Theological society discusses liberation theology, freedom for the oppressed

Standing in the shoes of the poor and oppressed is the emphasis of liberation theology and the focus of the latest presentation sponsored by Eastern’s Theological Society.

On November 10, approximately 25 students gathered in the Gough Seminar Room to hear Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of missiology Dr. Samuel Escobar speak about liberation theology’s origins and answer student questions.

“The church has always had a way of expressing its faith in a certain form; it starts with the fact of Jesus Christ,” Escobar began.

“When we as Christians try to express our faith, we do it with the questions which are the questions of our context.”

He described liberation theology as a “new way of doing theology” that grew out of the Latin American dictatorships of the 1960s.

“Somewhere or other when you start to talk about God in this type of situation, you must talk about God as interested in the liberation of the oppressed,” Escobar explained.

As a result of asking whose side God was on in the struggle between the rich, powerful dictatorships and the poor, Catholic theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez, who coined the term “theology of liberation,” concluded that Christianity must include a preferential option for the poor.

This involved reading Scripture from the perspective of the poor and advocating on their behalf. When asked by a student how Christians who are not poor can read scripture from the perspective of the poor, Escobar once again emphasized the importance of “people working for the poor, among the poor.”

According to Escobar, early liberation theologians decided that “the Church had always been with the rich, the powerful, the elites, and the time had come for the Church to change sides.”

He addressed the Marxist undertones of speaking of the world in terms of such a class struggle.

“There is not liberation theology; there are liberation theologies,” he said, pointing out that while some liberation theologians favored the violent class revolution described by Marx, many were pacifists.

Students who attended the event, which was part of the theological society’s theme of “Contemporary Issues in an Ancient Faith” found the presentation informative.

“It’s hard to find summary accounts of liberation theology,” said junior Miranda Clemens.

“I thought he did a really good job giving a summary and then connecting it to the civil rights movement and the Methodist movement-things I wouldn’t ordinarily connect it with,” she said.

Sophomore Bethany Musser, Theological Society president, benefited as well.

“I really enjoy hearing the theological trends of different countries, to get a really global view of our Christianity,” she said.

Escobar summarized liberation theology as seeing God’s word through the lens of the poor.

“All theology is the reflection of the people of God about their praxis in light of God’s Word,” Escobar said.

“You don’t know truth unless you are ready to practice it,” he said. “In order to help the poor, you must try to be effective.”

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