Saviors on Mount Zion – Mormon Liberation Theology
Mormon Liberation Theology
Gustavo Gutierrez defines theology as “critical reflection on historical praxis.” Doing theology requires the theologian to be immersed in his or her own intellectual and sociopolitical history. Theology is not a system of timeless truths, engaging the theologian in the repetitious process of systematization and apologetic argumentation. Theology is a dynamic, ongoing exercise involving contemporary insights into knowledge (epistemology), man (anthropology), and history (social analysis).
Douglas Davies in The Mormon Culture of Salvation argues that the LDS Church as a restoration movement exists because something is believed to have happened at a particular time and place, not just in the ancient lands of Biblical times, but also in the North and Meso-America of the Book of Mormon stories. More particularly still, it is thought that the young Joseph Smith was commissioned to establish the Church by divine beings. This conviction makes the sense of time and place quite palpable in Mormonism, to the extent that history and story telling within Mormonism often plays the role occupied in other religions by theology’.
Davies continues, ‘ the cultural investment in the significance of the restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith has made the LDS preoccupation with history quite inevitable, paving the ground for a very specific reading of history. Combined with heroic accounts of past generations of believers and personal testimony, as well as accounts of the doings and prophetic statements of leaders comprise a complex scheme of knowledge in a LDS culture most often US-centric in nature, yet bound up with world historical denouements’.
According to Gutierrez, “praxis” means more than the application of theological truth to a given situation. It means the discovery and the formation of theological truth out of a given historical situation through personal participation in the class struggle for a new egalitarian society. In Liberation Theology, biblical history is important insofar as it models and illustrates this quest for justice and human dignity. Israel’s liberation from Egypt in the Exodus and Jesus’ life and death stand out as the prototypes for the contemporary human struggle for liberation. We are taught by Nephi to use the ancient biblical stories for our own profit: And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all the scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning (1 Nephi 19:23).
The current practice (and not “praxis”) within the LDS Church is to see ‘present Church growth and world expansion and certain other selected major world events, both preceding and following the Restoration – the Reformation, the US inspired constitution, Communism’s collapse, and America’s consequent perceived divine destiny to bring international peace and freedom to the world – to be closely intertwined and to take on exclusive cosmic proportions’.
The question is now: on which side of history does the LDS Church stand today?
Liberation theologians agree with Marx’s famous statement: “Hitherto philosophers have explained the world; our task is to change it.” They argue that theologians are not meant to be theoreticians but practitioners engaged in the struggle to bring about society’s transformation (repentance on a large scale). In order to do this, liberation theology employs a Marxist-style class analysis, which divides society between oppressors and oppressed. This conflictual sociological analysis is meant to identify the injustices and exploitation within the historical situation. Marxism and liberation theology condemn religion for supporting the status quo and legitimating the power of the oppressor.
Saviors on Mount Zion
But unlike Marxism, liberation theology turns to the Christian faith as a means for bringing about liberation. Marx failed to see the emotive, symbolic, and sociological force the church could be in the struggle for justice. Which brings us today to a sort of cross-road for members of the Church in countries of the world, where there are unjust structures, where they live under the yoke of tyranny and corruption. Should they ask themselves if they should use the influence of the Church to accelerate the process of transformation of social structures? Gutierrez argues that the building of a just society (Zion-building) has worth in terms of building the Kingdom of God on earth and that to participate in the process of socio-political liberation in many countries is already, in a certain sense, a salvific work. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance. (Joel 2:32)
The biblical notion of salvation is equated with the process of liberation from oppression and injustice. Sin is defined in terms of man’s inhumanity to others. Liberation theology for all practical purposes equates loving your neighbor with loving God. The two are not only inseparable but virtually indistinguishable. King Benjamin’s sermon in the Book of Mormon explains that ‘when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God’ (Mosiah 2:17).