the subordination of women are critical issues in many cultures. Women often suffer from discrimination and violence, and their rights are usually not as respected as men’s. Echoing such a situation, feminist theology emerged, which aims at deconstructing religious texts, interpreted by men, and creating a male god from them. Dismantling the patriarchal structure of the Church, which usually prevented women from becoming priests or holding any position of power. Promoting a god who is neither male nor female, so that men and women are created equally.

2.3 Liberation Theology and Environmental Justice

The module begins with a well-known Latin American proclamation on the liberative potential of the Gospels. After a brief account of the beginning of liberation theology, the module shows how ecological contemplations have been creeping into the standard of this custom, until the new class of ‘ecological liberation theology’ showed up. The module shows how the customary liberation theology and the ecological one are ‘at risk’ about the examination of science and theological perspectives and that the new liberation theology must be added with both the most recent logical and social examinations and a ‘profound Christian ecological’ approach. The ecological liberation theology module wraps up on a genuine note, talking about how different frameworks of intensity and rebellion in Latin America are connected to the natural decimation. Because of the ‘human priority’ in exploitative social orders, the most fragile gatherings in human culture endure the most from the natural issue, including ecological unfairness and social disparity, as Taylor puts in the module. Then again, such an extremist way to deal with nature by the first and industrialist methods of proficiency and ‘unlimited intergenerational equity’ marks off a state of uninvolved oppression that the most fragile gatherings and who and what is to come are overlooked, Deane-Drummond calls attention to the module. Anyway, this is less hardliner than the methodology depicted in the module and she doesn’t contend that worldwide tyranny ought to be toppled urgently. Rather, Deane-Drummond accepts a more reformist way to deal with discovering an ‘adjusted point of view towards nature’ and guarantees that the two people and nature are even-minded last. This harmony between the requirements of the most vulnerable and of the non-human formation of nature, on one hand, and the human prosperity and environmental manageability which is subject to forces of creativity, is actually the sort of rationale that the ecological liberation theology addresses. In her article ‘Earthly Necessities’, Deane-Drummond makes a stage further in her commitment to the new development by making a keyness and belongingness between the commonplace ecological discussions and Christian ecological ethical quality and theology. Such a transition to a bigger, progressively nuanced audience and the critical on ethical reflection is by and by portrayed in the module released by both Owens and Reich. However, some differences exist between liberative ecology and liberation theology. While the liberation theology is fundamentally has any kind of effect in human social liberties and equity, Reich claims that to see with a particularly strong method of inquiry for a political change may not really prompt answers for such pragmatic arrangements. A freedom and obligation to apply set up logical exercises is a represented component in their attempts to atomic issue, Reich dissents. According to Owens, the equilibrium and commitment among human and natural sciences are consistently focused however he communicates the consistent, amazing doubt and separations among science and theology are the limitations of the improvement of ecological liberation theology.

3. Critiques and Challenges of Applying Liberation Theology

3.1 Criticisms of Liberation Theology in Contemporary Context

3.2 Challenges Faced in Implementing Liberation Theology

4. Conclusion

In recent years, Brazil has enjoyed tremendous economic progress and international influence. As the country takes large strides into the future, a growing need emerges to challenge and undermine the structures of oppression that have been created and sustained by the current social, political, and economic conditions. With that in mind, this essay explores the conditions under which liberation theology could be a possible framework for various social movements taking place in today’s Brazil. In doing so, this essay takes on a more specific task: the application of liberation theology in the context of current Brazilian society. By utilizing the case of landless rural workers’ movement in Mato Grosso do Sul, this essay first illustrates the basic ideology and methodology of liberation theology, such as the commitment to praxis and the emphasis on the Church’s fundamental option for the poor. Then, it explores the ways in which the Church and religious leaders actually put liberation theology into practice. Last but not least, this essay finally demonstrates how and why an ideology founded in the 1960s and 1970s is meaningful in contemporary Brazilian social movements, by unpacking the historical, relational, and motivational connections between the Church and the oppressed in applying liberation theology in today’s society. By critically examining the role of the Church and the various ideological, motivational, and material aspects in the process of applying liberation theology, and by providing historical and comparative analyses between different periods of time, this essay hopes to contribute to a better understanding and a more productive usage of such a promising ideology in the contemporary Latin American context. The significance of this project lies in the looming necessity to construct an effective social resistance and revolutionary path that comes from the grassroots level, in the face of the contemporary crises that the traditional Brazilian politics and the globalizing economic policy confront with. It is important to note that the essay does not seek to make a religious point that faith and liberation should come together, but to investigate the potential of a well-established ideology in bridging spiritual beliefs with material practice – particularly in making changes in a society that is laden with many different types of oppression, injustices, and exploitations. Liberations that may come out of this – be it spiritual liberation, mental liberation, or physical liberation – are essentially conduits to help the individual and the society make progress in a more sustainable and harmonious way. By examining the case of landless rural workers in Mato Grosso do Sul, this essay takes a significant step forward in understanding the practical as well as theoretical throughput when it comes to the application of a liberation ideology in the context of current social movements in Brazil. Overall, this essay aims to provide some insightful analyses and answers to other questions around this theme, both leaving some space for possible follow-up projects. It provides a solid academic demonstration for the potential as to what liberation theology could mean – not just simply as a religious discourse, but as a way of leading, organizing, and sustaining actual, concrete social movements aiming to overthrow oppression and exploitation in our real world today.

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