The Citizen has mentioned liberation theology on many occasions, but has recently considered that this heresy has not been discussed in depth – and it is indeed a heresy. Unfortunately, many faithful Catholics, good and honest believers, have embraced this doctrine through indoctrination, error, poor catechesis, or through the ethical error known as the ‘appeal to tolerance (sometimes known as liberalism). Other, better informed Catholics, continue to espouse this doctrine as a means of ‘reforming’ the Catholic Church. And – I fear – there are those who hate the Church and seek to destroy it by using this method to divide the community. Liberation theology has been described as
“…an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor”. – Phillip Barryman
It is an almost exclusively Catholic heresy, though elements of this doctrine have been – and are being – adopted by other Christian denominations. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Dominican, is considered to be the founder of liberation theology. In 1971, he wrote A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation. In this book, he articulated that the Church had a responsibility to the poor, that poverty was a condition that was unjust. There are few people who will argue these points. Furthermore, he asserts that poverty is the fault of ‘unjust and sinful’ social structures – that society is to blame for poverty and that Christians have an obligation to change these structures. This is where Gutierrez sets the groundwork for heresy.
Christ speaks of the poor quite often in the Gospels – a fact that liberation theology adherents are quick to mention. They neglect to mention that Christ often used metaphors and analogies – in fact, these tools are the basis of using parables as a teaching tool. To the liberation theologian, the ‘Sword’ Christ brings is ‘social unrest’ and not the flame that will cleanse us all of Original Sin. Christ’s ministry becomes a crusade of class action – the poor against the wealthy, the outcast over the conformist. To Gutierrez and his followers, Christ is a progenitor of Marx, a great hero whose greatest contribution to Mankind was not his Passion but preaching the holiness of class warfare. This latter philosophical ‘construct’ placed the concept of Liberation theology beyond the acceptable teachings of the Church. Pope John Paul II argued that there is great need to address the concerns of poverty and to seek to redress economic injustices when he criticized “…the ever increasing wealth of the rich at the expense of the ever increasing poverty of the poor.” He argued the need for the principle of economic and political reform to allow for “…a more just and equitable distribution of goods.” He also condemned liberation theology as a system that seeks to recast our Savior as “…a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth.” This is a great sin of this heresy. Christ came from Heaven as a man to save us from original sin. Atonement theology discusses the biblical clues given us in Mark 10:45:
For the Son of man also is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
This was the reason He came. To pay the price for the sin that drove us from Paradise. His teachings were another gift – a ‘roadmap’ to ensure that we would be ready to re-enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church was his gift to the faithful, a gift that has been handed down from one steward to the next for some two thousand years. Unfortunately, elements of Christ’s message could – and would – be manipulated and subverted for baser causes. The Pope realized that socialism could easily supplant the Catholic Church – and in some places in Latin America, liberation theology has created a ‘shadow church’ that pays token lip service to the Holy See. Even in the United States, liberation theologians like Michael Pfleger have created turmoil, unrest, dissent, and confusion. Liberation theology has muddied the Catechism with its reliance on ‘the greater good’ principle. Liberation theology as applied to the illegal immigration debate in the United States violates not only Catholic doctrine but the laws of the United States. The Catechism of the Catholic Church compels political authorities to
… to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. (CCC 2241)
The liberation theologian will argue that this makes any laws limiting or abrogating immigration is contrary to the Magisterium. They often use this passage to amplify what they believe to be the Gospel’s clear doctrine of the ‘preferential option for the poor’. This doctrine holds that God will place the poor over all others in the next world. Again, this is an oversimplification at best. The liberation theologian forgets that the Beatitudes read “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Or they would like you to forget that last bit. Wealthy nations do indeed have an obligation to aid those in need. And the United States has a long history of doing so. the USAID website provides a wealth of data showing American charity. An immediate example is the half-billion dollars that the US sent to aid Haiti in the wake of their earthquake. Other wealthy nations were close behind in their generosity. What Fr Gutierrez and his ilk fail to admit is that much of the money donated goes to corrupt governments. A number of stories have emerged sharing how hundreds of millions of dollars donated to Haiti were consumed by administrative ‘overhead’ – much of the money squandered by the UN. By now, there are some who are looking for evidence to show that in ‘real’ dollars or as a percentage of GNP, the United States isn’t the most generous of nations – and they would be right. Constitutionally speaking, the United States as a government should be limited in how it spends money domestically and abroad. America’s generosity lies not in our government but in its citizens. Consistently, Americans top the list of charitable giving. And – in most cases – Catholics top the list of charitable givers. For reasons of law and political authority, the United States is a nation that provides it’s citizens to be generous with the money they have earned. Speaking as an historian, the federal government violates the spirit – if not the letter – of its constitutional authority with social welfare programs. One can argue that corruption and abuse of power rationalized the liberation theology support of political ‘reform’ in the form of adopting Marxist forms of government. This is a serious flaw of liberation theology, and the core of it’s heresy. Gutierrez and others actually borrow Marxist terms in defining their theology. Praxis is a term used to describe human action. Liberation theology argues that praxis is more important than doctrine.
“But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” – Gustavo Gutierrez
This is not just a call for change, but a clarion cry for the overthrow of existing governments. It is a call for the socialist utopia, the classless society. Like Marxist thinkers, Gutierrez expounds at length on the value of history as a call for social praxis. The Captivity of Jews in Egypt – a call for reform. The itinerant ministry of Christ – a call to raise up the poor and bring low the wealthy, the selfish, and the landed. The abuse of people in Latin America – by their own governments – a charge against wealth and capitalism. From Exodus to the Eucharist – all are politicized by liberation theology. The community of believers is replaced by the ‘class struggle’. The social order Gutierrez calls for is the social order of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez. If Liberation Theologians are willing to embrace the article 2241 of the Catholic Catechism, they like to ignore the next article:
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. 2242
This is where Gutierrez – and more significantly – those who followed him – fall into grave error. In the case of illegal immigration – the ‘hot button’ issue among Catholics -this article expressly defines that states have the absolute and proper right to write and enforce laws that promote the common good of all of their citizens. It furthermore places obligations upon the guest to respect the laws and customs of the host nation. Liberation Theologians will argue that the needs of the poor and the social praxis of poverty outweigh the selfish laws of a wealthy nation. This article contradicts this position authoritatively. This willingness to ignore authority is perhaps the most dangerous flaw in this heresy. Liberation theology places it’s reliance on orthopraxis. Orthopraxy means ‘correct action’ and emphasizes the importance of doing what is expected over faith or grace. Family, social and cultural traditions, and other humanist values are foremost in a orthopraxy. Orthodoxy means ‘correct belief’ and is the basis of the Catholic Church. Liberation theology by its very nature is contrary to the practices and philosophy of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, articulated this issue at great length and with great authority in “Liberation Theology: Preliminary Notes“; instead of trying to redact his work here, I simply state the précis of the argument. Liberation theology is like liberal politics – both are popular because they relieve for their followers the onus of having to think for themselves. To have to take personal responsibility. The burden of public aid lies on the back of the State, not the Citizen. They don’t have to weigh the possible good of an action against the possible harm the action could engender. They don’t have to make any judgment calls, and everyone is welcome under the ‘big tent.’ They confuse tolerance with good judgment. Even more importantly, under these systems, followers don’t have to get their own hands dirty. Liberals like a state that tends to the needs of all – that means they don’t have to do it themselves. Let the government run soup kitchens, provide housing, healthcare, the necessities. The Citizen is a strong believer in using the tenets of the Faith to influence my civic life. My faith compels me to openly and actively oppose abortion and the death penalty as they are inimical evils and cannot be countenanced. Locally, I support our soup kitchens, shelters, and other institutions that address poverty. My political, social, charitable, and economic activities reflect my belief that it is our Christian duty to aid those in need, and I use my votes and influence to effect public policy to reflect those values. Note that all of these activities are conducted using my money and my individual vote. Perhaps more important, my political activities are legal. Unfortunately for the liberation theologians and liberals, the Beatitudes call upon us as individuals to practice works of charity and mercy. And I – like many Catholics – do give of my time, talent, and treasure. I am also a strong believer in the rule of law. In the case of illegal immigration, it is not just a social issue, it is an issue of laws being violated, a nation’s sovereignty violated, and uninvited guests placing burdens on a society that has problems tending to its own. Christ told us ‘…the poor you have always with you.’ Gutierrez and his followers missed a chance to do something wonderful. Some of them understood the need to aid those in need, to fulfill our Christian duties to help our brothers and sisters as we would help our Lord. All of these could be done – are being done – without resorting to heretical practices.