Is Tonto talking back?

The world map on my wall was prepared by an “Aussie.” It looks upside-down. The Australian continent is top center. To its left is South America, dropping like an hourglass into Central America and the United States. Below and slightly to the right are the vast masses of Asia and Europe, and at the far right, Africa.

This is how the world is viewed—from down under.

A comparable approach to social theology has emerged south of the border. It comes from the attempt by Latin American Christians to understand their history and experience in light of a rediscovered Bible.

More than 20 nations in Middle and South America have shared a common situation for four centuries. It includes the confusion of cross and sword, the political and cultural suppression of huge ethnic nations such as the Quechuas and Aztecs, economic exploitation of the masses by powerful oligarchies, and a blind, heartless official religion that has affirmed the rich but abandoned the poor.

The emerging “view from below” is frequently called the “Theology of Liberation.” It is really a family of theologies, ranging from conservative to heterodox.

Characteristics

The liberation theologies display at least three identifiable characteristics:

They share a prior commitment to the poor. Prior to what? To everything else. In liberation theologies, this priority means more than simply recognizing our “preferential option” to defend the poor and minister to them. It also acknowledges that in a particular way, God speaks through the poor. The gospel cannot be understood until it is seen from their perspective. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Justo and Catherine Gonzalez have underlined this truth in Liberation Preaching (Abingdon, ...

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