“…The Christ of oppressive Christologies really has two faces. On the one side are all the Christs of the power establishment, who do not need to fight because they already hold a position of dominance; on the other are all the Christs of established impotence, who cannot fight against the dominance to which they are subject.”–Hugo Assmann, The Power of Christ in History: Conflicting Christologies and Discernment
Robert McAffee Brown, in his book Liberation Theology, describes watching Damos Echeverría, a Salvadoran clergyman and sometimes-militiaman during the late 1980s, as he performed baptismal rights on children of his parish. The night before Brown had watched him take up arms to patrol his village in defense of contras recently seen in the area. “I could not help reflecting that if my government had not been funding the contras, Damos Echeverría would not have had to train his hands to destroy life but could have devoted them exclusively to the bestowing of new life.”
Brown is speaking of El Salvador, not Haiti, but the same conclusion seems to apply — more forcefully so in response to last Friday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by Father Robert A. Sirico of the Acton Institute. Practicing a kind of theological jujitsu, Father Sirico blames the country’s problems on Liberation Theology, a philosophy of Christian activism that encouraged laity to become personally involved in the struggle for social change.
Growing out of the earlier Social Christianity—a quieter response to poverty and repression—Liberation Theology became popular in Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s, and was connected to most of the “Marxist” revolutions attempted in the area. Complicated times; but Father Sirico reduces the movements and their members to simple blood-soaked, would-be left-wing dictators protected by local clergymen. Sirico takes his argument further by naming Aristide the embodiment of Liberation Theology, dictator and (former) clergyman. “Thus was Mr. Aristide’s rule despotic not despite his professed adherence to the theology of liberation but precisely because of it.” He elaborates:
“Lacking a coherent view of economics or an understanding of how society functions and develops, Liberation Theology ends up precisely what it decries most of all: centralized power exercised on behalf of the few at the expense of the many. The story has been repeated so many times in the past 100 years that one would think that even theology students would get the message that socialism is a very bad idea. But somehow, there are always those who think that the next attempt under the right person will at last bring Heaven to Earth.”
Perhaps, but that could hardly be worse than the work of those seemingly dedicated to creating Hell on Earth. The revolutionaries he accuses liberation theologians of sheltering weren’t the only source of violence in the 1980s’ conflicts; the opposing camps also killed with a horrifying religious certainty. The date ofAristide’s priestly ordainment was not far removed from the massacre at El Mozote, where American-trained Salvadoran troops used American-made M-16s and ammunition to slaughter nearly 800 civilians.
Many Haitians protesting the ouster of their president are quick to point out the M-16s used byGuy Philippe and his fellow rebels, believing they were supplied by the U.S. government: a connection which surely colors what Father Sirico would call their “understanding of how society functions.”