Rift between Gutierrez and Peru Women: Liberation Theology Said to Be Too Narrow

By Ruether, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Rift between Gutierrez and Peru Women: Liberation Theology Said to Be Too Narrow

Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter

On a recent visit to Peru, I explored a particular interest of mine: emerging forms of liberation theology that integrate feminist, ecological and indigenous perspectives. I was saddened, however, by the ambivalent relations of these new groups with "classical" liberation theology, represented in Peru by Gustavo Gutierrez and his study center, the Instituto Bartholome de las Casas in Lima.

The feminist movement, developing in Peru for about 20 years, got a strong impetus in 1983, when the All Latin American Feminist Encounter met in Lima. This network, which includes both theoreticians and practitioners who work with poor women at the base of the society, has advanced feminism by developing a documentation center on women's concerns.

Among results of that 1983 meeting, a group called Talitha Cumi emerged. Talitha Cumi (meaning "woman, rise up," an Aramaic phrase from the New Testament) has gained acceptance as the spiritual wing of feminism in Peru. But it has failed in efforts to relate its concerns for feminism with the liberation theology represented by Gutierrez.

Talitha Cumi is composed mostly of Catholic women, lay and religious, foreign and Peruvian, although Protestant women have also been active members. The group combines features of a base community, a study and publication center and provides direct service to disadvantaged women. It is now lodged within the Center For Creatividad y Cambio (Creativity and Change) which publishes pamphlets on women's issues and offers counseling to Lima prostitutes. As Talitha Cumi, its members gather bimonthly for reflection and prayer, hold workshops several times a year and publish pamphlets that specifically address theology or spirituality in relation to feminism.

The Mesa Ecumenica de Mujer, based at the Methodist school of biblical and theological studies, brings together women from various Protestant churches, including Pentecostals, some of whom also are members of Talitha Cumi. They are developing a number of research projects on culture, spirituality and gender, on identity, sexuality and religion and on the recovery of the history of Protestant women in Peru. Both groups have strong interest in ecofeminism and in the incorporation of indigenous perspectives in spirituality and ecology.

One of the unfortunate facts I discovered in my visit is the distance that Gutierrez has placed between his line of liberation theology and the emerging themes represented by these women's networks. Gutierrez has insisted until today that feminism is alien to the "Latin American reality" and is a diversion from the primary concern of liberation theology for the poor, which demands the methodology of class analysis. Despite the fact that feminism and feminist theology have clearly emerged over two decades as an autonomous movement with their own distinct Latin American contextualization and are deeply involved with poor women, Gutierrez's view continues to be the party line for those who take orientation courses at his Instituto Bartholome de las Casas.

Gutierrez and his institute have not worked with local Protestants to any extent. With his roots in the anti-Protestant Catholic Action in Peru, he is viewed as unecumenical by Peruvian Protestants, despite his support from Protestants abroad. Gutierrez has also ignored environmental damage as a theme of liberation theology and has stayed clear of spirituality from an indigenous perspective. In his major work on Bartholomeo de las Casas, the great 16th century Spanish defender of the Indians against Spanish exploitation, Gutierrez's view of the Indian is always from the eyes of the compassionate Spaniard, not from the perspective of the Indians themselves.

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