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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Liberation Theology article for Student Christian Movement

Exploring Liberation Theology

By Chris Howson
When was the last time you did an act of solidarity with the poor? What do you do with your time and resources and does it help liberate yourself and others from oppressions such as racism, poverty and sexism? Do you reflect on issues of power and wealth in the light of scripture and the teachings of Jesus?
Liberation theology burst into the world in the 1970s and 80s when it was seen as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, made visible through the struggles of poor communities  in some of the most deprived parts of the world.  In Latin America priests and lay people were killed in their tens of thousands for advocating an ‘option for the poor’. The death of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1980 brought these struggles into the homes of North America and Europe. In the context of Apartheid in South Africa, Priests such as Desmond Tutu used Liberation Theology to help articulate the way people of faith must struggle for freedom.
Liberation Theology has a much longer history, and is rooted in scripture that states that Christ has come “to preach good news to the poor...proclaim freedom for the prisoners...release the oppressed...proclaim the year of Jubilee” (release from debts) from Luke 4 v 18-19.
Jesus is born into the world on the margins of society, and sought though his ministry to support those also on the margins. He was brought up on the knee of a Jewish peasant woman who sang songs such as “God has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1 v 52).
For Liberation theologians, the killing of Jesus by powerful political elites was overturned by the resurrection, proof that God was on the side of the victims of oppression. Jesus’ teachings and way of discipleship encourages us to live out non-violent resistance to injustices and gives us new ways of living in community which herald ‘The Kingdom of God’.
In the 20th Century, the work of the civil rights movement, embodied by people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, began the process of developing a theology actively linked to issues of freedom and liberation. The experience of the poor in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America forced Christians to re-evaluate many aspects of traditional Western theology. Most of the debates within the Church seemed irrelevant in the wake of crushing poverty and hunger, as well as unjust political systems that stifled democracy and murdered opponents. Especially in Latin America, theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez (Peru) Leonardo Boff (Brazil) Jose Segundo (Uruguay) Elsa Tamez (Costa Rica) articulated scriptural and philosophical issues raised in ‘Base Ecclesial Communities’ and developed a form of Church that proved relevant to the experience of the people.
By understanding the economic and political contexts of people’s struggles, liberation theology birthed ‘liberated theologies’ that responded to the real life situation of people, often groups previously marginalised and silenced. Feminist, Black, Dalit (India), Minjung (Korea), Womanist (Black women) Disabled, and LGBT theologies are all related to Liberation Theology.  Within the UK, Liberation Theology has been associated with urban poverty, peace movements, human rights and development organisations, alongside those both within and outside the church who are resisting capitalist austerity programs and various forms of oppression.
Liberation Theology ultimately demands us to answer the difficult questions: In the face of global poverty, massive inequality and environmental destruction, how does our theology help build up God’s vision of a better world? If it doesn’t liberate, is it really theology?

Revd Chris Howson is Chaplain to the University of Sunderland and author of ‘A Just Church: 21st Century Liberation Theology in Action’

For Further Reading and Exploration:
You could start of by looking at Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutierrez, Kathy Galloway, Elsa Tamez, Ched Myers or even reading ‘A Just Church’ exploring UK liberation theology. However, Liberation Theology asks that you engage with the people’s struggles first, and then reflect on them in the light of scripture and tradition. So why not go out there and get stuck in, there is plenty to do!

Sunday, 26 March 2017


Blessed are mums who are living in poverty - for they still manage to create heaven on earth for their kids. 

Blessed are mums whose children have died - we will comfort all who feel lost this day. 

Blessed are the mums who are homeless - we shall fight for their right to shelter and safety. 

Blessed are the mums who hunger and thirst for what is right - we will be victorious together! Blessed are the merciful mothers - for they teach us how to forgive. 

Blessed are mums who, despite all they have suffered, have pure hearts - they have helped us to see God in everything. Blessed are the women who are peacemakers in our families and communities - for they have created children who are peacemakers. 

Blessed are women and mums who are persecuted for the cause of justice - the future will be yours. 

Blessed are the women who are victims of violence and endure sexism because they follow the call of feminism and equality - this is how people treated the suffragettes and all the great prophets who have gone before us to bring equality and freedom for all.


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Blame it on Fidel

As millions of Cubans gather today on the streets of every corner of their small nation, the war on Castro continues in the West. According to the media of North America and Europe, Fidel was the world's longest lived dictator - a scourge on human rights, an authoritarian leader who allowed no dissent from his path of communism.

Yet for 100's of millions of people across the globe, especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, he will be viewed very differently. He will be seen as a great leader, who liberated his people from a US backed dictator, who then stood up to half a century of US aggression whilst at the same time developing one of the most egalitarian regimes the world has ever seen.

What cannot be denied is that Cuba has punched well beyond its weight. In comparison to similar nations, its health care and education systems are indeed remarkable, and have benefited the lives of more than just the Cuban people. A Caribbean student who stayed with us recently got their first degree in Cuba. It was free. Completely. Including accommodation and food. And compared to the levels of teaching in the Yorkshire University she was then studying at - the Cuban model outshone by far, despite the thousands of pounds it was costing her to study in the UK.

In terms of Health, Cuba still sends out more doctors abroad than MSF, Red Cross and the World Health Organisation combined. When the Ebola virus took hold, the Cubans responded first, in greater numbers than any other country, and stayed as long as was needed to curb the threat. Watch the Michael Moore film 'Sicko' if you want to see the Cuban health care system in operation.

I met Cuban doctors in Montevideo who were working with the poorest people in the city, people living with HIV and AIDs, The doctors were remarkably dedicated, and though critical of many of the problems Cuba faced, they remained genuinely loyal to the system that had educated them and encouraged them to go out and 'heal the nations'

I constantly meet churches in the UK who are praying for the persecuted Christians in Cuba. US backed 'Human Rights Organisations' claimed that Christianity was viciously oppressed in Cuba. When I tell them that I had been ordained by the Bishop of Cuba they are shocked to hear a different story. Christianity has thrived alongside socialist Cuba. In the early days of the revolution, the Church was still embedded to those who had benefited from Batista's regime, and there was open hostility for several decades. But things improved. The only Christians who are in danger in Cuba were those that happily accepted millions of dollars from the US to help destabilise the Cuban government.

But surely, Cuba should tolerate such dissent? Surely it should allow Western style democracy to exist? I think that while that hope of democratic socialism should be striven for, we cannot ignore the context of US aggression towards Cuba. Nearly 1000 attempts on Castro's life over 5 decades. 4000 Cubans killed in terrorist attacks launched from US soil (In the US there are countless folk who roam free despite having bombed innocent people in Cuba) The economic blockade of Cuba is well known, but what is not so well known is the US backed attempts to introduce diseases such a Swine fever onto the Island to completely destabilise the economy and cause mass poverty and illness. With all this going on (and a US backed attempt to invade Cuba in 1961) it is easy to understand why it has been hard to build a Western style democracy in Cuba.

Of course there are things that have needed to be corrected. Attitudes to the LGBT community have had to change since the 80's and 90's when it was mistakenly believed that HIV and AIDs was being introduced to Cuba by the US in an attempt to destroy the economy. But attitudes to LGBT issues have had to improve worldwide, it would be hard to convince anyone that Cuba had been especially homophobic as has been suggested by some of the western media.

The film 'Blame it on Fidel' is a great movie set in the world of European socialism, see it if you can. but far from blame, we owe Fidel a debt of gratitude. The Cuban model is a counterweight to the disastrous policies that Western style Capitalism has brought the world. Castro's work to encourage socialism around the globe, the Cuban people's struggle against Apartheid in the 80's and against Western Imperialism throughout the world  - these are achievements to be amazed at and celebrated.

So, at the risk of complaints from good friends, (My book 'A Just Church' received some criticism for its segments on Cuba and Venezuela)  I say a fond farewell to Fidel. Thank you for your example and commitment to a better world. Your flaws are out weighed by your enormous achievements. May you rest in peace, and rise to witness an egalitarian regime that you could only dream of.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Remembering Romero

It is 36 years since Archbishop Oscar Romero was brutally gunned down in the small chapel at the hospital beside where he lived in the San Salvador.

Today is Maundy Thursday, and as I took part in the Eucharistic service in the Minster, I could not help but recall the pictures of his bloodied body, pictures used to make up a 'stations of the cross' event a few years ago at a previous Romero memorial event.

Why do we choose to remember this horrific event, the assassination of a religious leader in a country very few people have ever visited?

Romero was the epitome of someone who was so moved by the plight of the poor and the oppressed that he gave every aspect of his life to the pursuit of challenging those oppressions. He, like most of the church, like most of those who can afford to, could have easily avoided clashing with the brutality of living with militarism. He could of accepted protection from the very state that was killing his country folk. He could of lived in a nice house, been comfortable and not upset the status quo. In fact, that was what everyone expected of him.

Instead, he spoke out about every injustice he encountered. He refused to stay silent or accept the bribe of a safe and comfortable life. He risked his life endlessly in the 3 years of his Archbishopric, and became a true champion of the poor.

In an era increasingly polarised between rich and poor, in a society constantly brutalised, we need to remember the Romero's of this world. Those who are prepared to stand in solidarity with the persecuted, holding on to our common humanity and dignity.

Maundy Thursday holds up the image of the 'servant king' washing the feet of his followers, serving them right up to the end, to his own murder at the hands of a repressive government.  This is the ideal day to remember Romero.  

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Taize Againt The Tanks

This year sees the return of the DSEi (Defence, Security Equipment International) weapons fair down in London. Held at the Excel exhibition centre in the docklands area, it is said to be the biggest arms fair of its kind in the world.

30,000 delegates from 150 countries will view and buy the latest military equipment from the worlds arms manufacturers. Britain is now the second biggest exporter of 'defence' equipment, with over £8 billion sales in 2014, and over £3 billion in 'security' equipment.

Unfortunately, so much of this weaponry ends up in the hands of countries who have appalling human rights records, or happily use the weapons to attack other nations. Worse still, these weapons end up being the ones used in the in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

The arms trade is one of the root causes of our current refugee crisis. We fuel the conflicts of tomorrow right here in London.

So we tried to highlight the madness of the arms trade, by attempting to disrupt the preparation for the fair. This meant teams of people getting in front of trucks and military vehicles entering the Excel centre. Each day, different groups took turns to cause mayhem. I joined in on the 'Stop arming Israel' and the 'No faith in war' days.

It was inspirational to watch so many different groups take it in turns to block the entrance, using dancing, painting and even funeral processions.

My own contribution was to hold a service in the road using Taize style chants. Taize (an ecumenical community in France) is a place of peace and reconciliation, so it seemed to make sense to use the simple singling style as a way of pursuing Non Violent Direct Action.

As we sang in the road - a truck carrying a 'Thales Bushmaster' turned up - so we keep singing as we stepped in front of it. It was extraordinary to watch the truck forced into reversing by the power of prayer and direct action!

As I write this, there is still a week of direct action planned - so why not pop down to Excel and do your bit to disrupt the arms trade!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A gentle summer

Just a note of thanks to loyal readers who have contacted me and made sure I am alright! After a disappointing election in the UK, a brutal first Tory budget and watching the continued attacks on the left in Greece, I must admit, it's hard to be optimistic about the state of the world.

So I've taken a bit of time off from blogging while I concentrate on family and my local church. Refugee work is continually important and takes time and energy, leaving little space for creative blogging. I have a retreat in Taize coming up next week, but I hope that gives rise to a gentle summer of rest and restoration.

I'll need it, September will not only see the return of the students, but the continued struggle against the world's biggest arms fair down in London - I do hope you can join me in some of the activities planned by 'Stop the Arms Fair' and the SPEAK network.

So I hope you are taking some time out with friends and family. Look after yourself, so that we can be renewed in the struggle for a better world. Many blessings my friends.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Liberation Theology Gathering

Well, the third 'Victor Jara Liberation Library' is over, and what a treat it was! 25 delegates from across the UK gathered to share ideas and actions relating to a liberative theology.

A bit of social justice singing and worship from both the Iona and Taize communities was followed by a Bible study shared in a participative framework.

Then I presented a short piece on the issues facing Liberation Theology today (Inequalities of power and wealth, Climate Change, discrimination, war, attacks on the poor, poverty of education) before we spent a bit of time sharing our own contexts, and the groups of folk who had encouraged and enabled us.

We had an update from two members who had visited Kabul earlier in the year to meet with a Peace community in the thick of the harsh life in Afghanistan

One of the folk then shared about the work of SPEAK and the upcoming proposed direct action against the weapons fair down in London in September

at lunchtime, some of us went and lobbied the local Parliamentary candidates over the NHS as part of the 38' campaign.- there should always be a bit of 'action' a part of these conferences!

Sue Richardson then did a great bible study in a Liberation Theology format, emphasising our own experiences that we bring to the story from scripture.

We ended with Dr David Golding giving his take on why Liberationists need to take climate change seriously. Then we wound around a 'Labyrinth of Liberation' before preparing for the Ceilidh!

The Ceilidh against the Cuts was the most inspired bit of the conference. Many of the sanctuary seekers I work with were invited, so seeing Eritreans, Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians etc. getting to grips with the niceties of Scottish dancing was something to behold. It was a surprisingly moving event - and so much fun.

Strangely enough, 'Liberation Theology' needs to be 'liberating' - that means that as well as good theology, it should be fun and involve good dancing. I recall a great quote that says something like 'Its not my revolution if I can't dance to it!'