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liberation Theology


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A theological movement that came to prominence in the Conference of Latin American bishops held at Medellín in Colombia in 1968. The term ‘liberation’ springs from dislike of ‘development’, which is understood to imply an imposed solution. While there are differences of emphasis among liberation theologians, the salient features of their thought are: (1) a preferential option for the poor, that is the idea that the Church's primary duty in a situation of oppression is to support the poor; (2) liberation is seen as an essential element in salvation, since salvation is concerned with the whole person, not just his or her spiritual needs; (3) the Exodus is taken as the biblical paradigm, since individual transformation can come only through social transformation; (4) a political reading of the Gospels, with an emphasis on Christ's confrontation with unjust social structures; (5) the priority of praxis, that is the conviction that right belief (orthodoxy) can issue only from right action (orthopraxis); and (6) the view that structures that coerce are no less violent than the use of physical force. In 1984 the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was severely critical of various aspects of Liberation Theology; a subsequent Instruction in 1986 was seen by many as more favourable.

(1) a preferential option for the poor, that is the idea that the Church's primary duty in a situation of oppression is to support the poor; (2) liberation is seen as an essential element in salvation, since salvation is concerned with the whole person, not just his or her spiritual needs; (3) the Exodus is taken as the biblical paradigm, since individual transformation can come only through social transformation; (4) a political reading of the Gospels, with an emphasis on Christ's confrontation with unjust social structures; (5) the priority of praxis, that is the conviction that right belief (orthodoxy) can issue only from right action (orthopraxis); and (6) the view that structures that coerce are no less violent than the use of physical force.

The most obvious practical expression of the movement has been the growth of comunidades eclesiales de base, small neighbourhood groups, led by lay men and women. There are tens of thousands of these ‘base ecclesial communities’ (q.v.) in Brazil alone. They try to integrate spiritual and social issues and aim, by teaching people to read, to make them more aware of their situation and rights. On occasion this has led to support for a particular party, e.g. in Nicaragua and Brazil. In their attitude to the use of force, the positions of liberation theologians have ranged from the pacificism of Abp. H. Câmara to occasional resort to arms. The movement has influenced Black, Palestinian, and feminist theology.

Subjects: Christianity.


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