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What Is Liberation Theology?

By Jessica F. Black
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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Liberation theology is a Christian movement that is based upon freedom from materialistic, social, and political oppression. This particular terminology, in reference to religious beliefs, was used by a Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez in the late 1960s. Gutierrez fathered the phrase "liberation theology," and its concepts became increasingly popular in Latin America. He explored his religious freedom by studying the interrelations of poverty and faith. In addition, traces of similar principles in religious sects have been dated as far back as several centuries ago.

Initial reactions to this movement were somewhat divided because some felt it was influenced by Marxism. Other negative connotations to this movement linked it directly with violence and the uprising of revolutionaries. Although controversy often surrounded this school of thought, the primary basis of liberation theology was to offer freedom to the impoverished and to help resolve class warfare. In order to achieve this, some pressure was placed on those in power, which increased animosity towards the movement.

This theology is based on an interpretation of the Bible, which states that God protects and speaks for the impoverished. It focuses on a religious approach to social issues and the need for freedom from social, economic, political, and materialistic restraints. In the 1980s, liberation theologians joined together in order to appeal to religious leaders in hopes to relieve the oppression that restrained a large portion of the population in Latin America.

Their attempt was met with criticism from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who appointed bishops focused on traditional beliefs in hopes to silence those offering alternate interpretations of the Scriptures. Although liberation theology appeared to be fading out in the 1980s, Ratzinger successfully quieted some of the leading principles of this movement. Regardless of the successful public attempts to diminish this school of thought, there are presently many villages and religious sects that practice the beliefs of liberation theologians.

There are also many universities and groups that study liberation theology in regards to its influence on similar movements including various feminist, Asian, Latino, and other minority movements. Those that have been influenced by the primary principle of this freedom from oppression often use religious Scripture in defense of their own restraints. This school of thought created a new outlook on social issues through the use of religious resolution and this thought process continues to evolve.

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