Watching events unfold around the protests near to St Paul's Cathedral in London one could be forgiven for believing that faith is mainly about escapism and that it can rarely be a force for good in society. I am not so sure. The strap line to my blog reads as follows: "Aspire not to have more but to be more." These were the words of Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 by the pro-US military junta who then ran El Salvador.
Romero was an advocate of what became known as liberation theology, a movement which took root throughout Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on helping the poor and oppressed, even if that meant confronting political powers. It was a theology that was later to be severely criticised as a "fundamental threat" to the church by one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now better known as Pope Benedict XVI.
In the past few years I have become something of an "armchair" Catholic. Why? Mainly because when I do attend mass I hear a good deal about the evils of gay adoption or about why I should no longer support Amnesty International but rarely do I hear any talk about the need for "preferential option for the poor." Our present Pope is, in my view, all too keen on encouraging his flock to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's". So too with some of the clergy associated with St Paul's who appear to openly advocate the view that politics and faith are separate arenas and that the two cannot, indeed should not, mix. This results in the Christian faith becoming increasingly irrelevant to the life of the modern man.
By modern man I, of course, mean the "poor man". It is easy to forget that the vast majority of people who inhabit the planet with us live below the poverty line, in poor housing with no access to proper health care and a life expectancy that is decades shorter than that of the minority who live in the affluent west. In today's economic climate there is an even greater need for the voices of liberation to be heard. The present global distribution of goods and services allows a relatively small minority of wealthy groups and ruling classes to use their power and influence to perpetuate macro-economic and political structures which exploit the labour and lives of the vast majority of the planet's population.
Or take the deep and widespread oppression of women, along with the elderly, and children dependent upon women, in all patriarchal societies around the globe where women and their dependants are dehumanised and depersonalised. Are the Christian churches working to further liberate women in these settings, or do they silently support the structures that keep things as they are?
So we either need a new liberation theology or we need the church to be liberated. We need a church that offers hope - not a jam-tomorrow kind of hope, rather the hope that the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described as the "passion for the possible". We need a church that can show that it understands that what people need is to believe that things will, and can, be better. In other words, we need the church to renew itself and we need a theology that will actively seek and proclaim the liberation of people from poverty, injustice and persecution - all people, regardless of their faith or their background.
The true message of liberation will always result in some people feeling uneasy. To side, as many liberation theologians in the 1960s and 1970s did, against injustice, to commit one's life to the poor is not a political stance but a moral one.
The true message of hope, of a promise that the world can be fairer, more just and less divided often results in giving comfort to the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. If that was what I could hear and reflect on each week I would have no problem getting up out from my armchair!
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