Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Theology (Warning: this blog is "erroneous and dangerous")

Last month, Sojourners Magazine published a rare interview with the Rev. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit priest in El Salvador, titled "Goodness Revealed." Father Sobrino is a liberation theologian, reaching out to the poor - to the least among us, as Christ demanded. (I should point out that most modern believers of liberation theology are not Communists and do *not* advocate violence, two very common misconceptions.) Sobrino believes that Jesus was not just spiritual savior but also liberator, and that the opressed, particularly those kept in poverty by their own governments, are among God's most cherished people. Pope Benedict and the Vatican have rebuked him, as the article describes: "The Vatican rejected Sobrino's notion of the 'church of the poor' as the whole church's base-a basic tenet of liberation theology-saying such a concept 'would make this preference a partisan choice and source of conflict.'" In addition the Vatican declared that "Theological reflection cannot have a foundation other than the faith of the Church." This rebuke is the latest in a long line of official Catholic swipes at liberation theology. This opposition comes in part from the confused notion that it is akin to Communism (again, it is not), and, as you can see, is a rebuke of anything originating from independent thinkers rather than in the bowels of the Vatican. Sobrino refuses to accept this view, and also has sharp words for first world nations that take an arrogant view of the poor. For calling out his own superiors and the United States in this way, I believe Sobrino is acting in a Christlike fashion, for as Luke 1:52 reminds us, "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly."

Here is an excerpt from the article, but I strongly recommend you read the whole thing. A free registration with SojoNet is required, but free is more than worth it - I've even gone so far as to pay the subscription rate. This particular excerpt focuses on why the Church must be involved with the world, but the interview also explores the Vatican's rebuke and the meanings of truth and reality.

I returned to Sobrino with more questions and this time found him in his office at the University of Central America, the site of the 1989 massacre of eight members of Sobrino’s community. (Sobrino was traveling at the time of the massacre.) At the entrance to the theology center, an exhibit honors the Salvadoran martyrs, including Archbishop Romero, who once declared that "a church that does not unite with the poor is not the true church of Jesus Christ." Romero was gunned down by a death squad while celebrating Mass. A jewelry box entrusted to Sobrino contains a slightly yellowed handkerchief, the one used to wipe Romero’s blood. These artifacts are bloody reminders of a church that stood in solidarity with the poor, in pursuit of liberation—a mission, Sobrino says, the church has abandoned.

"In the last 25 years the churches, especially the institutional church, have tried to move away from a relationship with society. What God created was the world, not the church. The church came later. Now the churches are moving away from being in the real world and away from service to the real world. Specifically, this is true of Latin America, because being in and at the service of the real world is very dangerous.

"The church has moved away from being a church that went into conflict and suffered persecution and killings and bombings. But we must ask why? One reason is historical. There are victims, the poor, of this world of ours.

"The United States is an exception [to the rest of the world]. It is an anecdote. In the First World, in the United States, they may argue—Republicans and Democrats may argue among themselves—about President Bush, but they all agree on one reality. They agree about us [in the Third World]. They expect countries to be poor and violent. Of course, people don’t care about El Salvador. They don’t care about the poor in Brazil.

"But why? In the United States and in my country—I was born in the Basque country—we take life for granted. We take living well for granted. We don’t want to lose what we have. That is the untouchable thing. In your country, politicians have said, ‘It is our Manifest Destiny,’ which is, by the way, religious language. It is the ‘manifest destiny’ of the United States to be a prosperous country and then go back and save poor people from poverty, lack of freedom, lack of democracy, and bring them back to the real world which is democracy. For me that is an issue...

"My real worry for the church is how to care for this world and also how to see the goodness there has been—and that there still is—on this continent. I am a theologian. At times theologians write things that might not be quite right or even might be wrong. But we write in the presence of the poor. When you see horrible massacres in El Salvador, Rwanda, or Burundi and when you see people, especially women, walking with all they have left and their two children and lots of things on their head, when you see them just walking, looking for refuge, I say that is primordial sanctity, primordial holiness. These are the words I use to describe something that I don’t see all the time. Yes, there is poverty, but this is to describe a type of dignity that comes from wanting to survive. I call that ‘primordial sanctity’ in order to identify something wonderful in the midst of a tragedy."...

As I left Sobrino’s office, I said, "I don’t believe that the Vatican’s sanction is about you. It is about everything I’ve seen here." The sharp-tongued theologian didn’t correct me, but smiled with satisfaction.

No comments: