Catholic Liberation theology and the charismatic evangelicals



I was eating at the Food court at Funan IT Centre in Singapore. The person serving the food from China was so adamant to give me more rice and vegetables as I repeated "Enough Lah...". There must be many hungry ghosts in China.

With a large bowl of rice and three large servings of vegetables, I lamented for I have plentiful as a blessing from God even though I kept asking for less, whilst those who have none were suffering. How do we do Christian theology in a midst of a suffering and hurting world.

Growing up in the 80s, Christianity seemed so liberal then but not liberal enough to relate and accept some people in the authentic manner who were gays. The 90s, and 00s have seen a strong shift towards the evangelicals. The freedom of the Holy Spirit in the Charismatic movement should have made us different from the evangelicals giving us more freedom to move where God leads us rather than bounded by many non essential Orthodoxy and traditions.

Many talked about how the few Social Justice workers in 1987 who were put in jail for a few years had suffered, but the GLBT community also suffered in their many thousands and in those days, decades in the closet and not just a few years in jail.   Many took their lives and suffered alone with their relationships and love denied. No one remembers them and they are still sinners in the eyes of the church and with no letters of support from the Archbishop.

I often imagine that with Catholic Jesuit Liberation theology we would end up having Jesus becoming Rambo liberating the poor villagers from the oppressive land owners. Whereas, in the Prosperity Theology, everyone becomes rich and blessed from God's blessings in Christ especially the mega church pastors. Jesus becomes the mega rich Messiah as Pastor Kong Hee of City Harvest so eloquently preached!

Liberation theology was about empowering the masses and providing the Catholic theological framework for the people to believe in themselves and their dignity and common humanity to rise up against the rich and powerful. It was not meant to motivate the the rich to help the poor.

Preaching Liberation Theology in middle class multi-religious Singapore would be very difficult because it is a liberal Christian theology of the very poor as a class solidarity political/moral movement. It just doesn't work in a wealthy conservative Methodist or an Anglican church in Singapore.

With the Catholic hierarchy in Europe turning right as part of the Opus Dei influence, the Liberation theology ended up in the margins of Christianity especially with a major charismatic evangelical revival in South and Latin America.

Where Catholic Jesuit Liberation theology ended, the Charismatic evangelicals took over with their prosperity theology. The concept of Base Communities of liberation theology became a cell group concept of the charismatic evangelicals.

In the Seven mountains Dominion theology of the evangelicals, Christians ended up ruling as the head over all the mountains (including business and the Government). In Liberation theology, there are no mountains for everything is flattened by one class in society. For the Charismatic Evangelicals, we are the head and not the tail, the top and not the bottom.

The anti-thesis of the Jesuit Liberation theology is not Prosperity theology  but the Opus Dei ultra conservative theology within the Catholic church itself of the recently anointed Saint José María Escrivá. Opus Dei or the "Work of God" is fundamentally opposed to any Liberal humanistic inclination of the Catholic faith.  

In Singapore, in the 1987, the late Minister, Mr S. Rajaratnam gave a speech on the Liberation theology which he associated with Marxism. This theology made famous by a Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez in 1971 was essentially a theology of people power rising up against oppressive institutions and power structures which ironically the church hierarchal is a prime example.

Many aspects of Jesuit Liberation theology portrayed Jesus as a revolutionary Messiah of the poor bearing arms to liberate the common masses. The Vatican in the 80s has a strong anti-communist leaning against the Marxist and liberation theology and there would be little external support from Pope John Paul II for the Catholic Archbishop in Singapore.

Twenty five years later when Archbishop Nicholas Chia tried to show support to the liberal social justice dissidents, he wouldn't have the backing of the Catholic Opus Dei nor Pope Benedict XVI  (Cardinal Ratzinger). Like the evil emperor of Star Wars there may even be lightning strikes all the way from the Vatican and not just a lunch appointment.  

In the 50s to 80s, Liberation theology was being debated as it gained popularity in South and Latin America providing a solidarity amongst the Catholic poor. Many of the left leaning social justice workers advocated a classless christian base communities. At the same time, the Charismatic Evangelicals were having their Jesus movement which fed into the charismatic revivals in the US.

Liberation theology was however part of the Catholic faith rather than within the Protestant and evangelical churches. It gained mileage in Latin America because it had a large Catholic Faith community.

Together with a large majority of society being very poor, there was a strong identification of being unfairly treated by the ruling political and financial elites. Liberation theology was how the masses saw their lives and doing faith as a daily struggle for justice and freedom from oppression against the evil elites.

Ironically, although preached and accepted often in the elite American theological colleges, the implementation was only successful in the poor Latin American slumps of the common masses to make sense of their faith and of God in a suffering world. Liberation becomes a matter of faith, developed ground up from the masses against the small minority of elites who held on the power and wealth.

Yet, the core idea of making sense of faith from the common masses was contradictory to the church hierarchal when the Saints and Mary are above, followed by the Pope, the Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, the men, and lastly the women. It was all about class and power structures and positions of privilege.

Salvation was considered not as an individual salvation for our sins, rather a corporate salvation from injustice and oppression. The evil one was seen as the dictators rather than Satan.

Salvation was seen as from the oppressive governments rather than atonement in Christ. God was a god of love rather than judgement for our individual sins.

The Kingdom of God with Christ Jesus as the King became the kindom of god of relationships and mutual kinship based on the love commandments with no head for all are equal. Christ is discovered in relationships with "the other" rather than direct revelation from above. Theology is worked out from the "bottom" upwards rather than prescribed down from the top.

The common good of the masses and their humanity and its pureness was emphasised, versus the generalised evil, greed and cruelty of the rulers and also the former colonial masters.

Their theology was humanistic and deconstructed Christianity to being "bottoms up" from "top down". God and truth and Jesus was with people and the masses rather than the few chosen messiahs who handed down the papal decrees.

The people movement to get rid of the distinct classes and power structures within society were strongly Marxist in Latin America. The movement did not fare well in America in a cold war anti-Communist environment where a classless society ended up far worst, more oppressive and poorer than a capitalist society.

The Eastern European Catholic churches also became highly antagonistic towards liberation theology due to the persecution by the Communist. As a result, strong right wing groups such as Opus Dei grew in strength supported by the Pope John Paul II who was anti-communist.

The 1983 photo of Pope John Paul II castigating and scolding Father Ernesto Cardenal, who was a strong advocate of Liberation Theology and a Marxist supporter remains an iconic scene. Alas, the Liberation theology only found support in the Catholic poor in central America but losing support rapidly as Latin America turns to the Charismatic Evangelicals.

Queer theology was motivated by liberation theology. Arising from the struggle by gay Christians in the 80s was an attempt to work out a frame work of GLBT theology in the midst of persecution by the Christian institutions.

Here, the oppressed class were the GLBT peoples whilst the oppressor, the church hierarchal who maintains her power, wealth, dogmatic traditions, and moral/religious standing as if from God.

Then came the Charismatic evangelical movement which is top down with its emphasis on the centrality, power and redemption in Christ Jesus and the move of the Holy Spirit quickly filling a void of the Liberation theology which is bottoms up.

In 1970, the Pentecostals and Charismatics had 12.6 million members in Latin America. By 2005, there were 156 million members (data from the Pew Forum) and rising rapidly. The fire of the revolution was replaced by the fire from above.

As liberation, Queer and Progressive theology are becoming increasingly historical and academic, how could we develop an alternative social justice engagement based on the rising charismatic evangelical movement?. 

In the US, the excesses of the 50s, resulted in an evangelical charismatic movement from the 50s to the 70s which focused on faith in Jesus Christ, simplicity and worship. Many in the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) youth groups survived on a day to day basis as they spread the Gospel in the inner cities in America. The Jesus People lived in communes where everything was shared.

YWAM was founded by Loren Cunningham of the Assembly of God Churches. YWAM has a strong evangelical message and today operates over 180 countries with over 16,000 full-time volunteer workers and trains 25,000 short-term missionaries yearly doing evangelism works.

The Faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for our daily needs was slowly replaced starting in the 70s by the get rich televangelist who soon got into the action by stirring up an anti-gay movement. In their self-righteousness, they created a self-centred  faith based on wealth and condemning others of sin especially gays.  

The Charismatic Evangelical movement was a faith movement where instead of looking at the world in terms of human power structures, the emphasis is on spiritual power structures where faith in Jesus is required for a heavenly breakthrough and surviving on earth. It is by faith in Christ, that God provides our daily bread.

The Evangelical movement is often about the power of atonement through Jesus Christ, The way, The truth and The life. Liberation is through a spiritual redemption in Jesus Christ.

Hence, in middle class Singapore, where most Christians come from a wealthy background, the danger is to become more centred on our righteousness, prosperity, and redemption rather than our common humanity.

How do we frame a Christian theological approach that is Christ and Gospel centred on a personal redemption in Jesus Christ, on the individual responsibility for our own actions of righteousness by faith in Jesus, and yet extend God's love, mercy, grace and compassion to another world where poverty, lack and suffering predominates.

How do we construct our own theology from an Evangelical charismatic perspective to be a church without walls, to cross over not to only to Hollywood but to the slumps of Kuala Lumpur and Batam, a cross over to the GLBT community so antagonistic towards the Christian faith who has been hypocritical and judged them wrongly as sinners.

City Harvest has a Cross Over mandate to the Market place of the rich and the powerful. How do we cross over to the marginalised? from a charismatic Christian perspectives?

When Jesus died at the Cross, He was naked and had nothing. The common poor masses on the left were shouting "crucify Him". The religious and wealthy elites on the right were also shouting "crucify Him".  Both sides hated Jesus because He claimed to be God incarnate. They wanted to but can't be god themselves!

Perhaps both liberation and prosperity theology are idols for we have made god in our own image, hopes and aspirations.

I like the song, "Let the Weak say ....", for "What the Lord has done in me". It is Christ in us, the Hope of Glory that works miracles for our redemption rather than our human effort against injustice or to become rich. Christ is the center of our faith, hope and redemption.

The Full Gospel and the mega churches of the 80s, 90s went beyond an evangelical Gospel message to one of charismatic gifts and the spiritual/supernatural power and annointing for healings, revival and blessings. Perhaps the Full Gospel should also cross over to the poor, the rejected, and the outcasts including GLBT. Perhaps we should return to the Jesus movement of faith and simplicity.

What The Lord Has Done In Me Lyrics (Hillsongs)

Let The Weak Say, 'i Am Strong'
let The Poor Say, 'i Am Rich'
let The Blind Say, 'i Can See'
it's What The Lord Has Done In Me (x2)


Hosanna, Hosanna to The Lamb That Was Slain
hosanna, Hosanna jesus Died And Rose Again (x2)

to The River I Will Wade
there My Sins Are Washed Away
from The Heavens' Mercy Streams
of The Savior's Love For Me


i Will Rise From Waters Deep
into The Saving Arms Of God
i Will Sing Salvation Songs
Jesus Christ Has Set Me Free

let The Weak Say, 'i Am Strong'
let The Poor Say, 'i Am Rich'
let The Blind Say, 'i Can See'
it's What The Lord Has Done In Me


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