I am currently doing a final research paper for my English course, and I decided to write about Liberation Theology. In my paper, I am covering the main liberation theologies — Latin American and African American — and I am writing about some of the more contemporary developments of it. While doing my research on Liberation Theology, and while reading about the early Anabaptists, I felt the desire to write a small article for YAR on the subject.
While Liberation Theology is a complex subject (something that is even too complex for my research paper at times), it can be simply described as a political-theological movement within Christianity that interprets the Gospel as a liberating message from unjust social, economic, and political conditions. Many give Liberation Theology a distinctly Catholic tone, but it is really something that pops up in all Christian traditions. I specifically wanted to summarize a possible Anabaptist approach to Liberation Theology.
As stated, Liberation Theology is based upon liberation from unjust conditions in society, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. If we look at the very earliest Anabaptists, there are some obvious parallels. As GAMEO states:
Some parallels between liberation theology and the 16th century Reformation movement are noteworthy, including the liberationist base ecclesial communities’ emphasis on creative protest (the so-called “Protestant principle”), the priesthood of all believers motif, and the central place of the Bible in the life and mission of the church. Indeed, some striking analogies between socioeconomic conditions at the close of the Middle Ages and conditions in 20th century Latin America (e.g., feudalism and unequal land distribution; rudimentary forms of national and international capitalism; urbanization; the ravages of war; a growing popular self-assurance; and newer means of communication) have been suggested as supporting the idea of a certain new Reformation or even a Radical Reformation — in the making. in this light, the contributions of the liberationist movement can then be seen as consistent with the legacy of the Radical Reformation of the 16th century at some key points. (Source)
Not only were the environmental factors similar between the early Anabaptists and Liberationists, but there are even many parallels in thought. The most obvious examples are Thomas Müntzer and the Münster Rebellion which essentially sought to establish a communist Germany. However, most forms of Liberation Theology are not violent. It is an unfortunate stereotype that ignores the real praxis of Liberation Theology, which seeks a more grassroots communal activism of solidarity with the poor and oppressed. While I find many within the established Anabaptist churches have lost this concept of radical solidarity with the poor, oppressed, and exiled, it is certainly part of the Anabaptist tradition.
Menno Simons stated something that expresses my point:
For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation. (Source, emphasis mine)
I have also found that the Anabaptist Network continues in this tradition when it states:
We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.
Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice. (Source)
While not many Anabaptists out there embrace Liberation Theology, I think that we should. I think that most Anabaptists (or most Christians in general) out there were simply born into it and thus do not really believe in it. For many, it is not about a reclamation of the New Testament church, as it is with Neo-Anabaptists like me, but it is simply a cultural religion. We have lost that charisma and social justice that gave rise to the Anabaptist tradition. Many of the founders of Anabaptism were accused of heresy, anarchy, and communism. I wonder how many today can say that. While this post is far from complete, I simply wanted to lay a foundation for an Anabaptist study of Liberation Theology, and I also hope to wake people up to the idea that the Gospel has powerful implications for our political, economic, and social institutions.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)