Liberation. It is a word I most associate with the liberation of the concentration camps in WWII. Or the Earth Liberation Front that uses “economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment.” Or the Animal Liberation Front that liberates animals from research labs. Or Gay Liberation or the Black Panther Party or the Women’s Liberation Movement. What they all obviously have in common is the freeing of persons or beings that were in essence, held captive by societal norms and systems.
But the word “liberation” took on new meaning for me in 1979, the year I entered Divinity school. I entered the school as unconscious as a person can be about the realities of the world. In six months I went from unconsciousness to a radicalized consciousness of myself and the world. I owe it all to Liberation Theology. This was a theology from below- from the hearts and minds of the poorest of the poor and the oppressed of the world. This was a theology that embraced the Exodus story as the story of liberation, a liberation that needed to happen right here and right now. In his classic book, A Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez writes that liberation “is the struggle to construct a just and fraternal society, where people can live with dignity and be the agents of their own destiny.”
Liberation is more than freedom. Freedom is a state of being. Liberation, as Gutierrez infers, is action. It is not a solitary act. It is big picture thinking and acting. Some of the liberation movements I referenced above may have sought freedom but they have not granted actual liberation. That liberation is still being constructed by women in developing countries, by blacks in this country and elsewhere, by folk who are queer, and certainly by those who work for the liberation of the planet and all life.
We can’t stop at freedom. We need to work for liberation.