Options for the Churches – Defining church, its challenges, and its questions

Church – Reading the signs of the times and the “New Christendom”
Central to the present and future of the Latin American church is the recognition of “the commitment of Christians in history” as “a true locus theologicus” (Gutierrez, 47). For Gutierrez, a theology centered in the academy and religious theory has lost its relevance. In its place is the necessity of a “New Christendom” defined by a “Christian community…beginning…to read politically the signs of the times in Latin America” (Gutierrez, 58). Where development models have failed, leaving only dependence and underdevelopment, the church has the obligation to speak out and correct systems of injustice. In an era of empire, Gutierrez witnesses to the possibility of a church that can speak truth to power and contribute to the transformation of systemic injustice and oppression.

Challenges – Journeying With the Nonviolent Christ?
Gutierrez witnesses to the need of “a profound transformation, a social revolution” which will respond to the needs of the most vulnerable and oppressed (Gutierrez, 55). According to Gutierrez, Latin America is “in the midst of a full-blown process of revolutionary ferment” (Gutierrez, 55). The complexities of these revolutionary realities have “caused many to substitute working for the Kingdom with working for the social revolutions…the lines between the two have become blurred” (Gutierrez, 59). Gutierrez acknowledges the “problem of counterviolence” and that some religious leaders “participate actively in politics, often in connection with revolutionary groups” (60-61). A central unanswered question emerges from Gutierrez’s work so far. A recently published Presbyterian devotional resource on nonviolence bears the title Resurrection Living: Journeying With the Nonviolent Christ. What role does Christ’s model of nonviolence play in the struggle for the transformation of Latin America and the world?

Questions – Defining the community of faith
Gutierrez raises other critical questions which will define the community of a liberating faith. Key among these are the faith, contemplative praxis, and unity of the church. Christians are present “among the oppressed and persecuted and others among the oppressors and persecutors, some among the tortured and others among the torturers or those who condone torture” (Gutierrez, 75). What does a theology that answers to all Christians in such contexts look like? How does such a church pray? How does the community of faith live out its communion? Does the church have a responsibility to speak out against injustice and work unceasingly for the transformation of the world? These are questions not only for the Latin American church, but for the churches at the heart of and on the periphery of Empire. The community of faith is liberated through the work of the Holy Spirit – always “in the process of becoming” (Gutierrez, 75).

Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation [TL]. 15th Anniversary Edition, with a new introduction by the author. Orbis Books, 1988.