May 24, 2019 | 62° F

Papal Visit highlights influence of liberation theology

Opinion Column: Reason in Revolt

It’s important to understand Pope Francis’s role as the head of the Catholic Church: Pope Francis is not the Catholic Church and vice versa. He teaches and spreads doctrine on faith and morals, directs Catholics throughout the global network of dioceses and promotes leadership in Vatican City. If President Obama has a stubborn GOP-lead Congress, Pope Francis has one of the oldest and wealthiest religious institutions in the world, with its age-old beliefs and hierarchal structure. As his progressive teachings reverberate among global masses, including non-believers, is Pope Francis the 21st-century game changer on the status of Christianity?

As secularism grows in the global North, indicative of the Church’s diminishing influence, the center of the Church’s political gravity moves toward Latin America. As the first Pope from the developing world, Pope Francis brings influences of liberation theology, a Christian movement born from Catholic churches in Latin America as a response to the socioeconomic injustices from corporate neoliberalism and government authoritarianism. The movement focuses on advocating for the poor and encouraging social, political and economic change. As a community-based theological movement, liberation theology undermines clerical authority and has been met with resistance from Catholic leadership. Due to the growth of Christianity in post-colonial states, which covers most of Latin America and some Asian countries, the commonality of issues on the intersection of poverty and climate issues forces the Church to reevaluate itself. Are the Pope’s messages to the world just a political and marketing strategy to salvage humanity’s growing secularism? Is it a response to the rise and power of charismatic evangelical Christian congregations? Most likely both. However, the actions of Catholic radicals within the Church is an honest redemptive movement, forcing the Church to center liberation theology that looks more like a reactionary act.

Nicknamed as “Climate Justice Pope” around the world and at times described as “Anti-Capitalist Pope,” Pope Francis is not a revolutionary activist.

From a progressive standpoint, how can the Pope preach about structural inequality when the structure and politics within the Church is deeply classist, sexist and patriarchal? When it comes to their opinions on key social justice issues like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, the politics are either ignored or given ambiguous responses, disregarding how these issues also intersect with issues they claim to champion.

Due to the flexibility of Christian doctrine, which proves to be as flexible as the U.S. Constitution’s elastic clause, Christian congregations and leaders’ interpretation of the Bible can be negotiated. While certain ideologies will stand long and exclusionary, if the structure itself does not face reform, how can the Church be an advocate against poverty? As long as Vatican City serves as the central government of the Catholic Church, liberation theology can only influence the Church to an extent.

If we frame the beginnings of Christianity with the early Christians, who advocated for gender and economic justice, we would have to go back to Jesus. He was a humble religious leader and philosopher, who aided and empowered the poor, hung out with society’s outcasts, healed the sick and preached against violence. These are actions that reflect early Christians who advocated for gender and economic justice. If that is the direction the Church wants to go back to, it will take tremendous sacrifices of power and wealth.

The Catholic Church is a tool — not a revolutionary body against the capitalist, patriarchal system — but for the many people around the world who live in poverty, and for the ones with the lack of agency to choose their religion, Christianity can be a tool for mobilization. For non-theists who argue against theology, it’s important to reflect on the relationship of religion and secularism as they relate to class structures. Not everyone has a purely secular and scientific education. Not everyone has the agency to be part of a privileged secular society. As one of the largest, strongest and oldest religions in the world, a reform is more than a possibility, and must be encouraged.

The support of the most influential Catholic leader opens gates for the acceptance of Catholic radicals. For Christians to fight against immorality and violence, and to join with people who they can share a common ground for liberation for the common good, makes the Catholic Church a growing ally, rather than the vicious bully that it has been for centuries. We'll just have to wait until people from different faiths meet on common ground, where we can start to work together toward liberation. Whether or not the Catholic Church is down for the revolution is what remains unknown.

Rachel Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciencs junior majoing in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, media and information technology. Her column, “Reason in Revolt,” runs on alternate Mondays. 

Rachel Landingin

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