Mormon Liberation Theology


August 4, 2011 by Robert Poort

Nativity mural (click on picture) at Batahola Norte Community Center in Managua

This month all Mormon Worker language sites (click on the language links in the upper right column) introduce Liberation Theology and more specifically Mormon Liberation Theology. To me personally, Liberation Theology in the Roman Catholic tradition – and now in our Mormon tradition – is possibly the most influential theology that shaped my spiritual life. Liberation Theology has the potential to liberate us both individually and collectively.

Liberation theology is a Christian movement in political theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents 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”, and by detractors as Christianized Marxism.
Liberation theology could be interpreted as a western attempt to return to the gospel of the early church where Christianity is politically and culturally decentralized.
Liberation theology proposes to fight poverty by addressing its supposed source: sin. In so doing, it explores the relationship between Christian theology — especially Roman Catholic theology — and political activism, especially in terms of social justice, poverty, and human rights. The principal methodological innovation is seeing theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. For example Jon Sobrino, S.J., argues that the poor are a privileged channel of God’s grace. Some liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword (social unrest), e.g. Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:35–38 — and not as bringing peace (social order)[non-primary source needed]. This Biblical interpretation is a call to action against poverty, and the sin engendering it, to effect Jesus Christ’s mission of justice in this world.
Gustavo Gutierrez gave the movement its paradigmatic expression with his book A Theology of Liberation (1972). In this book, Gutierrez combined populist ideas with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He was influenced by an existing socialist current in the Church which included organizations such as the Catholic Worker Movement and the French Christian youth worker organization, “Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne”. He was also influenced by Paul Gauthier’s “The Poor, Jesus and the Church” (1965). Gutierrez’s book is based on an understanding of history in which the human being is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for human destiny, and yet Christ the Savior liberates the human race from sin, which is the root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression.
Gutierrez also popularized the phrase “preferential option for the poor”, which became a slogan of liberation theology and eventually an official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Drawing from the biblical motif on the poor, Gutierrez asserts that God is revealed as having a preference for those people who are “insignificant,” “marginalized,” “unimportant,” “needy,” despised” and “defenseless.” Moreover, he makes clear that terminology of “the poor” in scripture has social and economic connotations that etymologically go back to the Greek word, ptochas. To be sure, as to not misinterpret Gutierrez’s definition of the term “preferential option,” he stresses, “Preference implies the universality of God’s love, which excludes no one. It is only within the framework of this universality that we can understand the preference, that is, ‘what comes first.'”
Click here to read the entire Wikipedia article.

Click here to read the essay: “Liberation Theology in the Book of Mormon” by R.Dennis Potter and read the following passage from the essay:
“There is no space to be neutral about grave societal injustices. Failure to act/prevent can be just as bad as causing something. Once we have established that a religion and religious organization cannot avoid playing a socio-political role in the community, whether tacitly or explicitly, the question is “what role should religion play?” For Christians, the answer is that the Church should unequivocally side with the “political left” in their defense of the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, etc. To put the differences between the left and the right in simple terms based on concrete realities in today’s political world (and not on abstract political theory) we can say the following:
1. The left emphasizes the community and the right emphasizes the individual.
2. The left favors the poor and the right favors the rich.
3. The left pushes egalitarianism as far as possible and the right favors merit-based inequality.
4. The left sees material substance as a communal good and the right sees it as potential private property.
5. The left explains societal woes as coming from structures, institutions, and “communal sins” if you will, while the right explains societal woes on the basis of a breakdown of individual morality. I argue that the Book of Mormon sides with the political left on all of these issues.”

3 thoughts on “Mormon Liberation Theology

  1. gomw says:

    The total disconnect between how Mormons feel about helping each other and how others treat each other amazes and confuses me. We suffer from acute “acute selective scripturitis.” We ignore the United Order, the socialism of Acts 4 vs 31-37, the teachings of Brigham Young and so many other scriptures in BofM, D&C, OT and NT with the the totally inconsistent idea that if government tells you to do something good, it is de facto bad, totally ignoring the 12th Article of Faith and Section 134 of the D&C.

    Thanks for the thought and research that went into your article.

    Brooks W. Wilson

  2. Forest Simmons says:

    Whenever the war in heaven is discussed we are reminded that the battle over the principle of agency continues on this mortal sphere.

    Here is our opportunity: whenever there is inequality there is domination, i.e. unrighteous dominion, i.e the persecution of the disadvantaged that Mormon, Alma, etc. lament in the face of inequality.

    We have learned by sad experience that when the powerful interact with the weak, they almost always compromise the agency ot the weak.


  3. Forest Simmons says:

    Recently in a gospel doctrine Sunday school class I suggested a liberation theological interpretation of the beatitudes when the instructor was stymied by a beatitude that didn’t fit the usual piety interpretation, namely “blessed are the persecuted.” How are we supposed to incorporate this “virtue” into our lives? I suggested that Jesus was announcing the good news that the poor, I suggested that the meek, mourning, humble, poor folk were being told the good news that they would not have to put up with persecution in the Kingdom of God when the Lord’s will is done on earth as in Heaven.

    The reaction was deathly silence followed by a quick return to the lesson manual.

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