My previous blog posting was partly about Bartolomé de las Casas (1484–1566), the Spanish colonialist, Dominican priest, and human rights advocate, and I referred to Las Casas as a liberator, which he certainly was.
Perhaps the best book ever written about that ardent advocate of the rights of the native peoples of the West Indies is Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (1993), written by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. (That book is nearly 700 pages long, including 160 pages of endnotes!)
Gutiérrez (b. 1928) is often referred to as the “father” of South American liberation theology. His book on that subject was published in Spanish in 1971, and two years later it was issued in English translation as A Theology of Liberation. (A fifteenth anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author was published in 1988.)
This past summer, Glenn Beck, the widely influential radio and television host, political commentator, and author, publicly denounced liberation theology—and criticized President Obama for being linked to liberation theology through his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Beck declared that “liberation theology has completely perverted Christianity and teaching something radically different.”
The liberation theology of Rev. Wright was based on the writings of Dr. James Cone rather than of Father Gutiérrez, and there are certainly differences between the two. (To see what I have written about the two American-American Christian leaders, click on James Cone and Jeremiah Wright in the Labels list on the right.)
Despite their differences, there are also distinct similarities between Cone and Gutiérrez. Although it is a phrase used mostly by South American liberation theologians, Cone, Wright, and others advocating black liberation would agree with the statement, “to know God is to do justice.” And the justice referred to is social justice, which stands in staunch opposition to the exploitation of the poor by the rich and the prejudicial treatment of Blacks by the White majority.
As you probably heard, Beck also came out with strong criticism of Christians being involved in social justice. Back in March, Beck said on one of his daily radio and television shows, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” Later, he referred to social justice as “a perversion of the Gospel.”
But it seems quite clear to me that in 1492 and the years following it was Columbus who was perverting the Gospel, not Las Casas. And in recent years it is Glenn Beck, rather than Gutiérrez or other liberation theologians, who is distorting the Gospel. For after all, social justice is “love distributed.”