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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Embracing poverty. . .

Whenever I am looking for inspiration and grounding to "stay at it," I turn to Gustavo Gutierrez. His classic, first published in 1971 as Teologia de la liberacion, Perspectivas, is where I usually begin. Of course, I read the English version, A Theology of Liberation (Orbis Books, 1973).

Gutierrez has inspired millions and shaped a major theological interpretative movement through his writing and teaching. Not everyone buys his "liberation theology," but for a boy reared to take the Bible seriously and, at the same time, disillusioned by the typical and traditional responses of organized religion to the pain and suffering of the world, Gutierrez provides a haven for escape and reflection.

From my perspective anyone who seeks to provide leadership from a faith perspective to people or organizations seeking both to relieve communities from the burdens and barriers created by poverty and oppression and to revitalize such communities, his words are must reading.

From the paragraph that follows, consider his definition of "poverty" and his insights as to what will be involved in embracing it.

Gutierrez redefines "sin" in such a way that we can no longer ignore poverty, its causes or its consequences and still make a credible claim to be the people of God. Gutierrez forces us to face the fact that we are called to do much, much more than simply "help the poor." We are called in the Gospel to do battle with all the forces that keep people poor and that create poverty and oppression.

Poverty is an act of love and liberation. It has redemptive value. If the ultimate cause of human exploitation and alienation is selfishness, the deepest reason for voluntary poverty is love of neighbor. Christian poverty has meaning only as a commitment of solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer misery and injustice. The commitment is to witness to the evil which has resulted from sin and is a breach of communion. It is not a question of idealizing poverty, but rather of taking it on as it is--an evil--to protest against it and to struggle to abolish it. As Ricoeur says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty. Because of this solidarity--which must manifest itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one's social class--one can also help the poor and exploited to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it. Christian poverty, an expression of love, is solidarity with the poor and is a protest against poverty. This is the concrete, contemporary meaning of the witness of poverty. It is a poverty lived not for its own sake, but rather as an authentic imitation of Christ; it is a poverty which means taking on the sinful human condition to liberate humankind from sin and all its consequences (Page 172).


Anonymous said...

I do not understand liberation theology but have an idea it's somewhat like a marriage of Marxism and Christianity, especially Catholicism. Is this correct?

Larry James said...

years9404Anonymous, thanks for your post.

Liberation Theology has had many expressions. Some who have used it have been accused of being Marxist, often falsely. It is true that most view reform of oppressive economic systems as a key part of establishing a just society, Gutierrez included. He is not, however, a Marxist. Extreme Capitalist tend to see anyone with a commitment to reforming unjust economic systems as "Marxist."

The connection to Catholicism is also true. While there are many non-Catholic liberationists, the base communiites of Latin America among Catholics certainly are an expression of the theology lived out in community. Again, Gutierrez is a priest.

Anonymous said...

I remember trying to understand Christianity in a social light as an adolescent in the late 60's, and when I would bring Jesus' words into a discussion, was usually quickly dismissed as a marxist.

I live in Guatemala, and in 1954, the CIA overhtrew the freely elected pgovernment here, and began a 40 year reign of brutal thuggery behind a thin veil of anti-communism. The Governement that was overthrown vigorously explained they were not communistic, and had tried to model reforms on what Roosevelt had done in the 30's in the states. But fear of justice back then ( **) caused the misnomer "marxist" to be applied to their programs, and that marxist misnomer still haunts the people who seek justice in Jesus' name.

** I keep talking with Christians, who when it all boils down to it, fear that they must lose something for someone else to have justice. Not realizing that injustice anywhere harms truth everywhere. IU wonder if Jesus was addressing that fear when her sequed to consider the lilies of the field, as he spoke of the poor, and the kingdom of God.