So I recently completed a re-read of The Truth Shall Make You Free by Gustavo Gutierrez, and wondered about its impact upon American society. Gutierrez is a theologian from Peru, who worked with the poor in Lima. During this ministry, he began to form some thoughts about theology which challenged the notion of “modern” theology, which is theology created after the Enlightenment. For the most part, modern theology delved with the question of what do we do with those who do not have faith in the modern times. Gutierrez, however, had a different question; how is God speaking to the poor, who are believers already? And how is the Church to be acting in this relationship, if God is preferential towards the poor?
Gutierrez, and other Latin American theologians, created Liberation Theology which emphasized the need of the church to be in relationship with “non-humans” as Gutierrez spoke of the poor. He did so because society looked past the poor, not even recognizing them as human. In many of the Latin American countries, the church had sided with the status quo, the ruling elite. This was during the height of the Cold War, and the church frequently was aligned with the business and military interests in these countries. Many Liberation Theologians were painted with Marxist brush because they dared to question the actions of the government to keep the poor oppressed.
The methodology of Liberation Theology is to use social sciences and theology to observe society and then see how the church matches its words with its actions. It then, through a process of discernment, evaluates its actions through the Word of God. It is a very self critical process that allows the faithful to live their lives in the standard of the Word of God.
Which brings me to American society, with its vested interests, with its strong commercial interests, with the seeming marriage of the Christian faith with the dominant culture and I wonder if we could use some Liberating? Of course this conversation occurs with the back drop of yet again the shooting of two more African American men, one in Tulsa and the other in Charlotte, in which it seems that the police officers involved shot an incident man.
So the question is, how does the church respond to a people, African Americans, who are oppressed in our society? From a lack of resources for urban school districts, to unequal protections under the law, to discrimination, it is very clear from objective standards that society has been created in such a way that in particular, African American men are not able to pursue the American Dream. How do we as people of faith act in this environment, particularly when we are part of the dominant culture? Do we, as Gutierrez would challenge us, follow God’s lead in showing a preference for the poor or do we continue with the safety of our dominant status?
But then as I got thinking even more and reflected upon the present Presidential Election, I began to realize there is a second group out there that is also oppressed and in an insidious way is being placed in competition with the African American community, and that is the white working class. Both communities suffer from a lack of resources, a lack of educational opportunities, a dearth of hope for the future. Both are truly ignored by the political parties who are more captive to the commercial interests of America more so than the people they are called to serve. Both are angry at the powers that continue to ignore their plight, and recently, have found themselves pawns in the Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter mentality that is being created in America.
So where does the church stand with this? I truly think we are in desperate need of Liberation; Liberation from the powers of this world, Liberation from our privileged status, Liberation from our own conceptions or misconceptions. Speaking as a pastor in a denomination that is predominantly middle and upper middle class white suburban, we need Liberating!
If we are to faithfully follow Christ, our actions must match our words, our words must match the Word of God and our actions must reflect the Word of God. There is too much at stake to continue down the path we trod. People are in need, yet we continue to look past them. We find ourselves split by the “powers that be” instead of responding to the POWER THAT IS AND WILL BE.
Dare we listen to God’s Call?