Mormonism Needs a Liberation Theology

With the recent election of a new Catholic Pope, who has taken the name Francis, there is a renewed interest in a Catholic movement that was popular in the 1960s and ’70s called “liberation theology.”

Liberation theology arose as a Catholic response to the leftist movements that fought Latin America’s military dictatorships.  It criticized the church’s close relationships, including often overt support, for the often repressive regimes.

Liberation theology proposed that, rather than just focusing on seeking salvation in the afterlife, Catholics should act in the present against unjust conditions that breed poverty and need.

In his seminal book A Theology of Liberation, Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology, argued that the church  should have a “preferential option for the poor.”  That the church should follow the example of Christ and choose to live more closely with the poor.

Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has taken up the mantel of highlighting the needs of  the marginalized.  He has called for “a poor church for the poor” and recently met with Rev. Gutierrez.  This is a major about-face for a church that at one time tried to stamp out the movement.

So why should Mormons have an interest in liberation theology?

Most of the LDS Church’s recent growth has come south of the Equator.  Soon over half of the Church’s members will be in developing countries.  And the new converts look nothing like the Church’s ruling body and most of the members in the USA, Canada, and Western Europe.

Additionally, Christ’s church was one of caring for the poor and marginalized.  That is the crowd that he hung out with, and they were  the ones he cared for most.

According to Mormon Jeremiah Stoddard’s call to action,

The modern American Mormon has constructed for himself a self-serving theology.  Apart from the occasional, mostly symbolic, “service project,” worship of God has been relegated to a handful of rituals dealing with the afterlife.  Serve others, sure.  Help out Brother Joe who’s moving in, or donate a can of food at Christmas.  But don’t bother trying to make any significant impact in the world.

The LDS Church appears to be headed in the right direction.  In 2009, it added “care for the poor and needy” to its long-standing “threefold mission” (now four-fold mission).  And LDS Humanitarian Services seems to be taking a more proactive approach.

But this is not nearly enough.  The LDS Church needs to take a much more radical and pronounced approach to the problems of the poor, wherever they are.  We need a “liberation theology” if we are going to be really Christ-like.

This entry was posted in Books, catholicism, mormonism, pope francis, Religion, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Mormonism Needs a Liberation Theology

  1. I am pleased to see Mormonism and liberation theology mentioned together; it is much too rare of a sight! I should mention that the Mormon Worker would probably be the best gathering place for Latter-day Saints interested in liberation theology. Robert Poort, Tristan Savage, Ron and Joshua Madson, and others provide important voices (and much more capable ones than mine) advocating a greater interest in combating poverty from within the framework of Mormonism.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Jeremiah, Thanx for your comments. I live part-time in Uganda and would sure like to see the LDS Church do a lot more in Africa. Are you related to the banking Stoddards?

      • No relation to any banking Stoddards as far as I know. Yes Africa, and Latin America too. I can, without too much difficulty, imagine church-run hospitals, clinics, orphanages, shelters, etc. What an opportunity for service missionaries, too! To be perfectly frank, my wife and I have thought that sometime in the (distant) future it would be wonderful to serve a mission together, but we also couldn’t imagine finding fulfillment in a mission that consists of tending church-owned hunting resorts or similar projects…

  2. Pingback: | Mormonism Needs a Liberation Theology | Tired Road Warrior

  3. TuSancho says:

    >Most of the LDS Church’s recent growth has come south of the Equator. Soon over half of the Church’s members will be in developing countries. And the new converts look nothing like the Church’s ruling body and most of the members in the USA, Canada, and Western Europe.
    >Nice strawman.

  4. Jewelfox says:

    When I tried to advocate things like organic and Fair Trade food products, a vegetarian diet, and solidarity with oppressed workers, I encountered a lot of pushback from my Mormon family members (whom I lived with at the time). My mother of origin, especially, resented me for it.

    At one point she asked “The prophet eats meat. Do you think that you’re better than he is?” At another she accused me of trying to live a Celestial law while still on the earth, and told me this was terrible and unrealistic.

    Even taking into account how insufferable I must have been at times (considering I was raised to be outspoken about my beliefs), I think you’re going to have to separate the better parts of Mormon theology from the way Mormonism is viewed and practiced today, in order to do this. You’re going to have to deal with the fact that you don’t have any role models in historical Mormonism, and that your contemporaries view Jesus very differently from how you do. And if you make any substantial changes, especially if you become noticeable, you’re going to potentially face a Kate Kelly style reprisal.

    You probably already know all of this. I just wish that this weren’t all the case.

  5. Pingback: LDS Church Needs a “Liberation Theology” | Tired Road Warrior

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