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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

What is Liberation Theology?

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life


Liberation theology is a significant movement in Christian theology that seeks to understand God through the eyes of the poor and marginalized, yet its contours are often misunderstood by opponents and proponents alike. Roberto Goizueta, the Margaret O’Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology at Bos­ton College, aimed to clarify the tenants and implica­tions of liberation theology during a Boisi Center lunch colloquium on Tuesday, March 12.

Liberation theology, Goizueta explained, is rooted in early Latin American theology, though it was not explicitly articulated until the mid-twentieth century. According to Goizueta, Vatican II and Catholic Social Teaching catalyzed liberation theology in Latin America by clarifying the social mission of the Catholic Church. Indeed, Catholic teaching and liberation theology share some fundamental principles, including the importance of the common good and dignity of the human person. Still, liberation theologians have been criticized by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) for promoting unorthodox theology and radical social commitments. The movement has also been subject to criticism that the claim of God’s preferential love for the poor does not affirm the universality of God’s love for all humankind. According to Goizueta, however, these theological claims are compatible: If God’s love and grace is free and equitable, then God must make a preferential option to protect the poor from oppres­sive social conditions. Liberation theology, then, calls Christians to accompany poor and marginalized people in the struggle for justice; there is no liberation of the poor without friendship with the poor.

Goizueta also distinguished Latin American liberation theologies from those in the United States. Latin Ameri­can liberationists emphasize the struggle of the poor; U.S. liberationists emphasize marginalization based on race, culture, and language. Liberation theology can contribute to U.S. public life, Goizueta asserted, by making the preferential option for the poor a necessary component for promoting the common good.