by Evelyn Tagbo Nnanna
Liberation Theology is an insightful reflection on the Christian faith that promotes preferential opportunities for the poor (1). In this context, “the poor," according to Leonardo and Clovis, is the general mass. In terms of income distribution, it can be likened to the 99% in the Occupy Movement. Given its roots in spirituality, Liberation Theology an all encompassing model for fighting inequality. It promotes transformational empowerment for the marginalized and goes beyond aid and reform; it is liberating power of the organized poor (1).
Politically, Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of that school of thought, sees Liberation Theology as “reflecting on the basis of practice within the ambit of vast effort made by the poor and their allies seeking an inspiration in faith and the gospel for the commitment to fight against poverty and for the integral liberation of all persons and whole person.” Liberation Theology seeks to connect individual responsibility to God to social justice and power structure (2).
For some analysts, Liberation Theology is better defined as action movements in favor of the poor; and therefore should pluralized as Liberation Theologies to include of movements, such as Black Liberation Theology and Feminist Liberation.
Liberation Theology has been viewed as a circumstantial plea to liberate the deprived in the society. This theology was first framed by the faith-based perspectives of prominent Latin American Catholic priests, including Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, Óscar Romero of El Salvador, and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay.
In Latin America, the end of World War II was followed by debilitating economic conditions and regimes of military dictatorship. In some parts of the region, the democratic systems that existed were formalities. The situation called for revolutions to steer systems toward new forms of human progress and hope (3). In the wake of this call for transformation, a group of Catholic priests used Marx's analysis of the complex and developing relations between societal classes as a methodology to critique the role of church as an institution. It was formally adopted during the 1968 Latin American Bishop Conference in Medellin, Colombia.
Liberation Health draws from the wider view of Liberation Theology; a call for transformation in healthcare systems that ensure equal and optimal healthcare services for all humands (4). The crucial liberation action by public health professionals will be to “embrace socially just, client-centered systems of practice, where communities freely participate and serve as active stakeholders in the process” (4). In Liberation Theory, public health professional are called to lead the transformation by redefining what their leadership roles are.
The Vatican's misunderstanding the intentions of the Liberation Theology's first proponents in the 1950s was a major limitation. Liberation Theory triggered criticism from the Vatican because it borrowed ideas from Marxism. This led to perpetual relegation of the movement. The proponents were also accused of misleading the Catholic Church by associating themselves with the privileged class in Latin America, the same that oppresses the poor. However, the current reality of increasing poverty, crime, social and political injustice keeps Liberation Theology as a contemporary movement. With the support of the new pope, Pope Francis, Liberation Theology has received more attention.
(1) Boff L., Boff, C., and Leonardo, B. Introducing to Liberation Theology. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books; 1987.
(2) Rowland, C. and Corner, M. Liberating Exegenesis: The Challenge of Liberation Theology to Biblical Studies. Westminster John Knox Press; 1989.
(3) Christopher, D. The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014.
(4) Courtney K. Liberation Health and the Role of the Public Health Leader. Open Journal of Leadership. 2013;2(4):82-84.