Once again, Glenn Beck has waded into theological waters beyond his depth. This time he calls liberation theology a perversion of the Christian message. He says: "According to liberation theology, it means that salvation and redemption bought by Jesus comes in the form of political and social 'liberation' for minorities from white oppression. Salvation is realized with minorities achieving economic and political parity, via redistribution of wealth, with whites. Minorities 'saved' in the sense that white people constantly confess and repent for being racists and meet the economic demands of minorities, via redistribution as a consequence of some form of reparations."
Beck's analysis is incorrect. His error comes from either/or binary thinking. Beck reads liberation theology through a black/white; oppressed/oppressor; victim/conqueror; personal/political lens. In contrast, James Cone uses the terms black and white symbolically to represent complex relationships. For example: not all white people are oppressors. There are many European Americans who suffer from a lack of health care, poor schools, joblessness, food insecurity, dysfunctional families, addiction, and disproportional representation in the prison system. They suffer the same systemic troubles that disproportionately affect the African-American, Native-American, and Latino communities. Poor European Americans are as much victim to a system that privileges the rich as are people of color in the United States. The system of unjust power that Cone labels white does not refer to all white people. It refers to structures of power. And our theology does and ought to speak about a value system that undergirds our politics/economy.
Beck says that liberation theology does not take the concept of grace seriously in its soteriology. This is also a mistake. Liberation theology understands that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, but those sins are not only our personal sins. They include political sins. Liberation theology remembers that it was a political entity, the Roman Empire, which killed Jesus because his teachings of fearless, radical love, of generosity, and of care of the least in the society were a threat to the empire. Jesus taught his followers to pray for a new kingdom ON EARTH as it is in heaven. That kingdom begins within each of us and becomes the moral basis for society.
Beck's mistaken analysis wants all white people to think that all black people are after their job, house, and money in the name of Jesus. This is flat wrong. Liberation theology wants power structures to change because people finally realize how the various isms -- racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ageism, able-ism -- are systemic sins. The violence that results from inequitable distribution of wealth is a result of systemic sin. Grace is cheap grace if it does not radically change us personally and thereby change our politics/economy.
Moreover, Beck ties liberation theology to Marxism and to the concept of redistribution of wealth. He sees this in opposition to the laws of nature and of nature's god as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. It is more historically correct to place the concept of the rich paying for the functions of government, whatever functions that the people decide ought to reside in their government, at the feet of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson believed that the government ought to levy taxes that only the rich would pay so that ordinary working people could enjoy the benefits of their government without carrying the financial burden.
In his final speech, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the importance of unity in fighting economic disparity. This unity is a human unity, a liberation theology that has the power to liberate us all. And that is resurrection and salvation.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.