Be Not Afraid: Theology of Liberation, Shalom, and Structural Causes
I finally started reading Gustavo Gutierrez's classic, A Theology of Liberation, this week and was excited to see him framing "the praxis of liberation" as the task of shalom makers! At times I worry that my focus on shalom may be a point of departure located more within the ranks of white bible scholars that a perspective actually being voiced from the margins. Native American theologian Randy Woodley is a significant representative of someone speaking contextually from an oppressed people's point of view who has made shalom the organizing feature of his theology (his book Shalom in the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Perspective is phenomenal), but he has seemed more like an exception than the rule.
But here I am reading one of the major pioneering works of non-North Atlantic theology, the father of Liberation Theology, speaking about shalom. It feels like a good affirmation. However, it's also clear that his thought cannot be reduced to what can be said through the lens of shalom by itself. Nor should we (I) fall into the trap of harmonizing the diverse voices of Majority World and US minority theologians into a single message. One of the favorite forms of neocolonialism practiced by us privileged folks today is acting as the all-seeing outsider who is able to articulate the core, unified message at the heart of what all those "other" people are saying. But this is both naive, dehumanizing, and flat out wrong. Their words are many and varying and should be held with an appropriate degree of dissonance that keeps us listening for notes of unity, harmony and divergence. And listening, particularly for us white folks, is one of the most Christian things we can do today.
All that said, here are Gutierrez's comments around shalom:
The praxis on which liberation theology reflects is a praxis of solidarity in the interests of liberation and is inspired by the gospel. It is the activity of "peacemakers"--that is, those who are forging shalom. Western languages translate this Hebrew word as "peace" but in doing so, diminish its meaning. Shalom in fact refers to the whole of life and, as part of this, to the need of establishing justice and peace. Consequently, a praxis motivated by evangelical values embraces to some extent every effort to bring about authentic fellowship and authentic justice. For faith shows us that in this commitment the grace of Christ plays its part, whether or not those who practice it are aware of this fact.
This liberating praxis endeavors to transform history int he light of the reign of God. It accepts the reign now, even though knowing that it will arrive in its fullness only at the end of time. In this practice of love, social aspects have an important place on a continent [Latin America] in which socio-economic structs are in the service of the powerful and work against the weak of society. But in my understanding of it, "praxis" is not reducible to "social aspects" in this narrow sense. The complexity of the world of the poor and lowly compels us to attend to other dimensions of the Christian practice if it is to meet the requirement of a total love of God.
Excellent thoughts, I'd say.
While I'm at it, I thought I'd share another quote from his introduction because it expresses so well the journey I have been on--one I would couch under the categories of Romans 12:2, "Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" and Romans 6:11, "count yourselves dead to sin [in my case: privilege, whiteness, the desire social acceptability, etc.] and alive to Christ."
To these effects, Gutierrez says the following:
Structural analysis has thus played an important part in building up the picture of the world to which liberation theology addresses itself. The use of this analysis has had its price, for although the privileged of this world can accept the existence of human poverty on a massive scale and not be overawed by it (after all, it is something that cannot be hidden away in our time), problems begin when the causes of this poverty are pointed out to them. Once causes are determined, then there is talk of "social injustice," and the privileged begin to resist. This is especially true when to structural analysis there is added a concrete historical perspective in which personal responsibilities come to light. But it is the conscientization [the process by which the poor/marginalized gain a broader sense of the world, its oppressiveness toward them, and are inspired to act for liberation/transformation] and resultant organization of poor sectors that rouse the greatest fears and strongest resistance.
It gets scary for those of us who have always had a seat at the table to come face to face with Jesus' words that the first shall be last. But, as the angels always say, "do not be afraid." Shalom--when you look at it squarely--may seem like bad news to you, my fellow privileged friend, but be not afraid. For it is a tiding of great joy, if only you will lay down your nets and follow the King.