Should Your Church Be in Politics?
By Awake! correspondent in Brazil
HE IS tall and skinny. Obviously, he has not had a bath for some time. As a shoeshine boy, he is looking for customers. In the waiting room, someone offers him a homemade cake. He grabs it with his dirty hands. Without a word he sits down on the floor and starts devouring the cake. Other kids appear, and they each get a small piece. Soon the cake has disappeared.
Such pitiful sights are common in big cities worldwide. There, countless homeless people daily live and die on the streets. In shacks and slums, mothers are struggling, even starving, for the sake of their small children. Yet, as former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson once said: “The arithmetic of modern politics makes it tempting to overlook the very poor, because they are an inarticulate minority.”
At the same time, actually observing children with empty stomachs impels a person to wonder: ‘What will happen to all the abandoned children? Will the afflicted ever receive help?’
The Role of the Church?
No doubt you are concerned with such issues as poverty, housing, and health. So, then, have you ever asked yourself: ‘Should my church be active in social reforms?’
Perhaps you are inclined to answer: ‘Why not? The church ought to use its influence to make the world a better place.’ On the other hand, do you feel like Brazil’s minister of justice, Paulo Brossard, who said: “Secular matters are resolved by the state, and spiritual matters by the church”?
In Brazil, where there are more nominal Catholics than in any other country, the bishops now freely speak out on social issues. For example, the Latin America Daily Post notes: “The Brazilian church increasingly has become a champion of the cause of the landless, in an historical turnaround from the days when the church lent more support to the oligarchy [ruling class].”
A New Theology
The turnaround, or change, among many of the Catholic clergy has resulted in a radically new theology. According to a Brazilian newspaper, “liberation theology refers to a movement widely spread among Brazilian priests favoring church support for revolutionary elements aimed at fighting poverty and oppression.”
This alternative theology proposes that Jesus was a liberator. It promotes the ‘fundamental belief that Christianity’s chief mission involves politically mobilizing the poor.’ So liberation theology justifies action in a world where the poor have always been encouraged to be passive.
Activist Francis O’Gorman explains: “There has to be a change. Something is wrong in society when two-thirds of the world is suffering from poverty because they’re denied their rights. We have the resources to feed everybody. We see the rich becoming richer while the poor are becoming poorer.”
It Is Dividing the Church
Liberation theology is sharply dividing the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, for example, has denounced the involvement of priests in it. He said: “The idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive man from Nazareth, does not tally with the church’s catechism.” The pope, in fact, is trying to restrain the activist movements, fearing that the Latin-American church is allowing itself to be manipulated by radical forces.
Recently, the pope rebuffed Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff for advocating liberation theology. Interestingly, Catholic prelates, like the pope, do not criticize the supporters of liberation theology because of their involvement in politics, since the church has had a long history of such involvement. No, but they object because of the similarity of liberation theology to communistic ideology.
Vicente Cardinal Scherer of Brazil declared that communists “have a different tactic from the one used in the past to infiltrate and dominate. Instead of using brutal methods . . . they try to attract certain factions of the Church to their cause, and unfortunately they have succeeded in making these factions participate in promoting the communistic cause.”
Boaventura Kloppenburg, a Catholic bishop of Salvador, Brazil, said of proponents of liberation theology: “They want to make a rereading of the Gospel, a reinterpretation of doctrine and history, a popular appropriation of the liturgy, an unblocking of the moral consciences in the sense that people can commit revolutionary acts without problems.”
No wonder sincere Catholics find it difficult to follow church leaders who disagree so much among themselves.
Will Liberation Theology Succeed?
Although the proponents of liberation theology may be well-meaning, needed reforms do not come easily. The complexities of human society and inborn selfishness indicate that even if change is achieved, problems will not be solved. As Lord Halifax wrote: “When the people contend for their liberty, they seldom get anything by their victory but new masters.”
Ask yourself: Do those who believe in such movements as liberation theology know where they are being led? Jesus warned about going ahead blindly, saying: “If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”—Matthew 15:14.
So, then, are you sure you have a realistic picture of the plight of the poor in the Third World and how it can be solved? Does God see the problems of poverty and oppression, and will he do anything about them?
[Blurb on page 4]
“When the people contend for their liberty, they seldom get anything by their victory but new masters”