Liberation Theology and Marxism
We do not hear all that much about liberation theology nowadays. But it certainly was a major issue in the 70s and 80s, and I wrote extensively about it at the time. Although primarily a phenomena of Latin America, and mainly found in Catholic circles, it did spread elsewhere and into other denominational groupings.
A short overview of it can be offered here, but mainly because a new development has arisen which is well worth highlighting. As to the movement itself, it was mainly a movement of the religious left, in which Marxist analysis of economic and social conditions was given a very high place.
Some of the main figures in this movement back then were Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, Jose Miranda, a Mexican theologian, and Jose Miguez-Bonino, an Argentinian Protestant. They argued that we must have a new way of doing theology (routinely utilising the Marxist term “praxis”).
Orthopraxis was to take priority over orthodoxy, and Marxist economic and sociological analysis was often seen to trump biblical revelation. A new way of doing hermeneutics was also enjoined. The hermeneutical methods of Marx and Engels were held up as the way forward in dealing with poverty and oppression in various countries in Latin America.
That there was a very heavy reliance on Marxist thought is indicated in their book titles. For example, Miranda wrote Marx and the Bible (1971) and Miguez-Bonino penned Christians and Marxists: The Mutual Challenge to Revolution (1976).
While the political and economic philosophy of Marx had greater influence in some of the liberation theologians than others, it certainly was a decisive factor in the movement as a whole. Of course concern for the poor should be a big part of Christian thinking and practice.
And one might gain some insights from Marx and others on this. But in far too many cases Marxian thought trumped biblical truth. Too often the Marxist critique was seen to equal or even surpass biblical revelation. Thus Orlando Costas, who was quite sympathetic to liberation theologians, said this:
“The praxeological problem with liberation theology is not that it has benefited from Marxist analysis in its attempt to understand Latin American reality but, rather, that it has given Marxian thought a privileged place in its theory of praxis while denying a similar place to the Bible.”
Because of this overreliance on Marxist ideology and under-reliance on biblical theology, core biblical doctrines were often greatly distorted. Sin for example was often viewed in terms of oppressive social structures instead of an individual’s rebellion against God.
Things like capitalism became the great evil in liberation theology, and political upheaval, if not revolution, was seen as the salvific event needed to end such sin. The class struggle, so much a part of Marxian thought, became the leading issue in much of liberation theology. And rising up – and maybe even taking up arms – against oppressive capitalist systems was seen as a key form of salvation.
The work of Christian mission then becomes one of class struggle and fighting capitalism. This is how the Kingdom of God is extended. Gutierrez for example was quite up front about all this: “We Christians must be committed both personally and collectively … to the building of a new society. This new society must be a classless society in which there is collective ownership of the means of production.”
As mentioned, Christians should rightly have a this-worldly interest in seeing the gospel impact all of life. Dealing with poverty and oppression is an area Christians need to be involved in. But as I have argued elsewhere, and as history clearly demonstrates, the idea that Marxism is the cure to poverty and the road to liberation is a pipedream.
The free market, for all its faults, has done more to lift the masses out of poverty than any other system. Wealth creation, not wealth confiscation and distribution, is the answer to dealing with poverty. Liberation theology radically truncates the biblical gospel and proposes a false – and failed gospel – in its place.
But I mentioned that a new development has been the real catalyst for this piece. I refer to an amazing testimony of the highest-ranking defector from communism in the ‘70s, Ion Mihai Pacepa. He recently was interviewed about the key role the Soviet Union played in establishing liberation theology in Latin America. Here is part of this eye-opening interview:
On October 26, 1959, Sakharovsky and his new boss, Nikita Khrushchev, came to Romania for what would become known as “Khrushchev’s six-day vacation.” He had never taken such a long vacation abroad, nor was his stay in Romania really a vacation. Khrushchev wanted to go down in history as the Soviet leader who had exported communism to Central and South America. Romania was the only Latin country in the Soviet bloc, and Khrushchev wanted to enroll her “Latin leaders” in his new “liberation” war….
Was the Theology of Liberation a movement somehow “created” by Sakharovsky’s part of the KGB, or was it an existing movement that was exacerbated by the USSR?
The movement was born in the KGB, and it had a KGB-invented name: Liberation Theology. During those years, the KGB had a penchant for “liberation” movements. The National Liberation Army of Columbia (FARC), created by the KGB with help from Fidel Castro; the “National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created by the KGB with help from “Che” Guevara; and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), created by the KGB with help from Yasser Arafat are just a few additional “liberation” movements born at the Lubyanka — the headquarters of the KGB.
The birth of Liberation Theology was the intent of a 1960 super-secret “Party-State Dezinformatsiya Program” approved by Aleksandr Shelepin, the chairman of the KGB, and by Politburo member Aleksey Kirichenko, who coordinated the Communist Party’s international policies. This program demanded that the KGB take secret control of the World Council of Churches (WCC), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and use it as cover for converting Liberation Theology into a South American revolutionary tool. The WCC was the largest international ecumenical organization after the Vatican, representing some 550 million Christians of various denominations throughout 120 countries.
How did the Theology of Liberation start?
I was not involved in the creation of Liberation Theology per se. From Sakharovsky I learned, however, that in 1968 the KGB-created Christian Peace Conference, supported by the world-wide World Peace Council, was able to maneuver a group of leftist South American bishops into holding a Conference of Latin American Bishops at Medellin, Colombia. The Conference’s official task was to ameliorate poverty. Its undeclared goal was to recognize a new religious movement encouraging the poor to rebel against the “institutionalized violence of poverty,” and to recommend the new movement to the World Council of Churches for official approval. The Medellin Conference achieved both goals. It also bought the KGB-born name “Liberation Theology.”
The whole interview is well worth reading. Many of us during the Cold War understood that all sorts of “peace” organisations were little more than front groups for Soviet Communism. And Lenin rightly referred to Western supporters of the Communist revolution as “useful idiots”.
Of course to point out this connection is not to say that everyone involved in liberation theology was a Marxist (be it a Communist agent or a Marxist stooge). Many well-meaning people and many real Christians may have been involved in this movement.
But as I noted above, it was far too much Marxist in nature and far too little biblical. And with these new revelations of Soviet complicity, we can see just how dangerous so much of it was – and still is.
10 Replies to “Liberation Theology and Marxism”
Sadly, most people who subscribe to this thinking have never actually sat down and read the Bible.
I have been having this very conversation with a couple from my Church lately, they were sure they were right, I kept on giving them scripture to counter what they were saying, all to no effect, until…….. vola he actually sat down and did some reading and lo and behold, he now understands and has given up on that idea.
He admitted to me on Sunday last that in fact, capitalism is central to the scriptures and nowhere can he actually find Marxism. When I pressed him to answer where this idea of his has ever in the entire history of man been proven to succeed, he simply answered it hasn’t, because people have mixed capitalism in with it.
Still have a long way to go with them (they have an entitlement mentality), but I shall persist.
What does this say to all those who thought the Soviets weren’t interested in exporting their ideology or fermenting revolution around the world?
The Marxist lens of viewing society and social issues is deeply ingrained in the church, particularly in the youth where involvement in “social justice” is so often exchanged for being born again and pursuing the knowledge of God when young people come to church.
This seems to be the reason we have all fifteen Christians turn up to vote for actual Christian parties come Election Day and why even the despicable Greens attract far more Christian votes than the aforementioned.
Talk to young people and their views frequently reek of the Marxist interpretation of society, economics, and justice though they have no idea who Marx was and no desire to learn. That’s why they throw their “likes” and votes behind homosexual marriage and a host of other socially corrosive ideologies and politcal policies and the parties that pursue them.
It’s a cancer and it caught in the West a long while back. Now we’re eating the fruit of it.
Hi Bill. We can also add the “Church of the province of South Africa” (Anglican) to the list. I grew up in this Church and remember the movement within it well. many were part of it – the most famous been Desmond Tutu who was Bishop of St Maryys in Johannesburg at that time – but it also included many others in the Anglican Church where I grew up. I remember many of their names. Also in the youth I attended.
What an eyeopener that the PLO was the child of the KGB, of course, it makes perfect sense.
By their fruit shall ye know them …
Kevin Swanson in his excellent book “Apostate, The Men who destroyed the Christian West” gave this highly informative report of Marx’s life.
” As would be expected, Karl Marx’s life was a disaster. He had seven children by his wife Jenny. Continuing in the shameful tradition of Descartes and Rousseau he produced another child out of wedlock with his housemaid, Helene Demuth. Eleanor, his favourite daughter, married Edward Aveling, a Saturnist known for his blasphemous lectures on “The Wickedness of God” and for his poems to Satan. If that wasn’t horrible enough, Marx starved three of his children to death, five of his children died prematurely, and the two daughters who outlived him committed suicide. The character trait most carefully honed in the life of Carl Marx was surely HATRED. Unlike Rousseau, he did not profess to love anyone, for he was entirely comfortable with his hatred. Marx’s life was filled with violent, explosive arguments with his family, which led to a complete breach of relationship with his mother and occasional separations from his wife Jenny. According to her, his life was one continual row. One of his acquaintances described Marx in a poem, ‘Dark fellow from Trier in fury raging, His evil fist is clenched, he roars interminably, As though town thousand devils had him by the hair”. Not surprisingly, he advocated terrorism and mob violence. Karl Heinzen, a fellow revolutionary, reported that Marx would inform others, “I will annihilate you”.
I can recommend recommend Kevin Swanson’s book “Apostate” highly enough, here is the Amazon link where you can dip in and have read of it.
Thank you Bill. A real eye-opener. Also, the last line of Simon’s comment is spot-on.
You are absolutely correct! The way this country is headed is ridiculous! America needs to wake up and accept God and Jesus! The homosexuals are ruining this country!! The transgenders will scar our children and leave them possessed with wicked ways!! Sodom and Gomorrah will come again!!
Another source for the KGB’s role in Liberation Theology as well as a lot of other world revolutionary movements and “peace” organizations are two books by Christopher Andrews and Vasily Mitrokhin:
“The Sword and the Shield” and
“But The World Was Going Our Way”
Vasily Mitrokhin was chief archivist for the KGB (yes, they did keep historical records) and he brought copies of a great many of those documents with him when he relocated to the UK for his retirement in 1992. These books are summarizations of those documents. Nearly every single revolutionary movement in Africa was either directly controlled or guided by the KGB and most were supplied with money and weapons. The same was true of many, many so-called peace movements which found so much wrong with Western nations and companies but never paid the slightest bit of attention to what the USSR was doing abroad.
Thanks for that Wesley.