Liberation Theology

By Deane Barker

This is an interpretation of Christian doctrine that believes the Christian faith should primarily be a tool to liberate oppressed people, and that sin is manifested in unjust social structures.

The name comes from a 1971 book entitled A Theology of Liberation by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. He felt that European approaches to Christianity did not apply to the poverty and oppression he witnessed in Latin America, and that Christians should do more to help oppressed people in this world.

Liberation theology has several branches:

  • Black theology
  • Feminist theology
  • Palestinian liberation theology

Critics of liberation theology see it as a thinly masked version of Marxism or Socialism which is primarily concerned with the redistribution of wealth and power. They often also object to its focus on the present, material world, rather than salvation.

The line between politics and religion is blurry when discussing liberation theology. It can be difficult to determine if someone is endorsing it or condemning it based on Christian doctrine or political preference. Both side of the argument make claims to both approaches.

Why I Looked It Up

Douglas Wilson referred to it in a blog post:

These people – pasty patsies, let us call them – are your NPR listeners, your evangelical pastors with ripped jeans and a Biden sticker on their guitar case, and your suburban white women who read liberation theology for their wine and cheese book groups.


Added on

There was a quick reference in The Confessor. The pope (fictionally) said:

Crux Vera adapted with the times. It has proved itself a useful tool for maintaining doctrinal discipline. In Latin America, Crux Vera has battled the adherents of liberation theology, sometimes resorting to ghastly violence to keep rebellious priests in line.

Again, this is fiction, but the implication is that the Catholic church is against liberation theology. (Note too that Crux Vera is a fictional order of church “enforcers.”)


Added on

From Everything, All the Time, Everywhere:

[Steve] Job’s genius consisted not just in founding Apple and revolutionizing personal technology, but in creating a liberation theology that, in the next few decades, converted many into believing computers and phones could deliver power to the people.

I think the idea here is that – in a generic sense – a “liberation theology” is a belief that things can be better. Without a faith component, this would probably be a “liberation philosophy,” but the religious term simply has more recognition (and there is a larger point here about Apple being like a religious cult – something the author alluded to in other places in the text).


Added on

In the movie The Laundromat, a character mentions a Bible verse – Isaiah 61:1 – and says, “The theology of liberation, the Catholic Church used to call it..”

Here’s the verse:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

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