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New voices, visions opening up liberation theology.

Latin American liberation theology emerged in the 1960s with the foundational writings of priest-theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff. For 20 years the focus was on class and national oppression, the dependency of Latin American countries on the dominant North American economic agenda, the resultant misuse of national resources and the impoverishment of the masses. There was no recognition of how gender and ethnic difference made the poor impoverished in different ways if they are women, African-Americans or Indians. Ecology was not on the agenda.

In the past 10 years, these myopias have been challenged as women, African-Americans and Indians joined the theological discussion in Latin America. Third World feminist theologians began to attend the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in the late 1970s and 1980s and to challenge the silence on sexism. They demanded a women's commission within the association to develop a specifically feminist reflection, not divorced from but within commitment of liberation theology to the poor.

Poverty is not a gender-neutral category. Poor women are victims of physical and sexual violence. They lack control over maternity and often are left to provide the primary economic support for their children. They are discriminated against in the church in ways not experienced by males. Latin American women theologians, such as Maria Pilar Aquino and Elza Tamez, both Mexicans, Ivone Gebara from Brazil, Gladys Parentelli from Colombia and many others began to develop what they called a Latin American theology from the "optic" of women.

New networks and journals have emerged to explore and express women's perspectives. A network of women theologians and pastors in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean is coordinated from Costa Rica. A new journal, Cospirando, on ecofeminism, spirituality and theology, edited by a collective in Chile, shows the growing sensitivity to the relationship between the oppression of women, indigenous people and nature in Latin America.

The 1992 observance of the 500 Years of Resistance, designed to criticize the notion that Columbus' "discovery of America" was cause for celebration, provided a forum for the Americas' Indians to organize and speak out. The genocide of the many indigenous peoples and destruction of their cultures by the church and conquistadors was made visible. The story of survival and resistance to this double assault was told from their perspective for the first time.

African peoples brought as slaves to the Americas, who are large populations with distinct African-based cultures in the Caribbean and Brazil, also began to find their voice, to define their experience and their rights to defend their cultures. Major assemblies were held, such as the gathering of indigenous religious leaders with delegations from the world religions who made a pilgrimage to the ancient Incan religious center of Tiwanaku in Bolivia for the winter solstice at the end of June 1992; and the continental conference of indigenous, African and popular groups in Managua, Nicaragua, in October 1992.

It became common to refer to the continent as Abya Yala, the indigenous name, rather than the colonial name of the "Americas." Women and indigenous people called attention to ecological destruction from their distinct perspectives.

Male liberation theologians, some who resisted these new perspectives, began to acknowledge the need for an expanded paradigm of liberation theology, one that took into account the feminist, indigenous, African and ecological challenges. Pablo Richard, a Chilean theologian based in Costa Rica, has called for attention to this expanded paradigm.

But as feminist, indigenous and African theologians quickly pointed out, it will not be enough to add their names to the list of the oppressed and then continue with business as usual. The new constituencies will bring new methodologies and social analysis to liberation theology. Moreover, the addition of the indigenous voice means that Latin American liberation theology must take account of religious pluralism in a way that it has not done before.

Elza Tamez, Mexican theologian teaching at the Biblical Seminary in Costa Rica, has been exploring what it means to take the indigenous experience into account. In her article, "Quetzalcoatl and the Christian God: Alliance and Conflict of the Gods" (Cuadernos de Teologia y Cultura, No. 6, 1992), she argues that one cannot claim that Christianity brought a saving god of life to a benighted "pagan" people sunk in a religion of superstition and violence. There must be a more nuanced understanding of the encounter of the two religions.

The Mexican people before the invasion had experienced a gentle god of life and love in Quetzalcoatl, the mysterious Christlike figure of indigenous tradition. But this figure had been covered up and distorted by the Aztec god of human sacrifice, Huitzilopochtli. The Spanish, on the other hand, brought with them a god they claimed to be Christian but who was much more a warlord god of violence and human sacrifice. They had distorted the true face of Christ the savior, who reveals the god of life.

In spite of this violent introduction to the god of the Bible, many indigenous people have been able to recognize the true face of Christ, the god of life, underneath the distorted presentation of their conquerors and to connect it with the god of life they had known in their own tradition.

The true struggle of religion in the 16th century and still today is not between the true god of the Bible and "paganism" but between the warlord gods of human sacrifice in both religions and the god of life who calls for compassion and mutual respect between peoples, a god revealed in Christ but also known in Quetzalcoatl.
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Author:Ruther, Rosemary Radford
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 18, 1993
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