Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928)
PAUL E. SIGMUND
Is liberation theology, which emerged in the midst of the Cold War, still relevant in the post-Cold War era? And is a discussion of Gustavo Gutiérrez, the leading architect of liberation theology, relevant in a volume devoted to modern Christian teachings on law, politics, and human nature?
The answer, on both counts, is yes. The approach of liberation theology to society and politics, and to the relation of the Bible to the contemporary world, has made a distinctive contribution to the teachings of modern Christianity. And liberation theology is still a relevant topic of study—despite the failure of the socialist systems that liberationists initially espoused as alternatives to capitalism, and despite the discrediting of the economic theory of dependency that formed an important component of its thinking. The rediscovery by Gustavo Gutiérrez and other liberation theologians of the special position of the poor in salvation history, their attempt to link the message of the Bible to contemporary social and economic problems, and their insistence that Christians have a duty to change “sinful structures” and to promote genuine liberation from all forms of oppression, all remain valid and valuable insights.
Initially, Gutiérrez and his liberationist followers described the legal and political system of capitalism as sinful and called for its replacement by socialism, which would end capitalist exploitation and oppression. Today, liberationists no longer believe that a socialist revolution will resolve the problems of the poor. But they continue to criticize the negative aspects of capitalist development, including, most recently, the effects on the poor of globalization and international economic relations and the international legal structures that support them. As far as human nature is concerned, Gutiérrez and the other liberation theologians initially hoped for a transformation of human relations as a result of a change in socioeconomic structures from capitalism to socialism. More recently, however, they have