Boff on the Liberative Import of the Christian Gospel

In my preparation for my upcoming class on “Culture and Systems Change” at George Fox Seminary, I came across this quote from Leonardo Boff in his book on Base Ecclesial Communities. In it he aptly describes the obstacles those within the early liberation movement faced in building a sustainable movement for justice based on the teachings of Jesus. These obstacles are still in play today for many people in this country and around the world.

The second obstacle [to liberation theology] concerns the liberative import of the Christian. We are the heirs of a codification of faith that has concentrated particularly on the call of faith to a person in his or her individuality, or to the family as privileged medium of transmission of the Christian faith and ethos. This form of Christianity has not thoroughly explored the liberative dimensions of faith-the so called “perilous, subversive memory of Jesus Christ” who was crucified by the powers of this world and raised up by God to demonstrate the divine and human triumph of a life sacrificed for the cause of the total liberation of human beings, especially of the impoverished. The Puebla conference harshly criticized this reduction of Christianity to the intimate spheres of private life.

Jesus preached and died in public, out in the world, and he is Lord not only of the little corners of our hearts, but of society and the cosmos as well.

Christian faith develops and proclaims a message concerned with the absolute and ultimate aspect of human life in God. This is obvious. But this absolute and ultimate element is linked to, and depends on, the way we lead our lives in its penultimate and antepenultimate moments and instances.

It depends on how we conduct our lives in history. The Christian message, then, proclaims not only the world’s happy denouement, but the urgent call to involvement in the world on its way to this denouement. It preaches not only resurrection, but the just quality of a temporal life of human beings. From this flows a determined faith commitment to social process that aim at the building of more symmetrical, more humane social relationships. One need not to be a Christian to be a good politician. The Scholastics of the Middle Ages knew this and taught it. But to be a good Christian, it is necessary to be concerned with social justice, and social justice is a political reality. In order to achieve this social justice, so wanting in today’s discriminatory society, one must live the faith as a factor of transformation of social relationships.

Christians in the Brazilian reality who oppose qualitative changes in society are not just conservative citizens. They are Christians disloyal to the gospel, since they are being deaf to the cry of the oppressed that rises up on all sides. A Christianity that has made people aware of this demand for change is no longer available for use as totem legitimating the social and religious status quo. It has emerged as a factor for protest and for the development of liberative ideas. This is what is occuring int he basic church communities, deeply, consistently. Here practical alternatives spring from a living evangelical experience of faith-in response to a prophetic denunciation of the abuses of the system in all its antipopular structure-with courage, but without great social resonance. As one participant in the Itaici meeting put it, “Our communities sprang up because we were hungry for God’s word. Then we saw that liberation was next.”

This social task, flowing from a faith that has taken flesh in conflictual reality, does no harm to the dimension of prayer and celebration. On the contrary, our experience helps us to pray in a deeper way. As a participant from Paraiba said: “When the big farm gobbled us up, and the goons were threatening us because we resisted, we kept always praying, and looking for light in the word of the Bible, which is the word of God.” It is precisely liberation theologians who write most about spirituality, mysticism, and prayer as a demand for social commitment on the part of anyone within to preserve the Christian identity.” (Boff 38-39)