“[Liberation] is just a word, when the people are starving.”
What is the point of theology? We in theological education are tested in nearly every way about the history of the Christian Church, where our hands should be when we preach, what Tillich said about courage, and on and on. Much of this is useful for the contextualizing of ourselves, the people we will be working with, the history of our churches, and institutions. However, what do we hope to do with this? Much of what I experienced in my undergraduate education did not have an eye for what theology might mean for people who are ‘outside’ the fold of Christianity, and thus many of the questions that we raised were about how exactly to square the idea that Jesus is both human and divine, that there are three Persons of the Trinity, yet only one nature, and on.
Liberation theology for many has been a window into the world that might be, not as it is. The emphasis in liberationist readings of Christian theology entails what it means to act as a Christian firstly, and then to consider what this means about God in the world. If God is indeed present in the world, is that the world of rehashed Christological controversies? or is that the world of Palestine during Operative Protective Edge? or the world of Ferguson? Academic theology has the ease and privilege of not needing anything outside itself, and thus the conversations often look inward, toward each other. I suspect the ease with which White theology has grappled with Jesus’ status as divine son of God points to their own unease with how to do justice in the world.
However, the problems of liberation theology exist as much as any. The safe home that it has found within the Catholic world of Latin America has created its own problems with its female, LGBTQ+, or minority members. There indeed has been an interruption of the poor within the world, but the attention that was given to the poor is now waning as we send shipments of Super Bowl shirts, or Toms shoes to impoverished peoples, and pat ourselves on the back. Young people go in droves to countries they can hardly pronounce, and speak a language just as foreign so they can take pictures with an emaciated child and make that their Facebook profile picture. Liberationist tendencies have been capitalized, marketed, and commercialized. We fly to Argentina and ask “Where are the Base communities?” so we can leave with a Moleskine full of notes about “how-to” do Bible studies. And in the free-market version of liberation theology, we get to manage pieces of what is means to do theology; we get watered-down versions of Cone, or Williams, or Gutíerrez so that we don’t offend the people who remain in power.
I am not disparaging any particular movement or people, but rather systems that engorge themselves on the suffering of other people without hesitation. If our theology is to be anything, it must be subversive. While hope is fine, and something that is temporarily helpful it cannot be all that we preach or teach. Hope will inevitably fail us all. Hope not only fails us, but lies to us. Hope tells us that our status is a temporary thing which will in some future, indeterminable time change for the better. In many ways, hope teaches us to be okay with our suffering so long as a solution is eschatological, or that Jesus suffered in this way, too. We must move beyond hope—and a false sense of hope at that. Simply put, subversive acts are those which up-end all capitalistic notions of ownership, consumption, and production; they are acts that disrupt all power relations between the center and the marginalized; they teach us about how to close our mouths and listen when all we want to do is speak; they are food, clothing, and shelter for all people. Our theological imaginations must move beyond the Origens of our time and use the small privilege have to bring about restorative justice for all.
Theology that is liberative must understand itself to be a project of materialist concerns just as much as it metaphysically minded. The people of God exist as people who are not simply in the world, but are also of it. The majority of Christians do not live in isolationist communities like many Anabaptists do and our theology must reflect that. Liberative God-talk is more than discourse analysis, it is a cry for revolutionary justice.
(In honor of the life and legacy of Marcella Althaus-Reid, a series on queer theology begins here on the anniversary of her death. Sigamos su camino: tengamos aguante.)
“In theology, to repeat can be associated with many modern habitual trappings, such as those into which ‘theologies at the margins’ may fall when they become simply attempts to induce oppressed multitudes to invest their identities in the centre-defined theological exercise by a simple economy of inclusion. Some gender-based theologies fall especially into that trap: they end reconciling themselves with androcentrism by getting reabsorbed into the system via heterosexual ideals of equality.”
Thursday, February 20, 2014 will be five years since the world lost Marcella Althaus-Reid to a battle with cancer. Marcella María de los Angeles was born in Rosario, Argentina on May 11, 1952. She remained in Argentina to attend the Instituto Unviversitario ISEDET earning a bachelor’s of theology. It was at ISEDET where she studied with renowned liberation theologian José Míguez Bonino and Hebrew Bible scholar J. Severino Croatta. After marrying she settled in Dundee, Scotland and began her PhD studies at the University of St. Andrews.
After completing her dissertation on the influence of Paul Ricœur’s hermeneutical theory on liberation theology she was awarded her degree in 1994. Six years later one of her most important works, Indecent Theology, was published. After this publication, in 2001, she became senior lecturer in theology, and then reader at the University of Edinburgh. In 2003 the University appointed her to full professorship as Professor of Contextual Theology. Althaus-Reid was the first female appointed to a professorship at the New College, University of Edinburgh. She was 56 when she passed away—just a few months short of her birthday. She is survived by her husband Gordon Reid.
It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of Althaus-Reid’s work: her theological career was cut short, and we can only speculate that some of her most important work is lost to sickness. One of her most vital contributions to theology was her recapitulated sexualizing of it: “All theology is sexual theology. Indecent Theology is sexier than most.” The gap that she perceived between these two, Indecent and Feminist liberation theologies, was that the latter was still under the hegemony of a male, homophobic ecclesial class. Indecent theology takes seriously the claims of liberation theology but sees itself disruption of it. She argued that liberation theology had the ‘heterosexual male’ in mind and that it had for too long ignored the issues that surround sexuality and gender. “[Liberation] theology did not set out chairs for women, or poor gays—or at least it never did so willingly.”
Furthermore, “liberation theology knows more about dogmas than about people, and more about discourses on love than about love itself.” However, the death of liberation theology should not yet be called as there is a new generation of theologians who are “standing in solidarity against the magrinalisation of and violence against women and Queers.”
Queer theology is not another type of theology. We would miss the very point of queering theology by this easy typological understanding. Brandy Daniels shows us that queer theory has offered a “critique of ontological categorization and epistemological certitude” and this critique “is relevant to and useful for a liberationist theological framework.” In this way, then, queer theology is not simply another framework, but it is a critique of all theological investigations that have assumed a heteronormative, male deity, and posits a true epistemological multiperspectivalism. Just like the work of Althaus-Reid, this critique cannot be overstated and is yet to be fully seen.
In her to blending feminism, politics, and liberation theology, Althaus-Reid showed how vital intersectionality is for the future of liberative theologies. This intersectional approach to theology will lead us to ask the question: who can do queer theology? should it only be women? those who identify as queer? She answers that these response are the “simple and empty equalizing formulae applied by many male liberationists” and that unless we have full participation “the liberationist argument of theological representatives contradicts itself.” In this way, Althaus-Reid invites us all to walk with her, to camina, to act for justice for all marginalized people.
 Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (London, UK: Routledge, 2003), 51.
 Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology (London, UK: Routledge, 2000), i.
 Indecent Theology, 5.
 Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Demythologising liberation theology” in The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 125.
 “Demythologising liberation theology,” 127.
 “Demythologising liberation theology,” 134-5.
 Brandy Daniels, “A Poststructuralist Liberation Theology?: Queer Theory and Apophaticism,” USQR 64, nos. 2&3 (2014): 109.
 “Demythologising liberation theology,” 133.
New York bound.