A movement within Latin American Catholic theology and spirituality since the 1950s and 60s that reads the Christian gospel from the standpoint of the poor. In Latin America there is hardly a middle class, and 5% of the population controls 80% of the wealth. Liberation theology has the gospel—and the Hebrew prophets—address the unjust social, economic and political structures that keep the poor powerless. It claims that salvation is not just something that happens in the next life, but that it must bring freedom and dignity and a fair share of the world’s goods in this life to all, especially those who suffer oppression.
Gustavo Gutierrez, a Dominican priest from Peru, is considered the founder of liberation theology (A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation ). Other promi- nent figures are Juan Luis Segundo (Uruguay), Jon Sobrino and Ignacio Ellacuria (El Salvador), and Leonardo Boff (Brazil) among Catholics and Protestants Rubem Alves and Jose Miguez Bonino.
Some means of bringing about liberation are small Christian base communities where the gospel is applied to the life situation of the poor, programs that teach reading and in the process self-esteem, and labor organizing to secure more just wages. Such activities have stirred up the powerful to new levels of repression including the killing of religious leaders who empower the poor. In December1980, for instance, four North American women working in El Salvador—Ita Ford, MM, Maura Clarke, MM, Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and laywoman Jean Donovan—were raped and murdered at the behest of people high up in the Salvadoran government and military—martyrs in an age of martyrs.
The Vatican and the majority of local (Latin American) church leadership have been wary about liberation theology, seeing it as more Marxist than Christian and determined to uphold traditional church order (where many bishops come from and are aligned with the wealthy and powerful).
A kind of liberation theology has also developed among African American theologians
(James H. Cone) and theologians from Asia (e.g., Aloysius Pieris from Sri Lanka and Peter Phan, a native of Vietnam who holds a chair at Georgetown) and Africa (Engelbert Mveng of Cameroon).