Discovering a New Worldview: a Personal Reaction to Liberation Theologies
I thought I was taking Liberation Theologies for interim to get a religion credit and to get off campus for a couple of weeks but as it turns out, I was taking it so my entire complacent, ignorant, white-rich-girl mindset could be turned upside down and shaken to pieces. When challenged to face how politics intersect my Christian value system, I was forced to acknowledge my own hypocrisy. I assume that just because I don't use racial slurs or condescend to people of other nationalities that do not contribute to systemic racism. I assume that I can pursue my wealthy lifestyle with no regard for those who suffer because of it. I apathetically participate in a system of injustice that is in complete conflict with the values expressed by my faith.
"Blessed are the poor." Here is a theme that is repeated and expanded throughout the New Testament, and yet we have reduced the charge in Scripture to care for the suffering in the world to international and local service projects (which, please understand me, provide important and valuable help) and to the assumption that the Bible is not even referring to material poverty all the time. We, the materially wealthy, are certainly missing something if it is. I realize that I am one that contributes to a cycle of oppression as a participant in the lifestyle of the upper middle class in this country. I've bought a $50.00 sweater that a young girl made in a free trade zone in Central America for $0.23 an hour. I ignore the human rights abuses of immigrants in my country, though I unconsciously expect them to be there to wash the sheets and towels in my hotel room.
I met an amazing woman, Julia Dinsmore, who explained to me how her life in poverty and as a welfare mother is little or nothing like the stereotypes that the less informed have of poorer people in this country. Many assume welfare mothers are lazy, but in reality they are trying to pull together a budget where 80% of the money that's coming in has to go to rent alone. Many assume they are lazy when truly they are exhausted from the worry and work to keep their children safe in a dangerous neighborhood, where there are drug dealers along their route to school or next to the neighbor's yard where they play. Many assume it's the poor's own fault that they are poor, but they must realize that they'll be speaking mostly to children under 9 years of age, which is the average age of a person living in poverty in the U.S. The poor work as hard if not harder than we may ever work in our lives, just so they can stay alive-- trying to beat the system that keeps them down.
Because I can't recount every person and experience that expanded my understanding of this very unjust system, I will say briefly that there is a community of my brothers and sisters who have no voice. I may never have discovered they were there without my experience in the Twin Cities with Prof. Stoltzfus and my other wonderful classmates. As painful as it is to acknowledge, it is most certainly the responsibility of Christians to try to alter the system that forces the oppressed into suffering. If we all had the opportunity to examine our belief systems and our lives in the context of an experience like mine in January, I tremble to imagine how much more justice and love would be born into this world.
By Carolyn Albert