Tag Archives: liberation theology

Class warfare

…the Lord is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.
Isaiah 26: 4-6 

 One of the critiques of liberation theology, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, was that it promoted class warfare.

I don’t think the critique was valid for all forms of liberation theology.

But today’s lectionary reading from Isaiah might lead one to think that Isaiah also promoted a type of class warfare: “The lofty city is trampled underfoot… by the footsteps of the poor.”

Class is real; inequalities and discrimination based on class are real.

That is apparent here in Honduras, where a few extended families control much of the wealth – in terms of land, businesses, and economic power. They also control most of the media. The poor are discriminated against in many ways, looked down upon by some of those with power and wealth.

I think this is not just the case here and in other countries of the two-thirds world. There are class differences in the US, often combined with racism.

What does the Lord require here?

Those of us with privileges of class should learn to listen to the poor. I should try to accompany them in their struggles for justice and equality.

That means a real conversion of our hearts.

Will I let the poor, by their continuing presence in our world, critique my affluence, my failure to open my heart and my wallet to them?

Will I amass treasures and build walls to secure my possessions?

Or will I open my heart, so that the footsteps of the poor will lead me to live as a sign of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom of justice, solidarity, and peace?

God chose the poor

Did not God choose
those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith
and heirs of the Kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
James 2: 5

The preferential option for the poor is central to a faith lived in the light of the Gospels.

It is an option not because we can opt out of it; it is an option because we are called to opt for the poor, to place the poor at the center of our lives, as God has.

This is not a political option, even though it has political and social ramifications. This is not an option for class warfare, although the poor often feel that the rich are fighting to keep them down.

It is above all an option for Christ – who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Pope Francis makes this very clear in paragraph 186 of his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.

This is just what Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the fathers of Liberation Theology, has said, as noted in In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez.

…there are “mil maneras,” a thousand ways to practice the preferential option for the poor. Finding our own way is the task of our discernment and the goal of our spirituality. What must be clear, though, is that to follow Jesus implies priority for the poor.

I want to emphasize that the preferential option for the poor is not made because the poor are somehow better than others, more virtuous or noble. Idealizing the poor would be the wrong basis for the spirituality we are describing. Often the poor are quite generous and beautiful people, but sometimes not. Nor are our motives for aiding the poor always pure; there can be a temptation to self-congratulation and ego-boosts in this work. So in our spirituality it is supremely important that each of us refines the basis of our preferential option for the poor to say: I accompany them not because they are all good, or because I am all good, but because God is good. The on-going discernment necessary to see that this is a theocentric option— centered in God’s love and life— is particularly suited to habits of communal and personal prayer, practices so central to Christian spirituality.

So let us contemplate Jesus and see how we are called to chose the poor of this world, as God has.