Jed Koball, a PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker serving in Peru, reflects on his experiences over the past few months in a letter to U.S. Congregations. He writes of the recent discovery of mass graves – a product of the reign of terror and fear in the 1980s-90s. He writes of the process of justice and reconciliation the church seeks to engage with, and of the ministry of partnership and presence with our Christian brothers and sisters in Peru. Read his full letter.
Context – A globalized world of inequality and Latin America
The decline, fall, and fragmentation of the Soviet Union by the end of the Cold War is highlighted by political scientists as one of the most significant turning points in the advent of a unipolar and globalized world. Without the Soviet Union, the once bipolar or multipolar international system disappeared in favor of a more unpredictable unilateral system – with the United States the sole superpower. In the two decades following the end of the Cold War, globalization and its increase in communication and new technology has made state borders all but irrelevant. With all of its advantages, globalization has also had shockingly negative consequences.
Challenges – The poverty of the Global South
The widening gap between the world’s rich and the world’s poor is astonishing in its severity. The world’s prevalent economic system thrives on free markets and exploitation, with the majority of the world’s manufacturing exported to pockets of cheap labor in the already impoverished Global South. Latin America sits squarely in this “Global South,” the collective of states formerly known as the Third World and trapped in the snare of underdevelopment in an era of globalization. And yet, from Latin America has emerged one of the strongest modern voices of Christian theology.
Human experience – The reclaiming of dignity
Liberation theology in Latin America emerges out of the very inequality that threatens the human dignity of communities in the region. It is a theology that seeks to respond to such inequality with a call for justice. Planted in the church is a seed of change which prompts the most vulnerable “to live their faith in an integral way, and hence to reclaim their rights” (Comblin, 72). In a world of severe inequality, the Christian message speaks truth to power with its preference for the poor and its recognition of dignity in the most vulnerable. In Christian communities in Latin America, theology is liberated from the hands of the privileged and wealthy few. In its liberation, theology is a language for and speaks of the deep trauma and suffering of a people in a particular historical context.
This project is a creative variation on an assignment for TH3444: Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, a course at Princeton Theological Seminary. The reflections here dialogue with the content and themes of the course each week. Topics emerge from the breadth of liberation theology and the depth of Latin American historical, cultural, economic, and ecclesial contexts.
Gustavo Gutiérrez has transformed the theological landscape of his native Peru and Latin America by re-framing Christian theology as a liberating narrative for the world’s poor and most vulnerable. Further, he has changed the landscape of world theology. Oppressed peoples around the globe turn to Gutiérrez’s work as the foundation for their own liberating narratives of Christian theology.
The reflections here are first and foremost a self-interested exercise. The material I produce will be a lasting resource for my work in this class and in my future endeavors at the intersection of church and world. These reflections are also, however, an opportunity for witness. I invite you to witness with me: to read, to consider, to comment as you are moved, and to read further.