When I was in seminary a couple decades ago, the impression we were given by our professors, and especially the more conservative ones, was that liberation theology was a bad thing. I’ve never actually read liberation theology, but I have the vague impression that it says that the earthly Church has the duty (among other duties?) to pursue earthly justice, including the liberation of those oppressed through slavery, racism, government oppression, or severe economic disparity. Phrased as such, it seemed pretty innocuous to me at the time, but at some point it was apparently associated with Marxist rebellions in South America or somewhere, and the idea of priests fighting alongside communist rebels was, for most of us, too much to stomach. The Church, we said, should focus on spiritual liberation from sin – the Kingdom of God; let the kingdom of man be other people’s business.
Now I’m seeing a shift, especially in some similarly conservative thinkers. Now it is very much the business of the Church to liberate – not from the injustices of actual slavery or oppression, but from the (apparently) much worse injustices of outdoor Masses and closed down barber shops.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s starting to get chilly here in San Diego – it might even hit a 50 degree low by Christmas. Sarcasm aside, there are Dioceses that are still not allowed to have any form of public Mass, which is absolutely terrible. My own barber, in addition, is a dear friend, as are the owners of many local restaurants. All of them, and many others, will continue to be hurt by the quarantine mandates and the lack of government relief funds – which, I’m told, is always and everywhere the fault of the other side.
And so today, the Catholic Church in America is to fight (“Where are our bishops???” I am asked), not only for its own right to public worship (which is of course absolutely appropriate) but also for the right of its parishioners to go to concerts and shop at Walmart without a mask on. That might be an exaggeration, but it’s pretty common to see complaints that the Church shouldn’t comply even with mask or outdoor worship mandates – that it should stand up and fight. Not that wearing masks or celebrating Mass in a tent is a sin (in which case, and only in which case, it would be our duty to disobey), but that it’s annoying, or inconvenient, or, perhaps, a dark foreboding of things to come.
But the boy who cries persecution, if the fable is applicable here, at masks and social distancing rules and (if you remember this) red Starbucks cups, will become white noise when the persecution actually shows up. Whether you agree with the methodology or not, shutting down all indoor public mass events to slow the spread of a disease, from concerts to shows to Masses, isn’t targeting the Church, even if the mandate is idiotic enough to allow strip clubs to stay open.
There is already lots of Christian persecution happening in the world, and it doesn’t look like this. And if this is really a sign of worse things to come in America, we’d do better to brace ourselves manfully than whine at every chance, or prove ourselves disobedient citizens not only for the sake of our faith but also for the sake of our comfort. Giving our enemies valid reasons to hate us isn’t the same as preaching the Gospel in word and deed.
But if the problem isn’t really Christian persecution as such but government overreach in general, then I wonder if there are other institutions around to moderate this besides the Bride of Christ (remember the Republican Party?). If, however, it is the Church’s job to liberate the sons of men also from earthly bondage in all its forms including the most minor, then I have questions for some of my friends in seminary regarding what they told me about South America.
[Pictured above: literal martyrdom]