Gutierrez on Bonhoeffer

In my final Anniversary Message to the Uniting Church in Australia I mentioned that I was going to “fast” from theology from the global north. (You’ll have to see the video to understand why.) Just a few days later my essay in Australian Leadership was published, reflecting on what we can learn from Finkenwalde. Now while I stand behind everything I said in that little essay and its tribute to that beloved martyr of the global north, in the spirit of my “fast” I’d like to share the following critique of Bonhoeffer and his hold over the imagination of the global north. Since I first read it, under the supervision of Steven Mackie at St Andrews University in 1981, it has lived in my memory as the theological equivalent of an “ear worm”. Thank you Steven. Thank Gustavo. Thirty-four years on I’m ready to listen to you…

“A goodly part of contemporary theology seems to take its start from the challenge posed by the nonbeliever. The nonbeliever calls into question our religious world, demanding its thoroughgoing purification and revitalization. Bonhoeffer accepted that challenge and incisively formulated the question that underlies much contemporary theological effort: How are we to proclaim God in a world come of age [mündig]? In a continent like Latin America, however, the main challenge does not come from the nonbeliever but from the nonhuman – i.e., the human being who is not recognized as such by the prevailing social order. These are the poor and exploited people, the ones who are systematically and legally despoiled of their being human, those who scarcely know what a human being might be. These nonhumans do not call into question our religious world so much as our economic, social, political, and cultural world. Their challenge impels us toward a revolutionary transformation of the very bases of what is now a dehumanizing society. The question, then, is no longer how we are to speak about God in a world come of age; it is rather how to proclaim him Father in a world that is not human and what the implications might be of telling nonhumans that they are children of God.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, “Praxis de liberación, teología y anuncio”, Concilium, 96, 1974.

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