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Posts Tagged ‘liberation’

Mural in the Arcatao community, Chalatenango, El Salvador, reflecting what happened at Rio Sumpul in 1980

When Glenn Beck mentioned Liberation Theology around minute 12.20 of this Fox News video (which I came across courtesy of @Jay_Rosenberg), I literally sat up straighter in my chair, downsized the other 6 tabs I had open, hit rewind, turned up the volume and listened.  And I felt really unsettled.

The amount of time I normally give to Beck and the Tea Baggers is the time it takes to hit delete on an email. You know the ones… they are usually full of misinformation and have a lot of all capital letters, bright red size 64 font, and tell me to fear Obama, Mexicans, Muslim takeovers and universal healthcare.

But Beck’s coloring of Liberation Theology in this video clip “Liberation Theology and the Political Perversion of Christianity” and his take on social justice make me really angry.

In the Liberation Theology clip, Beck paints this vision of people who follow liberation theology. “These are people who, besides blowing stuff up, were also having a sexual revolution, trying to smash monogamy. This isn’t about God to them in any shape or form.”

He talks with Anthony Bradley, a ‘Black Liberation Theology Expert’ from the Acton Institute. Bradley says “One of the odd interpretations of Marxist thought and theology happened in central and south America, right in the church. And it was really the fantastic work of the current pope, who actually rooted out liberation theology from that region.”

Yes, right. Fantastic rooting out. Just fantastic, Bradley.

I’m not a Christian or a Marxist, but I lived and worked in El Salvador in the 90s. That’s right. El Salvador, one of the Central American countries where Liberation Theology was at its strongest.

Here’s what ‘rooting out liberation theology’ meant in El Salvador.

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero's famous words

It meant assassinating Archbishop Romero in 1980.

“Romero was shot on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called “La Divina Providencia”, one day after a sermon where he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while elevating the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic rite. When he was shot, his blood spilled over the altar along with the sacramental wine.” (Wikipedia)

And assassinating the 6 Jesuit Priests from the University of Central America, cutting open their heads and strewing their brains around the yard.

“Before the end of darkness on the morning of Nov. 16, with unspeakable and barbaric cruelty, armed men burst into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America in San Salvador and shot six Jesuit priests to death. At the same time, the community’s cook and her daughter were murdered in their beds. According to reliable reports, several of the priests, my brothers, had their brains torn from their heads.” (Washington Post, Nov 19, 1989)

And beating, raping and murdering 4 Maryknoll sisters.

“In December 1980, Jean Donovan and three nuns joined the more than 75,000 people who were killed in the Salvadoran Civil War. In the afternoon of December 2, Donovan and Dorothy Kazel picked up two Maryknoll missionary sisters, Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, from the airport after the pair arrived from attending a Maryknoll conference in Managua, Nicaragua. They were under surveillance by a National Guardsman at the time, who phoned his commander for orders. Acting on orders from their commander, five National Guard members changed into plainclothes and continued to stake out the airport. The five members of the National Guard of El Salvador, out of uniform, stopped the vehicle they were driving after they left the airport in San Salvador. Donovan and the three sisters were taken to a relatively isolated spot where they were beaten, raped, and murdered by the soldiers.

The [1993] U.N.-sponsored report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador concluded that the abductions were planned in advance and the men responsible had carried out the murders on orders from above. It further stated that the head of the National Guard and two officers assigned to investigate the case had concealed the facts to harm the judicial process. The murder of the women, along with attempts by the Salvadoran military and some American officials to cover it up, generated a grass-roots opposition in the U.S., as well as ignited intense debate over the Administration’s policy in El Salvador. In 1984, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Truth Commission noted that this was the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge had found a member of the military guilty of assassination. ” (Wikipedia)”

Rooting out liberation theology meant massacring almost 800 peasants in El Mozote in Morazan

“In a small rectangular plot among the overgrown ruins of a village here, a team of forensic archeologists has opened a window on El Salvador’s nightmarish past. Nearly 11 years after American-trained soldiers were said to have torn through El Mozote and surrounding hamlets on a rampage in which at least 794 people were killed, the bones have emerged as stark evidence that the claims of peasant survivors and the reports of a couple of American journalists were true.” (New York Times, 1992)

and another 300 people at Rio Sumpul, on the border with Honduras

“On 14 May 1980, units of Military Detachment No. 1, the National Guard and the paramilitary Organización Nacional Democrática (ORDEN) deliberately killed at least 300 non-combatants, including women and children, who were trying to flee to Honduras across the Sumpul river beside the hamlet of Las Aradas, Department of Chalatenango. The massacre was made possible by the cooperation of the Honduran armed forces, who prevented the Salvadorian villagers from landing on the other side.” (UN Truth Commission Report, 1993)

It meant assassinating, disappearing and torturing thousands who belonged to Christian Base Communities. And that was just in El Salvador.

Rev. James Martin in his Huffington Post article explains why he follows liberation theology. I encourage you to read his full post:

“Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. It’s also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help “the least of my brothers and sisters,” i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles “sharing everything in common.” Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian….

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.”

So, Glenn Beck. Really. Really?

Let me get this straight. The people above are or were about “blowing stuff up, sexual revolutions and trying to smash monogamy.”  And this is “not about God to them in any way shape or form” so they need to be “rooted out”?

Glenn Beck, you make me sick.

Update: posts I like on this topic:

Roger Ebert in Chicago Sun Times: Put Up or Shut Up.

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: Tea Party Rocks Primaries

Timothy Egan in New York Times: Building a Nation of Know Nothings

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I taught English in El Salvador when I was 24. A few of the students liked to talk with me about music. One day they wanted me to hear ‘this great song by Sepultura’, and I was like ‘Cool! That’s Orgasmatron!‘ and mentioned that I knew the Motorhead version. I don’t know what shocked them more: that I knew that particular song, or that their Sepultura version wasn’t the original.

I find myself having my fair share of those moments these days. I’m happy when good ideas in development and aid work are taken up, and especially happy when they are improved on (though I have to say that I like Motorhead’s version better than Sepultura’s). But it kinda bugs me when people talk about those ideas as if they are brand spanking new when they’ve actually been around for awhile. It seems like people should do some research, to at least know what came before.

What are some examples of 2010 re-makes?

Bottom up development

I find it weird that we are still discussing ‘bottom up’ development as a new or innovative thing in the year 2010 when it’s clearly been around for a really long time.

I started in development in 1994 in El Salvador. Most of the work that local NGOs were doing at that time was focused on helping grassroots groups and communities organize and manage their own development. A lot of time was spent in communities with community organizations. But this concept wasn’t born in the 1990s. It was grounded in Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Liberation Theology emerged in the 1960s ‘as a result of a systematic, disciplined reflection on Christian faith and its implications’ as the Catholic church in Latin America was reflecting on itself and its relationship with the poor. Those who formulated the concept worked closely in communities with the poor and saw the social and economic injustice begun by colonization and continued through those in power both in governments and within the church. Liberation theology re-interpreted the scripture in a way that affirmed the dignity and self worth of the poor and their right to struggle for a dignified life. ‘Liberation theology strove to be a bottom-up movement in practice, with Biblical interpretation and liturgical practice designed by lay practitioners themselves, rather than by the orthodox Church hierarchy.’  Check here and here for good links on Liberation Theology.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Brazilian Paolo Freire, based on his experiences working on literacy with poor communities developed his Pedagogy of the Oppressed all the way back in 1968, around the same time that Liberation Theology was emerging. Freire’s philosophy has been heavily drawn from and applied to development. Especially pertinent is the concept of dialogics an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics which use conquest, manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule’. Freire’s ‘emphasis on dialogue struck a very strong chord with those concerned with popular and informal education…. However, Paulo Freire was able to take the discussion on several steps with his insistence that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with each other. For more on Freire (I certainly did not do him justice) check here and here.

These 2 philosophies closely mirrored ideas that arose during the Civil Rights Movement in the US. There’s a brilliant book called “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change” where Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (who started the Highlander Folk School in 1932 and influenced Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.) discuss the similarities between their philosophies.

Public policy and advocacy

Fast forward to 1996, where we get a new director at the organization where I’m working, a Brazilian. He simply won’t stop talking about ‘civil society’ and ‘public policies’.  ‘There will be no sustainable changes if we don’t have an impact on the level of policies and their implementation. How does this program idea impact on public policies? How is civil society involved in holding the government accountable? Where is the budget for Peace Accords implementation going?’ Changing systems, transparency, political participation by those formerly excluded, and moving away from hand outs and emergency type programs were key in the vision of how the country would improve.

Working with local partners

To that aim, we funded different local organizations that raised awareness in rights holders on their rights and that advocated for the implementation of the 1992 Peace Accords. We worked with an association of women who were demanding that the alimony laws be operationalized, ex-combatants groups from both sides of the conflict who were not getting the benefits promised them in the Peace Accords, sex workers who were being harassed and abused by police, civic education, environmental organizations who worked with local communities on issues such as deforestation, water and land rights, etc. We also met and discussed a lot with other international organizations, and many of them were doing similar kinds of work.

Local management of the development process

I was pretty much ineligible for any advancement in the organization because the director’s mandate was to nationalize and hand over the program, now that the civil war and the ‘state of emergency’ were over. Local organizations now had more political space to work without the protection of international organizations. The idea was to strengthen capacities of all local staff, to move over to a national board of directors and to nationalize the organization. At the same time, the thought was to build the administrative capacity of local organizations so that they could function transparently with full accountability.

Participatory design/participatory development

I moved to a different organization in 1998, and one of my first tasks was to help write the organization’s strategic plan. The first step in developing that plan was community consultation. Staff (all of them local by the way) facilitated a consultation process with people  in the 400+ communities where we worked. In addition, they met and consulted with community based organizations, local NGOs, local governments, national level ministries as well as other international organizations, to learn of their plans and to avoid duplication of efforts.

The community consultations were done using PRA (aka ‘participation, reflection, action’) methodologies. Many of the tools staff used were developed and written about by Robert Chambers. Check here for a great overview of PRA or these 2003 notes on PRA since 1998.  PRA traces many of its roots back to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and looks to make communities the real owners of the development process. Any externals involved act as facilitators of a process (not drivers of the discussion) who ‘hand over the stick’ to local people as often as possible so that they fully manage their own processes. Chambers warns against ‘fascipulation’ – facilitation + manipulation, and surface PRA, saying the main ingredient in PRA is having real respect for local knowledge and local people. Some reading suggestions here.

(Side note to get an idea of how awesome Chambers is. I went to a workshop with him once and he walked in barefoot, pants rolled up, hair askew. He stood in front of us holding a map. It was upside down. Someone raised their hand to tell him it was upside down. He looked down at it and said ‘it looks fine from my perspective’. Then he went into a whole discussion about perspective. As part of that discussion, he started talking about computers and network thinking and how birds fly in flocks. This guy is some kind of genius.)

Community managed projects

Following the strategic consultations, staff worked with communities to design, plan and carry out their own projects, which were also administered by the community once they had gone through project administration training and had opened their community bank account to receive deposits.

Orgasmatron moments

Thinking about sustainability and working with local communities is really not a new concept, nor is the idea of working yourself out of a job if you work in development. The buzz words of transparency and accountability have also been around for awhile. Participatory design is not new either.

I don’t know. Maybe the organizations I’ve worked with in the 1990s and up to now are just amazingly progressive. Or maybe I’m missing something and when people use the terms above they are talking about something different and much more advanced and innovative than what I’m talking about.  I mean, the White Stripes first album was a total Doors/Zeppelin rip off, but they did go on to develop their own sound as they matured, and their third album was brilliant.  Snoop’s Upside Ya Head is obviously drawing on the Gap Band’s Ooops Upside Ya Head, but both versions are excellent. I do actually like a lot of the re-makes that are out there and there are also some really good new concepts and ideas and some great people and organizations that I learn from on a regular basis.

However, Green Day are not the ‘godfathers of punk rock’ (sign the petition here and help settle that issue once and for all) – How could they be if they came out in the late 80s and punk started in the early 70s? And I keep having Orgasmatron Moments when I see people gushing over an NGO that hires local staff (no brainer) or has a child protection policy (implementing ours since 2003) or consults with communities (why wouldn’t you consult with local communities?).

I suppose, like with my students in El Salvador, it kind of sucks when you realize your idea or your version isn’t the original. But you can be annoyed or bummed out or remain in denial, or you can go back and do some research, and see what you can learn from the original and try to improve on it. With music, knowing about the original song (even if it’s horrible and the new version is much much better), usually scores you some points for legitimacy.

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