Glenn Beck has hounded President Obama for attending a church that takes to heart the principles of Black Liberation Theology. In fact, Beck has taken it further warning his audience to be weary of any preacher who calls for social justice, because they might buy into some type of liberation theology.
Concerning the perils of liberation theology, Beck does have a point; all types attempt to supplant the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with one of the auxiliary issues of the Gospel, generally justice for the oppressed or justice for the poor. While these are areas impacted by the Gospel, liberation theologians tend to place these issues at the center of the Gospel. Thus, Christ died to bring economic parity, or Christ died to end a patriarchal system that oppresses women, or Christ died to free the oppressed. All of these systems then seek to bring about this new type of salvation through revolution or through the government. For the already oppressed in a corrupt nation, they use revolution to bring about the fall of the current government and to uplift a new government that falls in line with this new Gospel. For those in truly democratic nations, they tend to vote for the party that begets the most social change and actively support those parties.
Of course, under liberation theology, there is hardly equality among the ‘sinners.’ In black liberation theology, white people are at a disadvantage when it comes to salvation. In typical liberal theology, the rich are at a disadvantage when it comes to salvation. In all liberation theology, the typical structure is that one group of people is kept down by another group of people, and Jesus came to save the oppressed group of people and to overthrow the oppressors. Such movements are typically liberal.
But since the mid-80’s, conservative Christians have unwittingly bought into a type of liberation theology without realizing it. The Religious Right adopted the Republican Party and began to preach what I would call Conservative Liberation Theology (CLT). Glenn Beck, in all his lambasting against liberation theology, is simply the newest proponent of CLT. The conservative view tends to be less nuanced and holds to more traditional theology than the liberal view, but it is liberation theology nonetheless.
For instance, the issues at the heart of conservative Christians are as follows:
1) Lowered moral standards in America
2) The condoning of abortion by our government
3) The apathetic and acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyles (polygamy, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, etc)
4) A lowered view of God and Church
From these, many evangelicals have adopted the Republican Party platform, calling for lowered taxes and decreases in government spending. The problem is that many conservatives – Beck included (though he’s not really a Christian) – have made the primary solution in these issues the government. They attempt to pass laws to outlaw and shape the nation. For them, salvation is found in the government, implying that Jesus Christ came to die for conservative ideals and the Religious Right, and the oppressors are the Liberal Left who seek to infect the world with their anti-God ideology. Of course, “anti-God ideology” includes increased taxes, socialism, and other economic issues.
Liberation theology of any flavor, liberal or conservative, cheapens the Gospel. Sadly, however, more and more Christians are heading in that direction. They’re either moving towards a liberal liberation or a conservative liberation. Pastors talk about how we have to get to the voting booths to change the course of America. Flyers are handed out at churches, Christians become activists, and it becomes more and more difficult to separate the idea of “Republican” from “Christian.”
While we do have a right to speak up and we should speak up, sometimes we adopt ideas and practices that simply aren’t Christian, while other times we have Christian ideas, but go about preaching them in the wrong way. The idea of lowered taxation and decreases in Government spending isn’t really a Biblical one. Common sense says that such things are good, but it’s not really a Christian issue. Take, for instance, the recent debate over healthcare. While I’m against universal healthcare and the healthcare bill that passed (as a matter of practicality, not spirituality), should I be against the government spending money to reform healthcare or to give free healthcare to children who aren’t covered? Should I be against the government helping to pick up the hospital bill of a person who works 40 hours a week, but simply cannot afford healthcare? As a Christian, does my opposition to the poor receiving outstanding health benefits on the taxpayer’s dime really reflect the teachings of Christ?
Or what about the rabid support for blowing countries up? Christians on the right are too quick to call for war. Though war is necessary it isn’t necessary in every situation. In fact, war is a last resort that is used to end tyrannical expansion. But Christians seem to overwhelmingly support killing. Doesn’t this seem to run in contradiction to the peaceful message that Jesus taught us? Even when war is necessary it is a tragedy, the reason being that in almost any nation, Christians will be killed and co-image bearers will also be killed. We all descend from Adam and so we are all brothers, meaning that war is the most tragic event humans can engage in this side of eternity. But conservative Christians have adopted the war drum without reservation.
We can look to the abortion debate or the debate on homosexuality as a final example of how conservatives have become liberation theologians. The main thrust of Christians against such activities has been on the political front; pass laws, pass constitutional amendments to the state constitution, put pressure on government officials, etc. While I ardently believe that the government should pass laws against abortion (as this is a natural law issue that even non-Christians can be against), I don’t think for one second that politics or legal maneuvers should be our main focus.
I think back to William Wilberforce, the famous English statesmen who brought about the end of slavery in the British Empire, and what he wrote one night in his journal. He wrote, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives; the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” The importance of Wilberforce’s statement and mission is that he didn’t see politics as the main enactor of change, rather he realized that the Holy Spirit is what changed men’s hearts, not the Parliament.
As Christians we should desire the reformation of manners in our society, but we should also understand that the government doesn’t aid in begetting such social change. We can look to the early Church and see that they didn’t have any politicians or laws helping them, rather they simply engaged the society on a personal level. Ultimately, the reformation of manners is a result of people having met the Son of God and being changed by Him. Even if they lack the Holy Spirit and deny Christ, when surrounded by those filled with the Holy Spirit they are still made more virtuous. But we have isolated ourselves. We have segregated ourselves away from the culture, so should we be surprised that the culture acts the way it does when the Holy Spirit is not present in the culture? He is present in the culture when His children are amongst those in the culture, but we have retreated behind our stain glassed walls and pray for the day that a conservative resurgence in the government will save us. How quickly we forget that regardless of the corruptible nature of our society, we are already saved and already liberated; our job is to ensure that others find this same salvation and liberation.
What is more likely to bring an end to abortion – a law banning abortions or churches taking in mothers considering abortions (or adopting unwanted children)? Will holding signs saying “Abortion is Murder” really end abortion, or will holding the pregnant teenagers who has no where else to go end abortion? What is more likely to stop alternative sexual lifestyles – passing laws forbidding such lifestyles, or bringing Christ to such people?
The law will reform itself when the society is reformed through Christ. As Christians we’re not tied to any political party or political ideology. While we must stand against abortion, we must also stand up for the poor. While we must stand against the moral degradation in our society, we must also stand against the unchecked greed of the abundantly rich in our society as well. But in all that we do, we must see Christ as the cause of change and the Holy Spirit as the enforcer of change; the government is almost irrelevant to our desires. While we should seek government change, we should only do so after change has begun in society, and change can only begin once people are liberated from sin through Jesus Christ. That is true liberation.