Speaking Up or Being a Troublemaker?

A Dialogue with Liberation Theology


By Larry Torres



On July 4, 2016, Christian rapper Lecrae posted on the social media platform Twitter a black and white photo of African slaves in the United States. Lecrae captioned the photo, “My family on July 4th, 1776.” This caused some controversy. It appeared to a lot of people that Lecrae was trying to ruin a special American holiday by bringing up issues from the past. Why bring up slavery on the day we celebrate American independence? Lecrae was speaking up and making a statement that freedom then did not mean freedom for everyone, and its effects are still felt today. He is one example of someone who is not in power and whose views are not portrayed as the norm by those in power. One person commented: “Done supporting you bro. You make everything a race issue lately instead of a gospel issue. You promote guilt instead of love.” I’m sure there are many Christians who would agree with this statement and would jump to criticize Lecrae. The problem with this is that Lecrae is a brother in Christ, and if he brings attention to an issue we should listen and not be quick to dismiss it.


American evangelicals tend to conform to the status quo and do not like to go against the established order. There is a temptation for the church to conform to the norms of society because it is the easy thing to do. When there are people who speak up against injustices happening in our society and in our churches, we ostracize them and label them as “troublemakers” without trying to hear them out. We as the Church have united ourselves with governments and norms of this world, blinding us to the injustices happening, and in some cases we justify and support these injustices.


Meet Gustavo Gutierrez


One man who refused to stay silent amidst societal and economic injustice was Gustavo Gutiérrez (1928- ). Gutiérrez is a Catholic theologian and known as the father of Liberation theology in Latin America. It is easy to stigmatize Catholic theology and teachings. As a former Catholic I understand this. There are issues with Catholic theology and major points I disagree with, but this does not mean we cannot learn anything from Catholics. No theology is perfect, and it is idolatry to think we can have perfect theology or know everything there is to know about God. Evangelicals can certainly learn from Liberation theology and Catholic social teaching. Gutiérrez is a good place to start.


Gustavo Gutiérrez was born in Lima, Peru. Gutiérrez studied to be a Catholic priest in Europe, and he was ordained in 1959. When he returned to Peru he was confronted with the extreme poverty of Latin America. Gutiérrez went on to work in a church that was in a poor barrio (neighborhood in Spanish) in Lima. As Gutiérrez reflected theologically on the situation of the people he served in Latin America, it led him to write his most famous book, A Theology of Liberation.


This book was first published in 1973 in Spanish and later translated to English. Gutiérrez reflected on the poverty of the people in Latin America and what a theology of liberation should look like. For Gutiérrez, it is an injustice to see a few people on top who own most of the resources, while there is the majority people on the bottom living in poverty and struggling to survive.


In A Theology of Liberation, Gutiérrez said: “The denunciation of injustice implies the rejection of the use of Christianity to legitimize the established order" [1]. Here Gutiérrez wanted to challenge the places where the Christian faith is complicit and used to justify injustices happening. Gutiérrez raised many questions of poverty, oppression, and theological reflection. In this he was counter-balancing a theology of a purely spiritual God who is not involved in the affairs of humanity. Gutiérrez rooted his theology in the historical Jesus Christ who came as Savior and Liberator. In part, Gutiérrez sought to reclaim Jesus as a human being from theologies that simply made him an icon.


What really matters?


Gutiérrez had many critics; some feared his ideas were a means to promote instability and violent uprisings against governments. In his book Gracias!: A Latin American Journal, Henri Nouwen had this to say about Gutiérrez:


There is a little man in Peru, a man without any power, who lives in a barrio with poor people and who wrote a book. In this book he simply reclaimed the basic Christian truth that God became human to bring good news to the poor, new light to the blind, and liberty to the captives. Ten years later this book and the movement it started are considered dangerous by the greatest power on earth. When I look at this little man, Gustavo, and think about the tall Ronald Reagan, I see David standing before Goliath, again with no more weapon than a little stone, a stone called A Theology of Liberation. [2]


Nouwen recognized how threatening Gutiérrez seemed to the United States government. In a 1983 Washington Post article, Vice President George H.W Bush said he was puzzled and did not understand how Catholic priests could reconcile Marxist ideas with their faith. Bush simply could not fathom it. At the time, these were the two most powerful men in the world and they had issues with liberation theology because it challenged the established order.


The main difference between Western theology and Liberation theology is where they start. Western theology starts in the realm of thought, thinking about God. Liberation theology starts with the situation at hand, then reflects theologically on it and about God. Those who write Liberation theology see societal evil and injustices right before their eyes. I remember when I was in India I was speaking to a professor at a Bible college, and he told me about another American who visited them in the past. This American asked the professor if most Indian Christians are Calvinist or Arminian. The professor responded: “Brother, India has millions of poor and starving people. We do not think about Calvinism and Arminianism.” When people are confronted with poverty and injustices regularly, it is hard to reflect philosophically on complex theology.


Liberation theology is not limited to Latin America. There are Liberation theologies from all parts of the world, but what can we learn from Gutiérrez and other Liberation theologians after listening to their voices? Liberation theologians teach us that in the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth…” is not just a prayer but something to be worked for by followers of Christ. They teach us that to know God is to do justice, as the prophet Jeremiah showed in Jeremiah 22:15-16. They teach us the world is not what it’s supposed to be, and there are oppressed people who cry out for justice. Speaking up against injustice is something that is unpopular, and may cause you to be criticized by those in power and at times be labeled a “troublemaker.”


The biggest “troublemaker” in history is our Savior Jesus Christ. He overturned tables of money changers at the temple [3], called out the injustices committed against widows [4], and called out the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy [5]. Those are but a few examples. Jesus in his earthly ministry was a controversial person, and I believe if we are to be true followers of Christ we have to wrestle with speaking up against injustice and being unpopular. It is not easy, and it involves many risks, but Jesus promised to be with us till the end.





[1] Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation : History, Politics, and Salvation, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1973), 115.

[2] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Gracias!: A Latin American Journal, 1st ed., (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 174-175.

[3] See Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-16.

[4] See Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.

[5] Matthew 23:13-36.



Larry Torres is a Master of Divinity student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. He also serves as a youth pastor at Nueva Vida Methodist Church in Chelsea, MA. His interests include preaching, missions, theology and culture, baseball, and playing basketball in his free time.


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