("Why?" you might ask. Well, I do have a taste for radical theological ideas. I like to test limits. But the other reason is biographical. When you start spending more time with criminals and the homeless your theology starts to...um...how to say it?...radicalize.)
Anyway, the thing I want to share with you is the relationship between commitment and theological reflection in liberation theology.
Perhaps you've heard of what has been called "God's preferential option for the poor." The father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutierrez (pictured here), was the first to use the preferential option for the poor as a working theological assumption.
The basic idea behind the preferential option for the poor is the observation that, within the biblical narrative, God sides with the poor against the rich. A couple of examples from the NT:
From the Magnificat / Mary's Song (Luke 1.51-53):Other examples abound, from the prophets to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
[The Lord] has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
From the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6.20-21, 24-25):
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied...
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry..."
But this goes further. The point here isn't to be descriptive. That is to say, the preferential option for the poor isn't merely a biblical, exegetical or hermeneutical observation. The point isn't to say, "Hey, have you noticed how God is always siding with the poor?"
In liberation theology the preferential option for the poor is, rather, an issue of commitment, a commitment of being with and for the poor. This commitment is primary and precedes theological reflection. Theological reflection is secondary, following the commitment to stand with the poor.
This does connect back with the biblical observation that God stands with the poor. The notion here is that theology can't be done properly if it doesn't begin where God begins--with, among, and for the poor. In this the commitment to the poor is a regulating principle helping us sort good theology from bad theology, correct theology from incorrect theology, orthodoxy from heresy. Simplifying, if theology is on the side of the poor it is good, correct, and orthodox. If theology is on the side of the rich it is bad, incorrect, and heretical. The preferential option of the poor adjudicates between theologies.
The deep idea here is that there is no "view from nowhere" for theology. Though it often pretends to be, theology can't be objective and disinterested. Theology is a discourse of power. You are, after all, speaking for God. But more often than not the power that is being protecting isn't God's but vested interests, current power arrangements, and the status quo. The only way to dispel this illusion is to do theology from a very particular and disclosed location, from a publicly declared place of bias. This over against that. Like Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain: Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.
In sum, liberation theology contends that if a location has to be picked, and it does, you have to pick the location of the poor. Theology starts there, with that bias. That bias is the only way to keep theology honest and located where God is located.