Why Liberation Theology Is Not for Me
“Oh, poor people, dominated people,
Why stand there doing nothing?
The world of mankind has to be changed!
Rise up, put an end to your suff’ring!”
THAT is what attracted me to the liberation theology movement—the promise of a change, as indicated in the above chorus of a song that we used to sing. But was my hope for a world change a valid one?
Early Catholic Upbringing
Born to Catholic parents, I was raised “inside the church.” I joined the club for altar boys to help the priest during Mass. At age 17, I was chosen to be president of the club, and this brought me in closer contact with the priests. It was enjoyable hearing what they talked about and reading what they read. Especially appealing to me were books on liberation theology that spoke of mankind’s being eventually freed from oppression.
The more I read and heard, the more I became convinced of the need for the people to learn of these things and to become aware of their rights. So I was happy when what is called a base community was formed in our parish. Base communities are groups in which “pastoral care” of the poor is combined with education and calls for political action. In Brazil alone, there are some 70,000 base communities.
The objective of these communities is to organize informed Catholics into centers of instruction and for rallies. I planned and printed posters and banners of protest and took members of our group to special Masses in other communities and to protest marches.
Working in Base Communities
Some of the people in our center in Belém lived in a low, swampy area where they had to use boardwalks to reach their homes. The city planned to expropriate the homes and transfer the people to other locations, reimbursing them accordingly. I was directed to discourage the people from accepting the city’s offer and to remind them that our priest had said that if they stood firm, the city would give in and would make improvements on their property. As a result, some refused to move. But how sad it was to see firemen expel them from their homes with water hoses! Feeling I had failed the people of our center, I moved to another community.
A conflict over land broke out about this time, and 13 squatters and 2 French priests were arrested. Both squatters and priests were taken to Belém to await trial. Their arrest seemed unjust to us. So it was agreed that all the base communities in Belém would join in peaceful protests in front of the police station. One night even my sister and grandmother took their turn along with the rest. Our protest was maintained 24 hours a day, rotating in shifts, and ended only when the prisoners were taken to Brasília for trial.
An all-night demonstration was planned on the eve of the trial. However, this had to be canceled when the army arrived. The demonstration was then moved to another location, next to the small Church of the Holy Trinity. When shock troops came with tear-gas bombs, we all crowded into the church.
There were nearly 2,000 jammed inside and 1,200 troops outside. In the midst of the tumult, I wondered: ‘Are these God’s people? They must be, for did not Jesus say: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also”?’—John 15:20.
By evening we were all getting hungry, not having eaten all day. A bishop arrived and called for attention, saying: ‘Brothers, it’s best for us to leave the church, since there is no water or electricity, and only God knows what they will do to us during the night.’
Then a prominent lawyer spoke: ‘Comrades, we live in a democracy, and they will not do anything to us, so we should stay here.’
After much dispute, the group leaders decided we should leave. The police let us go peaceably.
Need to Resolve Questions
As my work at the center continued, I decided to teach the children in our group, using the book Listening to the Great Teacher that my grandmother had given me in 1974. The book talked of good conduct, of obedience to authorities, and of not using images. But how could I reconcile these Bible-based teachings with what we were doing?
This led to my withdrawing from the community. I had a lot of questions on my mind that needed answering. For example: If those who support liberation theology are the true people of God, why do they not follow Jesus’ high moral standards? Also, God used Moses to deliver the oppressed Israelites out of Egypt, so why do some politicians after gaining positions of authority forget the oppressed people they are supposed to liberate?
Six months later a lady knocked on my door and began to talk about God’s Kingdom. She was a missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After a brief conversation, she handed me the book Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It. In time a Bible study was started with me, and I was invited to attend a meeting at the Kingdom Hall. I returned home afterward thinking about the difference between that meeting and those I attended at the center. In the Kingdom Hall there was no smoking, drinking, or obscene jokes.
About this time I attended a seminar of the Catholic Church on “Faith and Politics.” There, faith and politics were explained to be two sides of the same coin. A Christian with faith, it was claimed, must take part in politics and not just swallow governmental directives. But I was struck by a comrade’s comment. “Then the apostle Paul comes along and does away with everything,” he said.
“What do you mean, Demetrius?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t understand,” he replied. “Forget it.”
But I wanted to understand and not just forget it, so I decided to take my Bible study with Jehovah’s Witnesses more seriously and try to find out.
Liberation Theology and the Bible
At a meeting in the Kingdom Hall, the speaker talked about Romans 13:1, 2, which says that ‘every soul should be in subjection to the superior authorities, and that the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. Therefore, he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God.’
I thought: ‘That’s what Demetrius was talking about! With those words, the apostle Paul does away with everything advocated by liberation theology. It’s wrong for Christians to oppose governmental authorities.’
I also learned that the Bible offers the true remedy to free mankind from oppression—God’s Kingdom government in the hands of his King, Christ Jesus. Since only Jehovah’s Witnesses preach this Kingdom government, I made up my mind to join them in their preaching work. Soon I was baptized and became a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called, and since August 1985, I have served as a special pioneer. Later I married a pioneer, and we now serve in the full-time ministry together.
I am very grateful to Jehovah God for having learned ‘the truth that sets one free’ and for the privilege of helping others to become free from false ideologies. (John 8:32) Among those I have helped are two buddies who had worked along with me in the Catholic center, as well as my sister and my grandmother. Like me, they also can now see why liberation theology is not the real solution to the problems of the poor.—As told by Átila Monteiro Carneiro.
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I worked unsuccessfully to improve the living conditions of poor people in Belém
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My wife and I bring the message of true liberation to the poor