What does Glenn Beck have against Christ the liberator?

Jesuit priest James Martin attempts to put a small dent in Glenn Beck's vast ignorance on the subject of liberation theology in an essay at the Huffington Post:

Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn't see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more--uh oh--social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It's not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It's the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that's disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God's grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That's pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

Comments (8)

Is this theology truly helpful for the poor or does it serve to push the poor more and more toward the social margins?

As I serve in a farming community with significant poverty, the social separations of the community are, in my opinion, among the most damaging aspects of poverty.

It does seem that this approach marginilizes the poor and affirms poverty, which I don't see as a positive and I don't believe that was Jesus' intent at all. Keeping people poor is a bad idea for many reasons and teaching that the poor are somehow more spiritual than those who are not poor is a really bad idea. Poverty is horrible unless one chooses it for oneself. Isn't it possible that the meaning of the references to poverty in the scriptures is a reference to a state of being, akin to humility.

[Editor's note: Thanks for commenting. We need your full name next time. And for what it is worth, you have liberation theology exactly backwards.]

I've just finished reading about Beck's post-rally comments in today's Washington Post "Beck Assails Obama's Beliefs". I found this statement in Beck's rant about liberation theology interesting ""You see, it's all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation" I think this to be more of a window on Beck's outlook. If there was anyone or any group that plays the victim card its Beck and his devotees. Members of the of the Anglican communion ought to be familiar with this tactic. Conservatives in the church have been playing the victim and successfully creating polarization for decades.

Ditto Rod above.

I find it interesting that rather than ranting about Godless socialists, Beck has found it useful to rant about the religious left. I didn't realize the religious left was so threatening. I thought we were a rapidly vanishing joke. Now we are the foil, and not the vast secular left, that Beck uses to cloak himself as God's messenger. How odd.

Glenn Beck is not ignorant about one thing -- how to push buttons to get attention. First it was social justice, next it was liberation theology. He knows these are potent enough buzz words that they will attract attention from all sides, particularly the religious left.

It seems to me that once we have found a Higher Power, or rather it has found us, that the work moves outward from healing ourselves to embracing and healing the world. How that gets done can be a beautiful discussion, but I do know it involves action.

I'm 50 years old this year and when I was considering a call to priesthood (I'm not a priest, btw) and studying for my Religion degree, I read everything I could get my hands on about Liberation Theology, in addition to works by Moltmann, Rauschenbusch etc. The question raised by MLK and liberation theologians has to do with power, who has it, who doesn't, and how power is distributed in society. To me that is a Gospel question.

There's a good editorial on today's CNN's religion blogs (belief.blog) about the money behind the Tea Party Movement. According to the article, Glenn Beck and the others are merely puppets of some billionaires who have financed this movement to eliminate everything that stands in the way of their making even more money (that would be: taxes, social programs, even public schools). Jim Naughton always points us to the money trail to see what is REALLY going on. Beck is irrelevant. The scary thing is that he doesn't seem to get it nor do the other middle class folks who are being manipulated. Yikes.

Sorry, that was the New York Times ("The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party").

I'm getting my causes mixed up.

Is this theology truly helpful for the poor or does it serve to push the poor more and more toward the social margins?

As always, Jim M, it's not about orthodoxy, it's about orthopraxis (i.e., how Liberation Theology is PRACTICED is where the rubber meets the road).

I think something like the "Catholic Worker" movement (see re Dorothy Day) is a great example, in practice. Other are "Habitat for Humanity" (founded by a Christian minister, don't forget).

In our church, I think the Episcopal Public Policy Network (www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn ) does a great job of advocating for the poor (FWIW, I don't believe advocacy and direct action should ever be separated or set against each other).


JC Fisher

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space