in my continued reading of the book “Discourses in Mormon Theology” (ed James McLachlan), covering several topics from the initial 2004 conference of the Society of Mormon Theology and Philosophy (SMTP), I cover an article by Dennis Potter (UVSC) on Liberation Theology.
Dennis gives a generous overview of what Liberation Theology is. He focused on the events of 4 Nephi, where the people had their hearts knit together in unity, sharing all things in common, and having no poor nor rich among them. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? People coming together as a mandate from God to share all things and erasing poverty from the earth.
And it is a mandate. Sort of. As we are asked to consecrate ourselves in the temple to the Lord and his service.
Unfortunately, Dennis only gives a part of the story on Liberation Theology. For example, he states that Catholic priests in Latin America were deeply involved in Liberation Theology in the 1970s. What he doesn’t mention is that these priests largely connected into Liberation Theology by embracing communism. Some priests were integral in the communist Sandinista overthrow of Nicaragua. Dennis doesn’t mention that one of Pope John Paul II’s first trips was to Latin America – to excoriate those priests and call them back into their proper order of serving and teaching Christ. The Pope ended up relieving many priests of their duties, defrocking many and excommunicating some. They had replaced the worship of Christ as central to their religion with Liberation Theology based in communism. In his remarkable history, former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin wrote in “The Jesuits” that when the Pope arrived in Nicaragua, only one priest met him at the airport. The Pope chastised him publicly. When the Pope arrived for his discourse to the people, the backdrop was not a giant cross (as was the norm for papal visits), but a sign praising the Sandinista government for bringing the Pope to Nicaragua. As the Pope began to speak, intent on condemning communism, crowds of Sandinistas with loudspeakers led the crowds in deafening chants of “God bless the Sandinistas for bringing in the Pope!” The Pope was frustrated, because no one could hear him.
Interestingly, Pope Francis seems to speak frequently of concepts found in Liberation Theology. Is this a revival of the Latin American love affair with it?
There are four general times when Liberation Theology has been attempted in known history. First, with the people of Enoch. They required centuries to achieve a Zion state, and then were translated prior to the Flood, during a time of great wars and danger.
Second, was the “millennium” of the Nephites that Dennis references frequently in his article. Their success at Liberation Theology succeeded, but only after a near destruction and a personal visit by Christ. Even with such experiences, this lasted only 2 centuries, followed by a major degradation from civilization into barbarity and annhilation. Not what one would consider a long term success story.
In the 19th century, several groups attempted Liberation Theology through communalism. Communes cropped up in many groups, including Mormons and Shakers. Within a few decades, most of these attempts ended up in failure, and sometimes disaster, as peoples chose their own selfish paths over freely giving of everything.
Of course, the biggest effort toward Liberation Theology has been the institution of communism. Efforts to have society/government force Liberation Theology upon the people have historically failed, as we can see with the bankrupt collapse of the Soviet Union, and the restructuring of Chines and Vietnamese communism to include private property, free markets, and capitalism. At best, Europe has attempted to implement partial social reforms, with limited success. However, issues arise due to hidden costs and the reality of selfishness and corruption, as we see many of these countries restructuring their medical programs, and seeking to avoid bankruptcy. As was said by a famous British politician, socialism works great until you run out of someone else’s money….
Even in the Doctrine and Covenants, we see that Zion is not fully realized until the world is in great chaos and danger. Section 45 tells us that “those who dwell among the wicked who will not lift their swords to fight, must needs flee to Zion for safety.” It seems, as with Enoch’s Zion and the Nephite Millennium, Liberation Theology only becomes possible when the people are in dire straits and are forced to be (and remain) humble. Even with the Millennial Zion, we read that it does not last. For Satan is released for a season, dissolving the perfect Zion and creating new chaos and Gadianton barbarism. He raises up armies of Gog and Magog to fight Christ’s people in the last day. It appears that the destruction of the Nephites may be just a small act compared to the final battles for civilization.
So, while I applaud Dennis Potter for his hope for a Zion people through Liberation Theology, it appears to be a very complex and difficult thing to realize and maintain. And there are many apostate alternatives in the world that seem enticing, but actually end up in tyranny, collapse and misery. I would hope that as we discuss Liberation Theology in the future, we not only look forward with hope to Zion, but also be well aware of the dangers and pitfalls that await those who do not implement or maintain it properly.