What Is Liberation Theology?
Few contemporary theological movements have generated as much controversy as liberation theology. Likewise, few theological movements have been as misunderstood or misrepresented by both critics and sympathizers. In this talk, Goizueta will suggest that, rooted in a “preferential option for the poor,” liberation theology is fundamentally the attempt to interpret the Scriptures and Christian tradition through the eyes of the marginalized. As such, it is rooted in a spirituality that safeguards the universality, mystery, transcendence, and utter gratuity of God’s love against all idolatrous attempts to identify God’s love with power and privilege.
Roberto Goizueta is the Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology at Boston College, where he specializes in Liberation Theology and the intersections of theology and culture. Goizueta is known for his research and teaching on Christology, theology and culture, liberation theology and Latino/a theology. He is past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States. In 2012, he won the Yves Congar award for theological excellence. He is the author of the books Christ our Companion: Toward a Theological Aesthetics of Liberation (2009) and Caminemos con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment (1995), which was honored by the Catholic Press Association. He has received honorary degrees from the University of San Francisco and Elms College. He earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in systematic theology from Marquette University and B.A. from Yale University.
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.
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