Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Almost thirty years ago I discovered Gustavo Gutierrez.
My discovery turned out to be priceless. The Roman Catholic priest and theologian from Peru changed my heart and, then, my worldview forever.
Gutierrez's A Theology of Liberation, now a classic, largely defined the continuing, worldwide discussion of liberation theology for more than a generation. His ideas informed Latin American, African American, Asian and Middle Eastern theologies, as well as those interested in issues related to feminism, racism, Third World development and economics, political freedom movements and poverty.
Gutierrez set off a firestorm in his own church where his thought has not been well received by those responsible for maintaining orthodox doctrine. Gutierrez believed that the heart of God could best be understood through the struggle and in the voices of the poor who stand at the margins of society .
I believe he speaks much, much truth.
Gutierrez asks all of the correct questions of a world like ours.
For example, in a speech delivered in Chimbote, Peru in July 1968 ("Toward A Theology of Liberation," in Gustavo Gutierrez Essential Writings, edited by James B. Nickoloff), he asks,
"Is there any connection between constructing the world and saving it?"
He goes on, "If we understand salvation as something with merely 'religious' or 'spiritual' value for my soul, then it would not have much to contribute to concrete human life. But if salvation is understood as passing from less human condition to more human condition, it means that messianism brings about the freedom of captives and the oppressed and liberates humans from slavery. . . .
"The sign of the coming of the messiah is the suppression of oppression: the messiah arrives when injustice is overcome. . . .An intimate relationship exists between the kingdom and the elimination of poverty and misery. The kingdom comes to suppress injustice. . . .
"To believe in Christ, this, is to believe that God has made a commitment to the historical development of the human race.
"To have faith in Christ is to see the history in which we are living as the progressive revelation of the human face of God" (pages 26-27).
Our work in the world is clear: we are called to love, to serve and to stand with those who suffer injustice.
Our spiritual life is rooted in the suffering and the joy of this world and it is about this world.
Our work is about the kingdom for which Jesus taught his followers to pray.
As we enter the pain of the world, we display and we discover the very human face of God.