Liberation Theology Today: Crisis or Challenge?
It is commonly believed that with the fall of Eastern Europe's socialist governments, the crisis in Marxist thought and the installation of the new world order, liberation theology has no future.
This vision says we are living the "end of history," capitalism's final triumph, in which any alternative thinking, any hope of a different world, of a liberating utopia, will be irrelevant and condemned to failure. Liberation theology will make no sense in this world. That is the hope of all the oppressors who enjoy the new international order: that there will never again be people with hope. But their triumphalism is brutally contradicted by the poverty, misery and oppression that continue to dominate a great majority of humanity. The conditions in which liberation theology emerged still exist. As long as the scandal of poverty and oppression exists, and as long as there are Christians who live and critically reflect their faith in the struggle for justice and life, there will be a liberation theology. The most fundamental issue is not the future of liberation theology, but the future of the poor, of humanity itself, the future of liberation and the commitment of Christians to life and liberation. We practice liberation theology so that this future and this commitment continue to exist.
However, liberation theology will not continue existing by sheer inertia, by merely repeating its original ideas. In these new times, liberation theology must be rethought; it must be recreated and reoriented towards the future.
The world has changed profoundly during the last three years. In Central America, we lived through the December 1989 invasion of Panama and the February 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinista government.
The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, a positive event for the whole world, but on its heels the six Jesuits were slain in El Salvador. And finally, 1991 began with the horror of the Gulf War, a war of extermination against Iraq, and against the Arab World. With that war, the United States sought to impose its political-military hegemony upon the entire planet, and it was able to force Europe and Japan to submit to its plans. These counterposed signs reveal the contradictory sense of the historical times we are living.
With the crisis of Eastern European socialism, the developed world engaged in an ideological orgy, proclaiming the triumph of capitalism and the end of history. The neoliberal avalanche continued to gain momentum with the implementation of structural adjustment plans allegedly designed to respond to the absence of development and increasingly generalized poverty in the countries of the South. For these countries, this all meant a New World Dis-order and, in fact, a real threat of death. The US government and its allies have won a battle, but this project of death they are trying to impose has also touched off a resistance and a consciousness throughout the whole world whose depths are still hard to fathom.
If the world has changed so profoundly, then liberation theology must change as well. Faithful to its methodology and original intent, we must recreate liberation theology so that it effectively responds to the current times. This reconstruction of liberation theology is an essential part of the new process of resistance and affirmation of life; it is also a renewal of our faith that God is still the God of the poor, and of life itself. We need to rethink the future of liberation theology and in this way reconstruct our solidarity and our hope.
Continuity with "before" Liberation theology was born out of the participation of Christians in the historic liberation processes that took place in the 1960s and 70s. It was born as the theoretical, critical and systematic reflection of the experience of God in the practice of liberation. The main element of liberation theology was always the experience of God, but an experience of God lived, celebrated and reflected upon within a practice of liberation. It was not a question of a new theological issue, but rather of a new style of practicing theology. The object of liberation theology was not liberation, but God. Liberation theology was never feared fundamentally because it spoke of liberation or political themes, but rather because it reflected critically about God from the starting point of the poor, the threat to life and justice, the Third World. Liberation theology was able to discover the disconcerting presence of God in the lives of the oppressed and in the struggle for liberation. By the same token, it denounced the disconcerting absence of God in the world of the oppressor and in "Western, Christian" culture.
The concept of "practice" helped liberation theology come to a critical understanding of history, seen from the perspective of the oppressed. Where classical theology had used Aristotelian philosophy for its reflection, liberation theology used the most critical and liberating current of social science. This current discovered the oppression in history and based its reflection on the practice of overcoming this oppression, not on an abstract and universal world created by oppression to hide and legitimate that oppression. The rationality used by liberation theology was not only that of radical discourse, but also of its transformational practice.
The basic structure of liberation theology, as a critical and systematic reflection of the experience of God within the practice of liberation, remains, even now. This structure and rationality do not change since today, more than ever, a practice of liberation is needed and today, more than ever, God is present with us and is revealed to the world of the oppressed and their struggles for liberation. Nevertheless, we must simultaneously recognize the new elements of the current moment that force us to rethink and recreate liberation theology.
Transformation of the system of domination With the crisis of Eastern European socialism and the process of perestroika in the USSR, the end of the Cold War and the international East-West contradiction were declared. Since then, capitalism has presented itself as the only alternative available to all of humanity.
Before this, capitalism was forced to compete with socialism; it had to worry about having a human face and about carrying out development programs in the countries of the South, to discourage people from opting for socialism. Capitalism no longer has any competitors, and thus no longer needs a human face; it no longer needs to concern itself with development in the South. It can definitively impose itself as the only solution. Thus a totalitarian, savage capitalism is born. This is the New World Order, in which the US government, as world gendarme, imposes its political-military hegemony on the entire world to insure that all accepts its system. The South has no alternative but to submit to this new state of affairs, or disappear.
In the 1960s and 70s, when liberation theology was maturing, capitalism's development policies for the poor countries promoted their dependence upon the rich. The concept of liberation was used to construct a model of autonomous and non-dependent development; in fact, the word development was replaced by liberation. The great theological rupture took place in the step from a theology of development to a theology of liberation. Dependency theory allowed for the articulation of a theory and strategy of liberation and revolution in what was then referred to as the Third World. From that viewpoint, development policies and reformism were strongly criticized as dependent models, and the rupture was expressed in the concept of liberation. That new concept signaled many ruptures: it expressed a new theory and a new practice; and was a reference point for defining a new culture, a new ethics and spirituality and also a new theology, a theology of liberation.
In today's capitalism, the dichotomies of development-liberation, reform-liberation and dependency-liberation lose their meaning. Today the radical contradiction is between life and death. Capitalism is abandoning its reform and development policies for the South as a whole; reform and development are only for very small sectors of the South, and only when they are in capitalism's immediate interests. The great majority of the South is in total abandonment. It can no longer be called dependent, but is simply nonexistent. We have moved from dependency to dispensability; today being dependent even seems to be a privilege.
We are no longer the Third World, but the Last World, the Non-World, the cursed world of the marginalized, of the condemned. That is why today, searching for reforms and development alternatives to serve the lives of all in the Third World is profoundly revolutionary and liberating. That is why today the dichotomy is not development-liberation, but rather death-life. Capitalism proposes to save the lives of some and accept the deaths of many and we cannot accept that. The only legitimate alternative is life for all. If we do not strive for that, we would be accepting the deaths of many, which in the end will lead to death for all. In the current moment, the option for development, for liberation, for the poor, is an option for life. The Theology of Liberation thus becomes a Theology of Life. Life—for all in the cosmos—becomes the new rationality, the new logic, the new culture, the new ethos, the new spirituality and the new theology radically opposed to capitalism.
But an even more profound change has taken place in capitalism. It has not only ceased to be a capitalism with a human face, abandoning its reform and development policies for the South, but is also being transformed into a sacrificial capitalism: the lives of the poor are sacrificed to save the free market system. The law of private property and fulfillment of contracts is considered an absolute law to which human life is sacrificed.
The clearest example of this can be seen in the foreign debt: the South's debts are paid by sacrificing the lives of millions of the poor. This sacrifice is presented as necessary to save the free-market principle and the spirit of capitalism. Those who defend humanity against the law of the market, against the human sacrifice demanded by this law, are considered millenarian utopians, terrorists, etc. They are those who "want to construct heaven on earth and transform earth into hell" (Popper), "idealists" who consider human life an absolute that must never be sacrificed, who consider that laws are to serve humans and not vice versa. They are considered a cancer on the body of capitalism that should be extirpated, even if it is painful and bloody. The assassination of the six Jesuit priests in El Salvador is perhaps the clearest example of this sacrificial aggressivity of the capitalist system. This aggressive stance explains the attack on liberation theology as a theology for all. A US Bishop expressed this when he referred to liberation theologians as "flies infecting the mystic body of Christ."
All these profound structural changes in the system of domination represent a theoretical and practical challenge to liberation theology. They make it necessary to come up with new concepts in order to better understand the new historic reality and its possible transformation. With the crisis of Marxism, there has been an effort to repress our theoretical capacity, to close the theoretical space necessary to resist and continue struggling, to destroy the possibility of formulating alternatives and at the same time crush our hope. Liberation theology should critically and creatively reengage in a dialogue with the social sciences, especially economics, ecology and anthropology. We should re-appropriate the historic rationality necessary to critically and systematically rethink our faith in the God of Life in the new historical moment.
Transformation of the situation of the poor During the last ten years, liberation theology has deepened and broadened the concept of poor, using the term oppressed not just in its economic sense. The concept of class has thus been joined by the concepts of race, nation and gender. The world of the poor and oppressed is thus not only that of the economically poor, but also that of indigenous peoples, African-Americans, of women—particularly women of the South, doubly exploited as poor and as women. We also speak today of oppressed and marginalized nations. The concept Third World, which is inexact, since we are not a "third" world but the exploited and underdeveloped part of a single world, is significant. It includes not only the poor nations, but also the poor of all nations—including the exploited "minorities" in the rich First World.
Nonetheless, there is a very profound qualitative change in the reality of the poor and oppressed under capitalism today. It is a fact that the rich, industrialized world is less and less in need of the third world's population. It needs our natural resources, for tourism and for dumping its toxic waste, but it does not need our people. Perhaps it needs part of our population as cheap labor or as a possible market, but the majority of is simply considered surplus. Being "exploited" is thus a privilege to a certain degree, as it means that one is still considered part of the system. This surplus population, excluded from the system, loses all its power: it can no longer pressure with strikes, given that it no longer exists either as producers or as consumers within the system.
This exclusion is inevitably followed by deterioration and disaggregation. The system has no interest in this surplus population and, thus makes no investments to help it meet its basic needs: work, health, housing, education, etc. This new form of poverty hits children, young people and women especially hard, and doubly so if they are indigenous or African-American. A process of impoverishment begins which ends in death. The deterioration is total: economic, social, cultural, corporal, human, familial, religious and ethical.
The system looks on this population as if it were garbage, or rats—something to be eliminated. It seeks to rid the cities of their poor. In some countries, such as Colombia, death squads go out at night to kill street children, vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, the unemployed and homeless. In other countries, as happened in the Dominican Republic, they rid the cities of the poor and relocate them to remote zones hidden from sight. The surplus population is considered a danger, a threat, a source of thieves, as well as of contagious diseases—cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis and AIDS. The death of these surplus poor is a silent, useless and sometimes almost desired death.
It is clear that this profound transformation of the situation of the poor radically challenges the categories, world vision, commitment, pastoral practice and ethical and spiritual depths of liberation theology. The preferential option for the poor takes on a qualitatively different radical element. In addition to the struggle for justice within the system, the option for the poor commits us to a sometimes-dramatic struggle for the life of this majority of condemned and excluded people. Faith in the God of life puts us directly in conflict with a system that we discern more clearly every day as a system of law, sin and death.
Transformation of the practice of liberation Liberation theology is a critical and systematic reflection on faith lived as part of a practice of liberation. The concept of practice is, therefore, central to liberation theology. The changes that we have described in the system of domination and in the situation of the poor also modify the reality and the conceptualization of the practice of liberation, and this, in consequence, challenges liberation theology.
The practice of liberation places us not only in the interpretation of reality, but also in its transformation. Practice is not only directed at the alienated and ideological forms created by domination, but also seeks to overcome the historic contradictions that produce these alienated and ideological forms. The practice of liberation thus situates us in the transformation of historic realities whose principal victims are the poor, oppressed and excluded. It also challenges us to construct a new historic reality where there are no poor, oppressed or excluded peoples, where all live dignified lives. Liberation theology does not reflect on an abstract, universal, alienating or purely interpretative faith, but on a faith lived and celebrated within these historic transformations. Both the rationality and the spirituality of liberation theology are affected by these historic transformations.
There are many transformations of the practice of liberation in this new moment, but two particular dimensions—a double displacement—affect and challenge it in an overall manner. One is the shift from political society towards civil society and the other the shift from a political-military confrontation toward a cultural, ethical and religious confrontation.
From political society to civil society. The issue is not one of abandoning political society; the dimensions of power and the state continue to be very important. The state must playa decisive role in developing civil society, in economic planning and in the protection of natural resources. Neoliberalism aims to dismantle the state and impose the totalitarianism of the market but, stripped of its repressive apparatus, the state could playa positive role in serving the common good and the life of the excluded poor.
The practice of liberation in the current moment moves in the direction of civil society and the popular movements, and from there puts forth in a more long-term manner the problem of political power and the state. The popular movements are pushing for a renewal of society from the ground up, from the base, from "popular power." This is particularly true of the new alternative popular movements that seek to organize work, production, the market, technology, health, education, housing and recreation in an alternative manner to the dominant capitalist system. Some movements are gaining special strength in the current moment, such as those of indigenous liberation, women's liberation, the African-American movements, children's and young people's movements, cultural and solidarity movements. These popular social movements are also developing a rich and important regional and international solidarity. For example, the indigenous and women's movements are linked up across the continent, and a North-South solidarity movement is also growing.
From political-military confrontation to cultural, ethical and religious confrontation. Today it is clear—principally after the Sandinista government's electoral defeat and the Persian Gulf war—that the peoples of the Third World cannot and should not confront the Western powers on military terrain. In that arena, the empire is invincible. It must be confronted where the Third World has real strength: in the cultural, ethical and spiritual arenas. The Third World is poor in financial, technological and military resources, but rich in humanity, in culture, in ethical and religious resources. Violent, warlike and militaristic attitudes must be overcome in order to discover our force and identity as the Third World—our cultural, ethical and spiritual identity, with which we can assure life for ourselves and for all of humanity.
In the cultural arena, the Third World must confront military culture, the dominant empire's culture of violence, its consumerism, individualism and materialism. The Third World can live, resist and struggle with its millenarian cultures, a culture of peace and of life, an eco-culture of nature, life and community.
In the ethical arena, the empire imposes upon us its ethic of absolute law—the law of private property and fulfillment of contracts—sacrificing the life of the poor to this law. In the Gulf War, the empire demonstrated its moral double standard: one applied to Iraq and another applied to the US and the other invading states. It demonstrated as well its capacity to use lies and manipulate the mass media. The Third World can live, resist and struggle with an ethic in which human life, not law, is considered as an absolute (law at the service of life, rather than life at the service of law), and with an ethic of truth.
In the religious arena, the Third World has particular force. Humanity's great religions are those of the Third World and people find in them a deep identity and force to struggle for truth and life. The First World, consumed by positivism and liberalism, secularism and materialism, only believes in the power of money, arms and technology. The Third World cannot fall into this trap; its principal force lies in its own spiritual and religious potential and it must develop that potential to its fullest. All the religions of the Third World can unite around their shared faith in the God of life, and in a struggle for life and justice.
These two shifts are intimately linked, as it is evident that cultural, religious and ethical struggle is not abstract or ideological struggle, but rather an historic struggle that goes on inside social movements and the practice of liberation. Cultural struggle is a struggle for life ("culture is agriculture," as a Guatemalan indigenous person remarked), and ethical and religious struggle are essential dimensions of civil society. Culture, ethics and spirituality are different dimensions of the same historical practice of liberation.
Liberation theology, always faithful to its methodology of living and thinking faith within the practice of liberation, has to assume new transformations of this practice in this new period. In civil society and in the cultural, ethical and spiritual arenas, liberation theology finds a much more extensive and profound field of development than in the past, when political and military struggle were the dominant practice. The religious base communities, the generating life source of liberation theology, are a specific part of civil society and the popular liberation movements. In the same way, liberation theology finds within the cultural, ethical and religious struggle of all peoples a special terrain of creativity and development. In this sense, liberation theology has tremendous possibilities for growth and maturation in the new situation, far greater than before. Today, more than ever, liberation theology has fertile soil in which to develop, insofar as it critically and consciously takes on the new historical moment, both in local and international terms.
In terms of the cultural, ethical and spiritual confrontation of the people of God with the empire, liberation theology and the communities are beginning to live the apocalypse in a creative and liberating manner. Apocalyptic theology is a political and creating theology, within the history of faith and utopia. When we speak of the people of God, we include the poor peoples of the South, but also the poor and oppressed of the rich world. When we speak of the empire, we refer to the centers of economic, financial, political, military, cultural and social power located primarily in the First World, although also with power ramifications among the powerful of the South. We do not include in this empire the people of the First World, who are also subjected to these powers of death.
New challenges for the 90s We must analyze the new themes and challenges according to the levels of development of liberation theology. Liberation theology has three levels, which we will describe by using the image of a tree: the roots of liberation theology are the culture, religion and spirituality of poor people and of social and popular movements. Its trunk is made of the base communities and similar structures. Its branches are the professional theologians, the periodicals and specialized centers. The three levels are different and specific, and each has its own internal structure. The professional theologians are linked to the base communities and "rooted" in popular culture and religion. At the same time, liberation theology's cultural and religious roots are expressed in the base communities and in professional theology.
New themes and challenges at the roots Every social movement, particularly the most novel and creative, develops within it a culture, an ethic, a mystique and a spirituality. It is in this atmosphere that liberation theology has grown in the last decade, and from there it continues to grow and develop. For example, a theology was born linked to popular education, to popular medicine, to alternative agriculture, to the solidarity movements, to human rights, etc. Many of these movements grew out of the religious base communities and many Christians participated in them, thus giving birth to a theology of popular social movements.
We can specifically underscore theology of women's liberation, which was born and organically linked to the popular movements for women's liberation. Similarly, an African-American liberation theology was born, particularly in Brazil and the Caribbean. During the last five years, a theology of liberation linked to youth movements has developed. Since the impact of liberation theology on the youth is somewhat new, it constitutes a new challenge. Liberation theology also began to have a liberating impact on middle-class movements, which could be a significant contribution to the popular movements.
Indigenous liberation theology. This theology is very old, and its subject is a millenarian people. What is new is its articulation and recent expression at the continental level, and its relation with traditional liberation theology. In a recent liberation theology meeting, a Zapataecan diocesan priest from Mexico said the following: Indigenous theology supports and values liberation theology and hopes for greater dialogue with it. Today indigenous theology is recognized by the Church and by liberation theology, but there is fear that the crisis of the Church and the contradictions within liberation theology will affect it. Indigenous theology is the force of the people: it is a subterranean theology, expressed in a religious environment, in rituals and mystical codes. Indigenous theology is not only a reaction against the system, but is a millenarian expression of life and spirit.
The following testimony regarding indigenous theology was found in a Peruvian calendar:
We made our ideas germinate (that is, we created theology) so as to survive in the midst of such hunger, to defend ourselves from scandal and attack, to organize ourselves in the midst of such confusion, to be joyful in spite of so very much sorrow and to dream beyond such desperation.
Here we have a complete definition of this theology and of how a people, in their struggle against death, found in this theology a means to survive, to defend themselves, to organize, to be joyful and to dream.
There is no doubt that this indigenous theology will be a new root and a new field in which liberation theology can grow and mature, always, of course, respecting its autonomy and legitimacy.
In Latin American culture. Liberation theology is already part of our continent's identity, of our cultural patrimony. Not only Christians feel this, but also non-Christian intellectuals and cultural workers. There is no doubt that liberation theology has expanded beyond its technological and ecclesial limits. The new literature, the "nueva trova" movement, Latin American dance, are all phenomena independent of liberation theology but they spring from the same historic liberating movement. A theology of liberation is implicit in literature, song and dance. Liberation theology also grows in these movements. Liberation theology is developed not only through concepts, but also with drums, myths, symbols, dances, stories and legends. In addition to specific indigenous and African-American cultures, peasant and sub-urban cultures have a direct influence on liberation theology and vice versa.
New themes and challenges in the trunk The religious base communities, despite political persecution and the crisis in Christianity and the conservative movement, continue growing and maturing in Latin America. They also continue to be a space for theological creativity. They are the collective subject of theological production and animation. There is intellectual theological creativity, but also a theological creativity at the level of symbols and myths, and in the field of spirituality and popular religiosity.
Popular readings of the Bible. This is perhaps the most productive theological activity of the base communities. These readings have three moments. First, Christians, through their activities in the base communities, appropriate the Bible, read and interpretation as their own. Second, they become a prophetic people when they discover the presence and revelation of God in today's reality, through the light of the Bible. And third, they raise the Word of God—discovered in the Bible and in reality as revealed by the Bible—as authority in the Church. Thus, a people of God emerges through these readings as a prophetic movement, where the Word of God is recognized as an authority and a source of legitimacy. These popular readings of the Bible have as their aim not the Bible itself, but the creation of this prophetic movement. It is clear that the base communities read the Bible in church under the weight of tradition and teaching.
Theirs is an oral reading, one intimately linked to people's lives. It is also a reading carried out in ongoing dialogue with professional exegesis. This popular reading is not done against the hierarchy of the Church, but against the neoconservative movement seeking to transform Church authority into a sacred totalitarian power. This represents a serious danger to the Church, as it oppresses and destroys the sense of faith and the prophetic dimension of the people of God. The base communities, with these popular readings of the Bible, increase the authority of the Word of God and in this way legitimate the prophetic movement within the Church. The base communities thus create a source of legitimacy that gives them theological security and clarity. Through the popular readings of the Bible, a deep and permanent theological creativity is touched off from the base, from the people of God, in communion with the universal institutional Church.
Theology of the evangelization of daily life. Ongoing reflection based on faith takes place within the base communities around issues of daily life: work, land, culture, the family, sex, education, culture and free time. Another central theological concern revolves around hope, exhortation and consolation. This is seen especially in those base communities working in atmospheres of extreme poverty, among the most excluded and crushed peoples. There is also theological reflection about the Christian experience within social movements. The gospel begins to be thought of in the context of the popular struggles for land, for health, for housing, education, women's liberation, culture, etc. It is thus not an abstract theological reflection, but a reflection within the religious arena in which popular wisdom and piety play an active role, in which theology is not expressed only in concepts, but also in narratives, symbols and myths. We can say that this theological activity of the base communities is organic to an authentic evangelization of daily life. In the long term, the base communities achieve a real evangelization of the most fundamental structures and dimensions of human life. The gospel begins to be lived and thought of in daily life, and slowly achieves its liberating transformation.
New themes and challenges in the branches? The liberation theologians, those of us who dedicate ourselves wholly and professionally to liberation theology, but also seek to work with the base communities rooted in popular religion and culture, also have specific challenges to take on in a responsible and courageous fashion.
Theoretical challenges. The structural transformations of the system of domination, the situation of the poor and the practices of resistance demand from liberation theology a thoroughgoing review of its theoretical space. New theoretical concepts must be elaborated, a new theory or rationality which allows us to think critically and systematically about the faith experience in this new moment. The crisis of Marxism has been manipulated to suppress all critical and liberating thought against the capitalist system that would allow the oppressed to visualize a future distinct from the current system of domination. The crisis of Marxism is one thing, but capitalism's ideological manipulation of that crisis is another.
The crisis is also used more specifically to proclaim the death of liberation theology. It is falsely said that Marxism is still the profound rationality of liberation theology. Once this rationality is dead, so is liberation theology. It must be remembered that liberation theology was not born from Marxism, but rather from the experience of God in the world of the poor. In its understanding of reality, liberation theology used social sciences in a critical way. This is interesting and challenging for liberation theology but has, to a certain degree, also caused a crisis in liberation theology. Nonetheless, it is very important to stand up to the ideological war that manipulates the crisis of Marxism in order to kill all critical, alternative, historical, liberating and hope-creating thought. Liberation theology will always have to continue creating and recreating its own theoretical space and a rationality appropriate for its specific theological tasks, at the service of the lives of the poor and the liberation of the oppressed.
New fields of development for liberation theology. To date liberation theology has developed classical theological tracts: fundamental theology, Christology, ecclesiology, morals, etc. It has also profoundly renewed other theological areas, including biblical sciences, Church history, social doctrine, etc. Liberation theology has also created, with its spirit and its methodology, a social ethic, a theology of land, a theology of work, a theology of women's liberation and an ecumenical theology. It has dialogued with sociology and philosophy. All this work has been very rich and will continue to develop in the coming decades.
In recent years, however, a new and challenging development has been underway in liberation theology's dialogue with three sciences: economics, ecology and anthropology. In the economic-theological arena, we can point to Hugo Assman's and Franz Hinkelammert's collection of essays on economics and theology. Hinkelammert's earlier works also merit attention. Also working in this field are Enrique Dussel, Julio de Santa Ana, Raul Vidales and others. In the ecology-theology field, the DEI of Costa Rica has published five books, and we make special mention of Fernando Mires' most recent book, El discurso de la naturaleza y ecología y política en América Latina. Leonardo Boff will be dedicating himself to this theme in the coming years, and is currently preparing several publications. In anthropology, extensive field work at the base has taken place, especially theological and pastoral work with indigenous groups around the theme of culture. In this area, we would make special mention of the book, Rostros indios de Dios: Los amerindios cristianos, by Manuel Marzal, Ricardo Robles, Eugenio Maurer, Xavier Albó and Bartomeu Melía.
Liberation theology's new ecumenical and universal horizons. Latin American and Caribbean theology, through the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, has deepened its dialogue with African and Asian theologians, as well as with black liberation theologians (James H. Cone and others), theologians of women's liberation and first world theologians. The association held its first meeting in January 1992 in Nairobi with the slogan, "Clamor for life: the spirituality of the Third World."
Now a more far-reaching dialogue is beginning with the liberation theologians who have emerged from third world religions. This dialogue began with the Indigenous Liberation Theology that emerged from the indigenous religions of Latin America and the Caribbean. A very rich dialogue is also underway between Jewish liberation theology and Palestinian liberation theology. Books discussing Muslim liberation theology have recently been published, and that dialogue has scarcely begun. In Asia, the dialogue around liberation theology between Hinduism and Buddhism has a longstanding history. In the wake of the Gulf War, this dialogue, with the methodology and spirit of liberation theology, could be extremely fertile and challenging. It will be a liberating dialogue, emerging from the poor of the Third World, and working towards life and justice. The theme of an inter-religious dialogue, from a third world theological perspective, will be the God of life and the life of nature and of the poor and oppressed of the Third World.
This is not the end of liberation theology, as many might wish, but rather the historical opportunity—the kairos—of a new knowledge.
This article was written by noted Latin American theologian Pablo Richard.