Over at the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer is worried about a renewed “liberation-theology scare” in the upcoming election (HT), wherein folks are once again forced to contemplate whether race-injected Marxism is a good idea.
According to Oppenheimer, any critiques of President Obama’s (former?) connections to black liberation theology—nay, any critiques of black liberation theology itself—are much ado about nothing:
While Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright has said his ministry is inspired by James H. Cone, the author of “Black Theology & Black Power,” the founding text of black liberation theology, Dr. Cone’s 1969 book is far subtler than any one sermon, no matter the preacher. Contrary to the simplifications of the past four years, liberation theology, which has become hugely influential, teaches not hate, nor anti-Americanism, but a renewed focus on the poor and the suffering, as embodied by Jesus.
“Liberation theology, at its most simple, is the Sunday school Jesus who healed the sick or took care of the poor people,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theologian at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “It’s what your Sunday school teacher taught you if you grew up in a church. It isn’t something people should be afraid of, unless they’re invested in poor people not getting fed or sick people not getting healed.”
…In the words of Dr. Craigo-Snell and Dr. Cone, it sounds obvious: Jesus identified with the oppressed, not the oppressor. But Dr. Cone notes that many theologians have ignored poverty or subordinated it to other concerns. After the Social Gospel of the very early 20th century passed, the poor largely slipped from the agenda of Christian theology.
I’ve written on this subject several times (e.g. here and here) and have already thoroughly outlined my misgivings with a Jesus whose primary mission is to offer political salvation from earthbound tyrants. What I find striking in Oppenheimer’s analysis is his attitude that liberation theology’s Marxist orientation should be shrugged off as uncontroversial, plain-Jane, pro-poor do-gooderism.
First, he attempts to dispense with what he thinks to be the actually controversial stuff, i.e. claims that black liberation theology is “ethnocentric.”
His evidence that it’s not:
As a category, liberation theology, which often draws heavily on Marxist analysis, is not ethnocentric. It has been taken up by oppressed groups including third world peoples, Latinos, Asians and other American ethnic minorities…Since [Gustavo Gutiérrez's] and Dr. Cone’s books, lesbian, gay and other queer theologians have developed a liberation theology of sexuality. Black women propound what they call womanist theology, and Latina women have taken up “mujerista” theology, for the Spanish word for “womanist.”
When folks critique folks like Rev. Wright, they are not talking about generic, “category” liberation theology. They are talking about black liberation theology, and there’s a tiny little thing that distinguishes black liberation theology from the rest. Any guesses?
But again, Oppenheimer acts as though dispensing of the controversial “ethnocentric” factors should dispel our “fears” altogether. That any other disagreement might remain leaves him flabbergasted, for what could ever be wrong with the non-racial, purely Marxist aspects? Jesus helped the poor and wasn’t keen on oppression (fact), so obviously Jesus was a Marxist (what’s your beef, greedy capitalists?).
For Oppenheimer, the Marxist outlook on oppression and class warfare is simply the run-of-the-mill pro-poor perspective (heck, it’s not even Marxist, name-callers!). Such a grandstanding perspective permeates the progressive crowd and consistently impedes any sort of meaningful debate about our differences on what oppression is and how we might fight it. (I’m looking at you, Jim Wallis.)
If you have a problem with thinking the poor need a Jesus who picks up a sword, conquers rich entrepreneurs (er, oppressors?), and subsequently lifts their social/racial/economic/whatever class to political supremacy…well, you must not like the poor.
Close your eyes and repeat after me: “Unconstrained vision.”