Methodism and Liberation Theology

Authored by: Joerg Rieger

The Ashgate Research Companion to World Methodism

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409401384
eBook ISBN: 9781315613789
Adobe ISBN: 9781317040996


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It is one of the historic misunderstandings of liberation theology that it is a Roman Catholic phenomenon which had its exclusive beginnings in Latin America. Part of this misunderstanding is the common assumption that liberation theology spread because others copied and imitated the Roman Catholic Latin American fathers. Liberation theology, in this perspective, would be just like any other theology, devised by a few prominent theologians in the realm of ideas and promoted via academic networks. However, liberation theology cannot be understood in these terms. Its beginnings are found simultaneously in different contexts, on different continents and in different denominations of the Christian churches. 1 1

Note that there are also Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist liberation theologies.

Even the terms “liberation theology” or “theology of liberation” were used simultaneously and independently. The different authors who proposed these terms did not know that others were using them at the same time in other parts of the world and even within the same country. Methodists were involved from the very beginning. When James Cone, a Methodist African American theologian in the United States, devised the term “liberation theology,” he was not aware that Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Roman Catholic priest in Peru, used this term in Latin America. Likewise, Gutiérrez was not aware that Cone was using the same term. And Frederick Herzog, a white theologian writing at Methodist-related Duke Divinity School in the South of the United States, was not aware that either Cone or Gutiérrez were working with the notion when he published the first English-language article on liberation theology in the United States. 2 2

See J. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 2nd edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986); G. Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, revised 15th anniversary edition, trans. Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988); F. Herzog, “Theology of Liberation,” Continuum, 7:4 (Winter 1970), 515–24. Herzog, a member of the United Church of Christ, taught at Duke Divinity School from 1960 until his death in 1995. His affinity to Methodism can also be seen in his participation in the Oxford Institute in Methodist Theology Studies in the 1980s, on topics of liberation theology.

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