Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Movement of May 1968 and Theology in Latin America: The Third World in the Theology of Liberation

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Movement of May 1968 and Theology in Latin America: The Third World in the Theology of Liberation

Article excerpt

Latin American liberation theology has almost never seen itself as an expression of or in direct relation to the international student movements of Mav 1968. (1) I cannot recall reading anything in the publications of that time about a historical connection with the events in Paris or other parts of the world, even though we knew very well that some representatives of liberation theology were connected with student movements, especially in the years after 1960. (2)

It appears at first sight that liberation theology, which developed mainly after 1970, wanted to assert not only its autonomy but also its historical and cultural independence from the cultural movements of the time, and especially those that developed outside Latin America. I believe that many theologians wanted to present what was new in Latin America and especially in the old institution of the church as something that was previously unknown, and which emerged because of a qualitatively different awareness of the presence of the poor. We only need to recall the meeting of the Latin American Conference of Bishops (CELAM) in 1968 in Medellin, which wanted to contextualize the Second Vatican Council for Latin America and whose starting point was "the option for the poor." The poor called the institutional church into question and brought about a new movement in theology. Many Protestant theologians and communities were also called into question.

Students, especially university students, belonged to a different social class, and although many of their demands were correct, especially those in favour of the poor, they belonged more to the elite. The challenge and the demands of the poor were directed more to the roots of a liberating interpretation of the Bible, especially its prophetic tradition. Thus the church justified its option for the poor as a recovery of biblical traditions and as a contemporary response to the discipleship of Jesus. In the same way, a section of the church allied itself with social movements for democracy and human rights. The same arguments were always used to claim that it was inspired neither by Marxism nor by a theology along European lines. In the meantime, we know the extent to which Marxist analysis was used and the extent to which theologians stood in a critical relation to European theology.

For the vast majority of Christians and theologians focused on liberation, the challenge of the poor was seen as the work of God; it was to be found in biblical tradition, and theology could only be a genuine theology as a liberation theology. The challenge of the poor broke into Latin America, calling into question economic and social structures that produced poverty, and demanding a conversion by society and the church to turn toward the poor. It can be said that liberation theology, despite all its limitations and contradictions, was a movement of the so-called third world. And this is the sense in which I always identify it, even if links to and influences from other international social movements were present in the broadest sense.

May 1968 in Latin America

Today we are invited to reflect on the relationship and dependence of liberation theology and the 1968 movement to the broad cultural and social international movements of those difficult and creative times. Exercising a certain historical restraint, the history of liberation theology in brief can be reconstructed as that of its relationships. From today's perspective, one can say that much came together in what was called liberation theology, that it was a web of relationships of many movements and events. It was not an isolated event within a larger whole. The same can be said about feminist liberation theology in Latin America, which emerged a few years later.

I believe in the spirit of a time and the interplay of different events. Therefore, I try with all my strength to remember that the years since 1960 were a very eventful period, shaping world history. …

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