New Voices, Visions Opening Up Liberation Theology

By Ruther, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

New Voices, Visions Opening Up Liberation Theology


Ruther, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter


Latin American liberation theology emerged in the 1960s with the foundational writings of priest-theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff. For 20 years the focus was on class and national oppression, the dependency of Latin American countries on the dominant North American economic agenda, the resultant misuse of national resources and the impoverishment of the masses. There was no recognition of how gender and ethnic difference made the poor impoverished in different ways if they are women, African-Americans or Indians. Ecology was not on the agenda.

In the past 10 years, these myopias have been challenged as women, African-Americans and Indians joined the theological discussion in Latin America. Third World feminist theologians began to attend the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in the late 1970s and 1980s and to challenge the silence on sexism. They demanded a women's commission within the association to develop a specifically feminist reflection, not divorced from but within commitment of liberation theology to the poor.

Poverty is not a gender-neutral category. Poor women are victims of physical and sexual violence. They lack control over maternity and often are left to provide the primary economic support for their children. They are discriminated against in the church in ways not experienced by males. Latin American women theologians, such as Maria Pilar Aquino and Elza Tamez, both Mexicans, Ivone Gebara from Brazil, Gladys Parentelli from Colombia and many others began to develop what they called a Latin American theology from the "optic" of women.

New networks and journals have emerged to explore and express women's perspectives. A network of women theologians and pastors in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean is coordinated from Costa Rica. A new journal, Cospirando, on ecofeminism, spirituality and theology, edited by a collective in Chile, shows the growing sensitivity to the relationship between the oppression of women, indigenous people and nature in Latin America.

The 1992 observance of the 500 Years of Resistance, designed to criticize the notion that Columbus' "discovery of America" was cause for celebration, provided a forum for the Americas' Indians to organize and speak out. The genocide of the many indigenous peoples and destruction of their cultures by the church and conquistadors was made visible. The story of survival and resistance to this double assault was told from their perspective for the first time.

African peoples brought as slaves to the Americas, who are large populations with distinct African-based cultures in the Caribbean and Brazil, also began to find their voice, to define their experience and their rights to defend their cultures. Major assemblies were held, such as the gathering of indigenous religious leaders with delegations from the world religions who made a pilgrimage to the ancient Incan religious center of Tiwanaku in Bolivia for the winter solstice at the end of June 1992; and the continental conference of indigenous, African and popular groups in Managua, Nicaragua, in October 1992. …

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