The strength of the lowly: the Theology of Liberation by Leonardo Boff

Note from Tikkun Staff:

The strength of the lowly: the Theology of Liberation

Leonardo Boff
      Earthcharter Commission



Whenever a World Social Forum is celebrated, a World Forum of the Theology of Liberation is also celebrated three days earlier. More than two thousand persons who work in this type of theology from every Continent participated: from South Korea, several African countries, the United States, Europe and from all over Latin America. The Theology of Liberation implies always having one foot in the reality of poverty and misery and the other foot in theological and pastoral reflection.  Without this close connection, a Theology of Liberation deserving of that name does not exist.

Every so often we conduct evaluations.  The first question is: How does the Kingdom of God exist here, in our contradictory reality? Where are the signs of the Kingdom in our Continent, in China, and in crucified Africa, especially amidst the smallest of our countries? To ask about the Kingdom is not to ask about the Church, but to ask how the dream of Jesus is coming along, His dream consists of unconditional love, solidarity, compassion, social justice, openness to the Sacred; and the centrality given to the oppressed. These and other values form the contents of what we call the Kingdom of God, the central message of Jesus. The name is religious, but its content is humanistic and universal. Jesus of Nazareth came to teach us how to live those values, and not simply to transmit doctrines about them.

Equally, when one is asked how the Theology of Liberation is coming along, the answer is found in another question: How are the poor, the oppressed, women, the unemployed, Native peoples, Afro-descendants and others who are excluded treated?  How do they enter in the liberating practices of the Christians? It is vital to emphasize that it is not the Theology of Liberation that is important, but the concrete liberation of the oppressed. That is, the presence of the Kingdom, and not just its reflection.

From October 12th to 14th, some 50 men and women theologians from all over Latin America gathered in Puebla, Mexico. It was organized by Amerindia, a network of organizations and people committed to the processes of transformation and liberation of our peoples. This gathering, conducted in a Christian and critical tone, analyzed the historical moment in which we are living, from a holistic perspective, emphasizing the prophetic/mystical and methodological contents of the Theology of Liberation, starting from that reality.

Present were some of the “founding fathers” of this form of theology (early in the decade of 1970), all between 75 and 80 years old, who were joined by the new generation of young men theologians (some Indigenous among them) and young women theologians (some Black and Indigenous). With a profound egalitarian, fraternal and sisterly feeling, we wanted to identify new sensibilities, new approaches and ways of processing this type of theology, the dignity we ascribe to those who do not count and are rendered invisible in our society of a neoliberal and capitalist type.

Instead of large assemblies –there were only two introductory ones in the opening– we preferred to work in round tables and small groups, making exchanges together. This way everyone could participate in a fruitful enrichment. There were men and women theologians who work amidst the Indigenous, others in the poor peripheries of the cities, other women and men theologians dealing with gender questions (how to overcome inequality among men and women in power relationships) in a whole region, others were college professors and researchers, organically linked to social movements. All came from powerful and even dangerous experiences, especially in Central America with the narco-traffic cartels, the disappearances, the “maras”  (organized crime groups of violent youth) and the violence of the police.  All the work was transmitted by Internet; and there were thousands of followers throughout the Continent.

The density of reflection of three days of intense work cannot be summarized, but it was clear that there are different forms of understanding reality (epistemology), be it of the Original peoples, of the Afro-descendants, or of marginalized and integrated men and women. It was evident to everyone that the problem of the poor cannot be solved without the participation of the poor themselves. The poor must be the subjects and protagonists of their own liberation. We are ready to be their allies and secondary force.

The Theology of Liberation of the “old” and of the new is like a seed that represents “the strength of the lowly”, the motto of the encounter. That seed did not die.  It will continue to live as long as there is a single oppressed human being crying for liberation.

We remembered the poem of Pablo Neruda: “How do the roots know that they must rise to seek the light and then greet the wind with so many flowers and colors?”  With Dostoevsky and Pope Francis, we also believe that what will save the world is fundamentally beauty, that is the fruit of love of life and of all those who unjustly have less of life.

Note From Tikkun Staff:The powerful and profound thinking of Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff, Matthew Fox, Harvey Cox, Cynthia Moe Lobeda, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, John Cobb, Walter Brueggemann, Rosemary Ruether, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Brian McLaren and Gary Dorrein  is matched by many spiritual progressives in other religions. We think of David Loy and Thich Nhat Hanh in Buddhism, Hindu VAndana Shiva,  Islamist thinker Kabir Helminski, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Judith Plaskow, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rabbi Tirzah Firesone, Susannah Heschel, Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Rabbi Jill Hammer,  and of course Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation.

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