LIBERATION THEOLOGY IN BRAZIL: Some History, Names and Themes

By Carvalhaes, Claudio; Py, Fabio | Cross Currents, March 2017 | Go to article overview

LIBERATION THEOLOGY IN BRAZIL: Some History, Names and Themes


Carvalhaes, Claudio, Py, Fabio, Cross Currents


Liberation Theology is not just one theology among many others. No! Liberation Theology, as we understand it, is a matter of survival, of life and death. It is a place where faith, discourse of God, and real life meet in order to protect and expand the possibilities of life, in the ecobiodiversity of the planet and in the possibility of justice for the poor. We didn't choose Liberation Theology; we were chosen by it, and it is because of Liberation Theology that we are here today. To take away Liberation Theology is to mute our voices; we become tongue-tied, inarticulate, dumb.

We are among the third generation of liberation theologians in Latin America. We attended Protestant churches, had a more conservative upbringing, and through social resistance and seminary formation, we were introduced to Liberation Theology. Our beginning text was Gustavo Gutierrez, a Catholic theologian, and we struggled to understand the book. But it led to a time of discovery and excitement! Rubem Alves, Richard Shaul, Julio de Santana, Jaci Maraschin, Leonardo Boff, Milton Schwantes, among many others, influenced us during the height of Liberation Theology. Priests and pastors were giving rise to the movement through churches and Base Communities, gaining consciousness about their social situation and how God Was calling them to a new day! Many women engaged in theological work as well and were beginning to shift the map of the theological production. Great theological material was produced, Liberation Theology pulsed everywhere, and socio-political transformations spread all across Latin America.

It is not our task here to give a long historical account of the processes and movements of Liberation Theology in Latin America, but rather to highlight the work of a few Latin American liberation theologians, namely Rubem Alves, Ivone Gebara, Milton Schwantes and Nancy Cardoso. Liberation Theology concerned itself with the poor and in that way engaged the black people of Latin America. But we failed to include black theologians and Liberation Theology as a whole neglected race in their work.

We will begin by highlighting the ways in which liberation theologies started in Latin America with a few notes about its major tenets. Then, we will present a small part of the work of these four theologians mentioned above. We will finish with some words about what is left undone.

Liberation Theology was not the creation of one theologian. Gustavo Gutierrez did not begin the movement; it was the work of the people, through grassroots movements calling for justice, in collaboration with priests and theologians, that deeply shaped Liberation Theology in Latin America. Moreover, Liberation Theology is best understood not only by looking at published books, but also by looking at the movement of the church. In the 1950s and 1960s, Latin America experienced extensive influence and control by the United States. In the midst of McCarthyism, the United States was afraid that Russia would take over other countries besides Cuba. The CIA supported radical conservative groups seized power in many countries in Central and South America: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and so on. The School of the Americas was an ongoing colonizing institution that supported the CIA's desire to take over the Latin American continent. SOA trained local people to kill their own people and promised money and protection for those who cooperated. The massacre in El Salvador, the killing of Oscar Romero and the priests of Universidad Catolica, the military coup in Brazil and Argentina can be explained by the deadly power and influence of the United States in Latin American countries.

Liberation Theology came out of the struggle against external domination and socioeconomic oppression. To see the beginning of Liberation Theology in Latin America, we must go to the conferences of CELAM, the Latin America Episcopate Conference of Medellin in Colombia, where in 1968 the cries of the people in Latin America began to be heard. …

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