Liberation Theology on the Move in the United States
by Bill McIlhany
Liberation Theology owes much of success to its allies among American clergy. Unable to withstand contemporary currents of power, these liberal religious leaders are swept up in the race to trade theology for Marxist ideology. Throughout the 1960s, the major topic dominating the theological scene was secularization of the Gospel. Paul van Buren, author of The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, declared that the modern Christian must be a secular person with a secular understanding of existence. In other words, the world should dictate the content of the Christian message. With a secular savior, a secular mission, and a secular future, it was a short step to the “God-is-dead” theology of the later 1960s.
Then with a troublesome God out of the way, it was time to usher in Marx. So-called “theologians of hope,” like Jurgen Moltmann, called for a new understanding of the Kingdom of God where the future is shaped by the actions of men rather than the sovereignty of God.
Theologians from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish ranks have embraced Liberation Theology as the answer for a secular society. While they vary in the degree to which they espouse Marxist ideology or in the religious terminology they employ, all liberation theologians share one common ground: They abandon some or all of their traditional, orthodox teaching. Perhaps most frightening, many young theologians are never exposed to any substantive theology
in which God and the Scriptures still reign as absolute.
The Secular City of Cox
Professor Harvey Cox deserves special mention for his notable contribution to the Liberation Theology Hall of Shame. One of its most influential Protestant advocates of liberation, this Harvard Divinity School professor has authored several bestsellers including The Secular City.
Cox remolds theology to fit the collectivist goals of Marxism. For Cox, Christian theology is at work in historical events, particularly communist-controlled national liberation movements. Crusading for a Christian- communist dialogue, Cox wrote in 1966: “Nothing more exacerbates the global confrontation between East and West than the rhetoric that bills it as a duel to the death between God and atheism… A dialogue between Christianity and Marxism is now possible. Both are fascinated with the future and what it means for man’s freedom, maturation, and responsibility.”
In an essay for Marxism and Christianity, edited by Communist Party theoretician Herbert Aptheker, Cox asked, “Will Christians, who have preached the virtue of humility for centuries, be able to accept correction from Marxists?”
Cox has participated in pro-communist causes related to the Vietnam War, violent student protests, and “national liberation” struggles in Central America.
Joining Cox in pro-communist activism during the Vietnam War were other leftist Protestants including Presbyterian minister and Yale University Chaplain William S. Coffin. Coffin did not hesitate to endorse a much broader leftist platform in 1967, when he signed the call for a National Conference on New Politics, a united third-party movement largely controlled by the Communist Party. It is worth noting that Coffin studied at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, a bastion of embryonic Liberation Theology thinking.
Black American James H. Cone carried on the liberationist cause at Union Theological Seminary as the Charles H. Briggs Professor of Systematic Theology. Long influenced by identified communist Harry F. Ward, Cone’s devotion to the Ward tradition is clear in his books, including A Black Theology of Liberation and Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation and Black Theology.
These works reveal Cone’s concept of a racial theology – a “black power” gospel.
Cone says that concepts essential to Marxism are “connected with the Christian idea of obedience and are identical with the horizontal implementation of the vertical dimension of faith.” He then quotes Jesus Christ to argue his point. This anti-Christian , Marxist, racist polemic was published by William B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids (1986), a major source of Christian publications.
Charles H. Bayer, senior minister of the First Christian Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, is another leading purveyor of Liberation Theology. In his book, A Guide to Liberation Theology for Middle Class Congregations, Bayer admits the connection between Liberation Theology and Marxism.
Bayer’s chapters reek with Soviet versions of how communists came to power in places such as Cuba and Nicaragua. He argues that the Red Chinese depotism that has murdered an estimated 60 million Chinese since 1949 “has not only held out hope, but has significantly improved life for those who had been oppressed.”
The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (GBGM) has been a particularly ardent supporter of Liberation Theology. Bishop Roy I. Sano, President of GBGM, called it “blasphemous” for a United Methodist not to support Liberation Theology. He declared in 1984 that it is “profanity” in theology thinking when God’s salvation is seen only in acts of “reconciliation,” the forgiveness of sins, and rebirth in Christ.
Catholic Liberation Centers
Meanwhile, Liberation Theology is providing the Vatican with one of its greatest challenges ever. The undisputed proponents of Catholic Liberation Theology propaganda and activism in the United States are the Maryknoll, Paulist, and Jesuit orders.
Maryknoll, New York, is the international center of the Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters, many of whom have given their lives aiding communist terrorists in Central and Latin America.
In the United States, Maryknoll militancy is manifested in their media productions, including films glorifying the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, and books published by Maryknoll’s Orbis Books.
The older Paulist Order and its Paulist Press echo the liberation message in such leading titles as: Lea Anne
Hunter’s and Magdalen Sienkiewicz’s Learning Clubs for the Poor, Gregory Pierce’s Activism That Makes Sense: Congregations and Community Organizations, and John Coleman’s An American Strategic Theology.
Most students of Liberation Theology are familiar with the Jesuits, primarily because Gustavo Gutierrez, father of modern Catholic liberationism, comes from that order.
The works of other Jesuit advocates widely read in the United States include Juan Luis Segundo’s five-volume A Theology for Artisans of a New Humanity and Arthur F. McGovern’s Marxism: an American Perspective.
McGovern, a Jesuit professor at the University of Detroit, contends that much diversity exists among liberation advocates in regard to their commitment to Marxism. He does not, however, deny that they derive their insights from overtly Marxist critiques of society.
Catholic Liberation Theology has posed such a significant threat to U.S. policy at home and abroad that the Reagan White House launched a campaign in 1984 to educate U.S. Catholic bishops against Marxist ideology. That campaign helped conservative critics of the U.S. Catholic Conference disseminate their message to the hierarchy.
The roots of Liberation Theology among Jews go back to the period of the French Revolution. In his book, To Eliminate the Opiate, Rabbi Marvin Antelman has traced a number of movements that became active in European Jewish communities toward the end of the 18th century.
These included Jacob Frank and the Frankists and Moses
Mendelssohn of the Haskala, the German assimilationist movement, from whom Abraham Geiger and much of the modern movement of Reform Judaism derived their heretical ideas.
This background explains why Liberation Theology is popular among Reform and Conservative Jewish clergy and congregations rather than Orthodox groups and accounts for the conflict between legitimate and phony factions of Zionism in Israel.
In the United States, liberationist rumblings among Jews are represented by the neo-orthodoxy of Arthur Waskow who points to Old Testament texts as precedents for leftist causes.
Another liberation force is the New Jewish Agenda, formed to be a diverse left-wing pressure group and a strong partisan of the PLO. There is also strong liberationist influence among Jews active in the feminist movement.
Clear and Present Danger
These religious liberationists seek to undercut respect for American values and institutions. They ignore that America already possesses the best the best working theology of freedom and equality in the world.
Russell Barta comments in his article Liberation: U.S.A. Style (America, April 13, 1985) on the endless moralizing of liberation theologians who reduce all human problems to the context of social sin (i.e., class struggle): “This essentially negative and ‘prophetic’ angle of vision may be appropriate to the conditions of Latin America, but when applied to American social reality, it leads to serious distortions.”
Barta compares the U.S. liberationists’ view with that of a young man suffering with cancer whose vision of reality is altered by his condition to the point where he was quoted in the paper as saying, I look out at the world and all I see is cancer.
Liberation theologians look at America and see a land of violence and oppression, gross poverty and neglect, a land whose basic structures and beliefs are morally questionable.
Perhaps it is time they recognized that the cancer is within themselves.