Capitalism, Racism, and Sexism — An arresting story from Moltmann about the 1977 “Encounter of Theologies” conference in Mexico City

Jürgen Moltmann was an ally of liberation theology from very early, and this comes out well in his autobiography. But being an ally to liberation theology doesn’t mean that one’s own thought escapes criticism, and Moltmann reflects on various places in his autobiography concerning such criticism and when he felt it landed against him and when he felt it didn’t. He tells a story as part of this about a conference that occurred in Mexico City in 1977. The conference was billed as “Encounter of Theologies,” and it came at a time when liberation theology was taking a more militant stance against first world theology.

So much for setting the stage. I’ll let Moltmann tell the story. As usual, bold is mine.

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (Fortress, 2009), 229–30.

By Maeterlinck (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The conference in Mexico City had its surprising climax on the last day. The black theologian James Cone went through the rows of the liberation theologians, looked each of them in the eye, and then suddenly said, “As far as I know, there are more blacks living in Brazil than in the USA. But you liberation theologians are all whites. None of you is black or mulatto. Where are your black liberation theologians?” That shamed our Latin American partners. They were descendants of European immigrants, but not the descendants of black slaves. Who represented their liberation? The people on the bottom are still black and the people at the top white.

After we had somewhat recovered from this shock and had been made to realize that oppression through white racism had to be added to the oppression through the class society, the next shock followed, as it was logically bound to do: Dora Arce Valentin from Cuba, a strong woman and a person very much with a mind of her own, stood up, went through the rows not only of the liberation theologians but including us all, and began, “As far as I know, more than half the human race is female. But among those of you here, whether you are liberation theologians, or black theologians, or theologians of the First World, there is not a single woman. And yet women are especially oppressed, sexually and in many other ways, and have been from time immemorial, through the patriarchy and in Latin America through your arrogant machismo. Where are the feminist liberation theologians?” There was a long silence. We all reflected and silently relativized the positions we had defended so obstinately against each other. So this conference, in which the Marxist liberation theologians intended to settle scores with the rest of the theological world, in the end turned into an eye-opener for us all. We saw the different but interrelated fronts where we have to fight for freedom and human dignity: capitalism—racism—sexism. In the end that brought us after all, after all our disputes, into profound community. We celebrated the close of the conference with a glorious Mexican fiesta.



simon_thrown said…
It deserves to be mentioned that Paul scooped you here and already in Galatians 3:28 identified these markers as the lines along which oppression takes place ("There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female")

Capitalism (class difference): Slave/free

Racism (ethnic difference:

Sexism (gender difference:

Thanks for a very interesting blog (from a dedicated reader in quite "Evangelische" Denmark:-)
Simon Schmidt

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