William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian

Category: Presentations (Page 2 of 2)

A Christian Liberationist Response to the Crisis at the United States-Mexico Border

In this paper I will discuss the problem of violence related to the U.S.-Mexico drug trade as understood within the framework of political and economic globalization.  This will require a brief overview of my political-theological method.  I will then provide a liberationist theological reflection on the problem from a North American Christian perspective.  In closing I will offer a short ethical analysis in light of this theological reasoning.[i]

From the perspective of theology as a discipline, the impetus for this essay is the concern that, while liberation theology as traditionally conceived has perhaps run its course, the usefulness of the tools given to political theologians by liberation theology can only be judged by their continuous applicability.  In more concrete terms, therefore, the intention here is for the application of a liberationist hermeneutic to actually aid in the development of a historical project of liberation for the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Theological and Socio-analytical Methodology

As Clodovis Boff (2005, p 30) once advised, theology must first of all incline its ear to the social sciences if it hopes to be liberating, while also avoiding the collapse of one distinct discipline into another.  As such, for political theology, the social sciences will be genuinely constitutive of what theology can say and what can be its theoretical organization (Boff 2005,     p 30).  And as with any contextual theology, its historical situation and its particular theological concerns will also be mutually constitutive of each other.  Political theology in general and liberation theology in particular function to sensitize people of faith to what is believed to be God’s will in a specific historical setting, and to inspire their commitment to participating in God’s mission of reconciliation in that setting.  Thus the aim in political theology is to bring faith and action together more effectively (Sousa Santos 2009).

Liberation theology is distinct not only for its content but also for its method.  Undergirding this method is the Judeo-Christian-theological commitment to the preferential option for the poor and the oppressed and to seeing change realized for the people in these circumstances.  Secondly, there is the process of socio-historical analysis and the examination of the structures in place that enable subjugation.  Finally, there is the critical-theological reflection on praxis for carrying out action that contributes to the goal of liberation in light of the unjust conditions in place.  Hence, liberation theology is praxis in history and society – that is, critical reflection on action already enacted and largely informed by the context and concerns of a given situation (Metz 1980, p 73).  As such, it begins by way of socio-historical analysis.

The Larger Context: Globalization

The crisis in Mexico caused by the drug trade is seen here to be exemplary of the more universal context of globalization itself.  Globalization is understood in this case as a process or set of processes that embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions in terms of increased intensity, extensity, velocity and impact (Held & McGrew 1999, p 16).  These relations and transactions are not only economic and political in nature but also culture and environmental.

They involve changing and complex regimes of differentiation and homogenization that have constructed new paths and limits for global economic flows.  Other common byproducts include the rapid reconfiguration of territories especially with respect to patterns of economic exchange.  The invisibility of economic power structures and their ability to develop independently of legitimate political power is a key challenge brought about by globalization.  This challenge is exacerbated by the permeation and extension of this economic power beyond national borders.

Moreover, the process of globalization is replete with contradictions, uncertainties and unevenness.  For this reason, globalization is not simply coterminous with neoliberalism.[ii]  In other words, few globalizing factors at work are purely economic and therefore cannot be reduced to the logic of free trade and the international division of labor or class.

At the same time, globalization can still be conceived in many respects as a context in which “devising alternatives to neoliberal market capitalism has become increasingly difficult” Alcoff & Sáenz 2003, p 200).  International deregulation through trade agreements is one of the chief ways the empire of global capitalism is expanded.  In the case of the U.S.-Mexico border, NAFTA brought about increases in foreign-direct investment, but the tradeoff has been a less developed and more dependent Mexican economy in many respects.  Mexico has been forced to move away from an agriculturally dominant society to an economy represented by manufacturing, commerce, and services (Camp 2007, p 247).  The overall impact has varied tremendously depending on the region.

With regard to drug trafficking, just as production has been outsourced in the age of globalization, so too have many aspects of organized violence.  States have a monopoly on the ability to legitimize violence but cannot monopolize violence itself.  With the extraordinary coercive power of illicit cartel networks, the drug war is one example of this kind of violence.

The Mexico Drug War Itself

The major impetus for unrest in the border region depends on the demand for drugs in metropolitan centers in the United States and the supply from Columbia.  Once a kilo of cocaine reaches the streets in the U.S., it will be worth $100,000, or about $100 a gram.  In the Columbian countryside the same substance is worth $3,000, or about three dollars a gram.  The single greatest contributor to this giant surplus value is believed to be the illegality and therefore added political risk of the production, transport and consumption of the drugs themselves.              Investigative journalist John Gibler (2011, p 35) explains that, “[i]llegality also requires that one [bolster] the moral discourse of prohibition with massive infusion of funds into armies and law-enforcement agencies.  These infusions in turn require the production of arrests and drug seizures.  Competitors in the drug economy use this need as a way to eliminate opponents and rivals, tipping off federal authorities to the whereabouts of [enemy stashes and hideouts].”  In this context, illegality adds another more blatant complication: every dispute within the industry must be settled outside the law.  Rather than merely engaging in a competitive price war, the most common method of conflict resolution in an illegal business culture rampant with cash is contract murder (Gibler 2011, p 38).

As of 2011, the polls taken by the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego estimate that approximately 50,000 Mexicans have died since 2006 as a result of the conflict, and as a result of the competition at the border for trade smuggling routes between the different DTO (drug trafficking organizations) to secure their gain from the multi-billion dollars-worth of narcotics that cross the border every year (USD TBI, Drug Violence 2011).  Significantly more killings have happened in the border city of Juarez than anywhere else.  Less than five percent of these cases have been or are ever likely to be investigated.  Moreover, many of the murders are spectacular, stylized, and torturous in nature.  For this reason, it is not uncommon for the violence of the drug war to be called “narcoterrorism” – though this kind of terrorism differs markedly from others in that it seems to be primarily motivated by competition for control of revenue in the industry.

Most critics of the drug war believe that the drug trade and the present laws against drug trafficking are mutually reinforcing.  Gibler (2011, p 43) argues that “[t]he blood and chaos that accompany drug trafficking from Mexico into the United States are inextricably related to the simultaneous demand within the U.S. population for the [drugs], and the insistence of U.S. politicians on an ideological commitment to prohibition that seeks to veil prohibition’s use for social control.”  In response, though U.S. policy has not stopped the flow of drugs, it has managed to outsource most of the killing (Gibler 2011, p 203).  With dozens of reporters in Mexico gunned down or disappeared since 2008, the DTOs are especially skilled at silencing those who speak out.  The targets seem to be anyone with access to major media channels, or anybody who annunciates facts that could be bad for business (Gibler 2011, p 23).

Narcoterrorism is essentially an effort to coerce the media and scare others away from cooperating with law enforcement.  Furthermore, it is estimated by Mexico’s own government that the DTOs have infiltrated as much as half of the municipal police force.  At the same time, “[p]roducing arrests is a necessary feature of the industry, and so, like murder, arrest becomes a way of settling accounts or invading territory” (Gibler 2011, p 23).  Thus, the culpable and the innocent are confused, and the hybridity of the drug war zone is highlighted.

The temptation on the part of U.S. citizens is often to dismiss organized crime as outside the “clean legal system,” rather than to recognize how interwoven official government is in drug trafficking on both sides of the border.  This is what makes the U.S. government’s deployment of the phrase “war on drugs” so misleading.  It is well known by even some DEA officials that the drug war machinery suffers from an industrial complex that to some extent causes the very disease it aims to cure, but this is a powerful sector of government that employs thousands of people and can easily lobby for itself (Campbell 2009, p 10).

For Mexico’s antidrug campaign, on the other hand, which was amplified by President Felipe Calderon in 2006, the most important audience is the United States – both its media and political representatives.  It has even been argued that, despite what looks like an intense turf battle on the surface, politicians at the national level in Mexico might have good reason not to substantially disrupt DTO operations for the risk of having their past collusions exposed before an election (“Mexico’s Presidential Election,” 2012).

So at one level, victims sometimes become victimizers.  Those immediately impacted by declining employment opportunities, for instance, can end up on the Sinaloa or Zeta cartel payroll.  This makes them servants to the system in which their fate is often sealed, as many low-paid traffickers and snitches are brutally executed after being intercepted by rival gangs.  Videos of these executions circulate on the internet to incite fear, and bodies are left on public display.

Meanwhile, however, those uninvolved in trafficking are commonly caught in the crossfire.  At another level then, some binaries remain, and it may be possible to make a few general distinctions between the oppressors and those being oppressed.  It seems clear that free trade zoning coupled with continued illegalization – all of which is encouraged or permitted by a corrupt legal system in parts of Mexico – has largely contributed to the creation of a deregulated capitalist “laboratory,” which, in the words of author Charles Bowden, has become “the global economy’s new killing field” (Bowden 2010).  The oppressor then, appears to be a structural economic and legal framework that is bolstered by consumers, misinformed or self-seeking political stakeholders, and ruthless DTO leadership.

Conversely, the oppressed are the low-wage dealers and transporters, the addicts without treatment, the overly incarcerated minorities in the United States, the displaced Mexican migrants, and the thousands who have been abused or killed mostly due to a lack of lawfulness in general (poor teenage women and their activist mothers, among others).  Furthermore, this list notes that the two groups are not simply separated by their citizenship.  The border is significant but by no means an all-determining factor.  In sum, the weight of these asymmetrical relationships falls heaviest on the socially and materially impoverished, which makes a liberationist theological consideration especially appropriate.

A Brief Theological Reflection

From a Christian political-theological perspective, there are two tasks.  First, there is a response to the cry for liberation from the current oppressive situation in view of a preferential option for the poor and the victimized.  Christians of conscience and conviction about the need for solidarity of Mexicans and Americans will be led to heed the demands placed on them by the voices of these persons being erased from history and those of their orphans and widows left behind.  Secondly, one can speak about the solidarity that Christians profess God to have with the suffering victims of this crisis through the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is known through the hermeneutic of liberation in living, dying and being resurrected as God incarnate who embodies solidarity with those whose lives have been disappeared in this battle (Sobrino 1994, p 315).   By announcing both judgment of unjust power and freedom for captives, the poor and the marginalized, Jesus stands firmly within the Jewish prophetic tradition as one who was shunned for criticizing the political and religious status quo.  In his death, Christ’s blood exposes and protests the violence and injustice of the drug lords and all other complicit actors, reflects the sin and wickedness of their deeds, and yet also declares forgiveness and justification to the penitent (Park 2009, p 74).  Jesus cried out from the cross against the torture, murder, exploitation and injustice of the Mexican drug war, just as he denounced the rest of history’s atrocities (Park 2009, p 75).

In his life, Jesus proclaimed the basilea theou, or reign of God, which might be more appropriately termed “God’s economy” or the “divine commonwealth.”  In this economy, power is not granted de facto to the materially powerful, but rather to the one whose way is anchored in justice for everyone.  The hegemony and ordering of the drug trade economy is abolished by this alternative vision – a vision that refuses to ignore the plight of the oppressed in the pursuit of its goal and regards no human being as less than a fellow subject.

Jesus’ crucifixion is yet another symbol of God’s solidarity with the victim of the drug war.  In one sense, it can be treated simply as a prophet’s fate.  Jesus’ death came as a consequence of the kind of life he led and because of what he said and did.  He got in the way of political and religious leaders with imperial agendas.  Many other human beings have been “crucified,” and they too are called sons and daughters of God by Jesus.  By participating in human nature and suffering like so many others have, Jesus demonstrates something about what God is like.  God in Jesus’ humanity is a fellow-sufferer.  Through Jesus, God understands the plight of the victimized.

More specifically, the manner in which Jesus died is astonishingly analogous to the execution practices of the drug cartels.  “Criminals” were crucified at the time not so much for what they did, but for the degree to which they were perceived as a threat to Roman security and sovereignty (Crossan 2007, p 137).  Jesus was replacing Barabbas, the insurrectionist.  The crucifixion was meant to be a public and fear-inciting inscription of Roman territory on anti-imperial bodies.  The drug cartels are similarly interested in intimidation and leaving their signage on victims’ mutilated corpses.  “This is what happens to all those who oppose us,” they warn.

Thirdly, by confessing the resurrection, God’s mission in Christ is not only one of compassion and solidarity but of salvation as well.  Here the nature of God’s power is contrasted with that of the empire, exerted conversely in a just and righteous fashion.  Moreover, this power is not reducible to the political realm alone.  Rather, it is ontological and vital, and it mysteriously raises Jesus from the grave, as the scriptures and the creeds of orthodoxy testify.  For the victims of the world throughout history in general and of drug-related violence in Mexico in particular, some recourse to hope can be found in this promise.

In his life, Jesus broke down social barriers and included the outcast – those like the drug dealer, the prisoner, the addict and the victimized woman.  Jesus’ suffering and death makes it clear that the victims of violence are not all dying because of their guilt or uncleanness (Park 2004, p 75) –– unlike much of what the popular media and the Mexican government would lead the public to believe.  Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life is inspiration to all of the families and friends of dead journalists, and reminds that their sacrifices have not been in vain.  Finally, the resurrection eases the fear of mortality, giving survivors the courage to resist and make sacrifices while also instilling the hope that death might not get the final word.

Of course this represents just one type of theological response in what is otherwise now more broadly called an interreligious stream of liberationist thought, so others must also be urged to give their own interpretation.  The point is that these Mexican brothers and sisters are the suffering neighbors of U.S. citizens, and in the words of economist Ha-Joon Chang, we have been bad Samaritans (Chang 2008).  Nevertheless, blaming the right group is less important than recognizing the justification and need for solidarity from one’s particular vantage point – and responding by living with greater economic responsibility.

Ethical Response

Upon preliminary observation, it seems that any kind of liberating political action will probably require breaking the taboo on debate and reform of drug and free trade policy.   Utopian visions are of little use in this predicament, and a theological criticism must eventually be grounded in practical terms lest it function to re-inscribe the domination of political indifference.  Juarez did not become possibly the most violent and deadly city in the world overnight.  Nor is its current condition accidental.  Despite many other enabling factors, the crisis appears to be most basically a result of the sheer power of unregulated market forces and its ability to bring out the worst in people – driving some to value recreational psychoactive stimulus, the securitization of cash flow, or the appearance of civility over human life itself.

As anthropologist and sociologist of the drug war Howard Campbell summarizes, “the consuming countries clearly have the most power in this context – power to cut domestic drug demand, the power to pressure the policies of drug-producing countries and otherwise meddle in their internal affairs, the power to demonize and otherwise stigmatize producers” (Campbell 2009, p 10).  From a liberationist standpoint, the social and structural sins of the conflict should be named, which, in addition to denouncing the cruelty itself, should entail a new stigmatization of casual drug use and of failure to open the floor for dialogue about different regulatory strategies at the mainstream political level.  Right now in most of the country and in most instances, to consume these substances illegally is to at least indirectly participate in fueling the bloodshed.  What should be instilled in the minds of American consumers, therefore, is a self-critical ethic that uncovers the illusion of personal, private sin associated with social use of narcotics and conversely underscores the urgency of the collective harm done by funding this ruthlessly profit-seeking industry.  Change in U.S. policy toward narcotics and trade might lead to the reduction of rampant murder, the impunity of entire regions, mass incarceration, disguised repression, excessive spending to fight the war, and the pretext for U.S. interference in drug-producing countries.  This is reason enough for the discussion to be welcomed and for experimentation with new policies to be encouraged, because whatever the most just and liberating solution is, the policies currently in effect are not achieving it.

There are many things that Mexicans and the Mexican government can and should consider doing.  Responsibility for this crisis falls on both parties, and obviously the U.S. and its population is in no place to unilaterally advise the Mexican people.  Nonetheless, given the preceding assessment, the most pressing and potentially liberating steps to be taken are likely only possible from the northern side of the border.  For the U.S. to initiate this sort of neighborly action would be a revolutionary measure in the direction of solidarity with Mexico and international economic responsibility.

[i] What is presented here does not exhibit a rigorous empirical study of all the best data available, and this would certainly need to be part of the larger project.  The purpose then is not to make detailed recommendations for policy change so much as to raise awareness, introduce the topic, and broadly explicate the key structural features and likely causes of the conflict so as to signal toward possible paths forward.  In doing so, however, certain suggestions regarding which political issues are most pertinent will nonetheless be clearly insinuated.

[ii] Neoliberalism is understood here as the dominant Western economic ideology that is characterized by trust in self-interest-driven free market competition with very limited government interference as the best strategy both domestically and internationally for bringing about the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run.


University of San Diego Transborder Institute Drug Violence Report for 2011. http://justiceinmexico.org/resources-2/drug-violence/. Viewed on December 13, 2011.

Stratfor Global Intelligence, “Mexico’s Presidential Election and Cartel War.” http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/mexicos-presidential-election-and-cartel-war/. Viewed on February 16, 2012.

Alcoff, Linda Martin, and Mario Sáenz. Latin American Perspectives on Globalization: Ethics, Politics, and Alternative Visions. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.

Boff, Clodovis. Theology and Praxis: Epistemological Foundations. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005.

Bowden, Charles. Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. Asbury Park: Nation Books, 2010.

Campbell, Howard. Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

Chang, Ha-Joon. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

Gibler, John. To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2011.

Held, David. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Metz, Johannes Baptist. Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology. New York: Seabury Press, 1980.

Park, Andrew. Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.

Park, Andrew S. From Hurt to Healing: A Theology of the Wounded. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004.

Sobrino, Jon. Jesus the Liberator: A Historical Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth.  Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994.

Sousa Santos, Bonaventura. “If God were a Human Rights Activist: Human Rights and the Challenge of Political Theologies,” Law Social Justice and Global Development Festschrift for Upendra Baxi, 2009.

Solidarity Before Dialogue: Toward an Ecclesiology of Economic Inclusivity in an Age of Religious Pluralism and Globalization

Any kind of Christian theology today, even in the rich and dominant countries, which does not have as its starting point the historic situation of dependence and domination of 2/3 of humankind, with its 30 million dead of hunger and malnutrition will not be able to position and concretize historically its fundamental themes.  Its questions will not be the real questions.[1]


The problem posed by religious pluralism for particular and normative claims about reality and truth on the part of various faith traditions is nothing new.  From the Christian perspective, it has led to or reinforced fundamentalism and exclusivism on the one hand, while also causing others both within and outside of the faith to be suspicious of any claims of normativity on the other.  Ideas and epistemological movements like postmodernism and post-structuralism bring further but also what are by now familiar challenges to this problem.  Consequently, a number of original voices have arisen in attempts to reconcile this conflict of the one and the many in terms of a Christian theological outlook.

One such voice is that of S. Mark Heim who has proposed that a diversity of religious salvific ends might be imaginable within a Trinitarian framework.[2]  Heim’s chief interest in making such a proposal is to honor the integrity of the teachings and salvific hopes in other religions themselves, rather than fitting these aspects into the major tenants of a Christian meta-narrative. Thus the question for Heim of “what counts as salvation?” becomes more crucial than “which one saves?” because the world religions are not all pursuing the same soteriological end.[3]

Despite Heim’s sensitive and inventive contribution, some have found it less than satisfying.  Those like Paul Knitter or even Rosemary Radford Ruether for instance are unhappy with Heim’s proposal based on their commitment to and preference for justice as a unifying imperative, however variably construed.[4]  The difficulty from the Christian view with what Ruether and Knitter propose, however, is that their acquiescence to the conflict of competing creeds obliges a descent from the tradition in a willingness to forfeit or relativize any final or normative soteriological assignment to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In doing so, in Heim’s view they have consequently undermined any universal assertions from all other religious locations as well.  And in order to do this, they must presuppose a common horizon of meaning and discourse themselves.  This is exactly what Heim is trying to avoid; for he and others like him judge what Ruether and Knitter (and Hick before them)[5] purport to be at least equally speculative in comparison to upholding a particular religious commitment.

Another unique voice that has perhaps received less attention than these others is that of Anselm Min.  Min’s approach is distinctive for his attempt to work out a synthesis between these two opposing views just highlighted.  Thus what follows in the bulk of this essay is an overview of and brief response to Min’s approach, followed by an attempt to apply and concretize Min’s thought in the ecclesial context with some assistance from the thought of Gustavo Gutierrez.    There are many issues surrounding this discussion that simply cannot be addressed here – many of them very acute.  It is nonetheless my hope that a better understanding of what Min proposes combined with a degree of Gutierrez’s ecclesiology might enable Christians to better navigate the rough waters of religious pluralism and globalization.[6]


Like Heim, Min accepts the mutual incommensurability of religions.  That is, he avers that the world religions are irreducibly different.  Moreover, religions as dialectical and concrete totalities cannot merely be conceptualized.  Rather, they must be “appreciated.”[7]  As such, in order to attain any approximate mutual understanding, it is appropriate and necessary for each religion to confess its distinctive beliefs and claims including the claim to finality.

Traditional inclusivists on the other hand, according to Min, refuse to accept the irreducible plurality of religions.  In his words, Min puts a pluralist “twist” on Rahner’s inclusivism by stating the following: “God’s love of all humanity and the essential social mediation of our ultimate fulfillment leads us to the a priori plausibility that each religion is the vehicle of that ultimate fulfillment for its own members.”[8]  Here Min is like Heim who dares to contend that that the “‘finality of Christ’ and the ‘independent validity of other ways’ are not mutually exclusive.”[9]  But whereas Heim is interested in constructing an overarching Christian model that includes the distinctives of other world religions, Min favors the liberationist vantage point specifically because of his shared conviction that its concerns – namely, the concerns brought about by the reality of world poverty experienced by roughly two-thirds of the population – are more pressing than the goal of reaching theoretical consensus.

Anthropologically, Min begins by describing human existence both individually and corporeally as constituted by the concept of a concrete totality wherein there are present many mutually distinct and irreducible dimensions, yet also mutually constitutive and internally related dimensions.  In Hegelian fashion, for Min history is a teleological process in which humanity struggles for the resolution of contradictions and strives toward a higher synthesis and reconciliation of opposed elements.  This philosophy posits a certain unity underlying the historical process and human beings themselves as concrete totalities.[10]

Furthermore, human existence is concrete insofar as it is a concrete historical process in which it seeks, through praxis, to achieve liberating self-unification out of the dialectic of these constitutive elements (transcendence and history, personal and social existence, materiality and spirituality, etc.).  Human beings are born into an already-existing world, historically conditioned and formed by particular economic and political organizations, distributions of power, as well as certain ideologies and cultures.  In this regard, Min considers the struggle to meet basic material needs to be the presupposition of everything else.[11]  Hence Min introduces and privileges the idea of praxis and liberation, or what in my interpretation can be called solidarity before dialogue.  Within the context of specific conflicts and possibilities, this struggle “for the realization of human life as a concrete totality” is characterized by working toward liberation from the oppressiveness of the social status quo and by striving for reconciled communities.[12]

Privileging by extension the liberationist hermeneutic circle (Segundo), Min primarily sees human beings as subjects of socio-historical praxis.  As such he subordinates thought, self-consciousness, will, and feeling to this praxis.[13]  Thus, questions of meaning cannot precede those of the demands for life itself.  At the same time, theologically speaking, liberation or salvation in its full sense is both eschatological and historical, so theory still has its place.  But Min consistently points out that theory – despite humanity’s ability to transcend itself – always happens within history and not over it.  For this reason, the issue of religious pluralism cannot be abstracted from the “practical demand and theological significance of massive human alienation and suffering, unjust social structures, global economic and military rivalry, and the rush of history toward the destruction of nature.”[14]

Religions have been both enemies and collaborators in violent and peaceful causes.  Conflict reigns within as much as among the various faith traditions.  Thus, Min selects the criteria of basic justice and the dignity of humanity as the ground for solidarity between religions.  For Min, a theory of justice will come from the Christian tradition, but for others, from the depths of their own religious resources.  From here, Min is forced to conclude that, “a serious dialogue must do away with the assumption of the ultimate harmony of all religions and the plea for indiscriminate tolerance of all diversity.”[15] In other words, some religious forms and expressions are problematic on the grounds that they are destructive and antithetical to the goal of historical liberation and as a result must be challenged and confronted.

Min is careful to say, however, that privileging economic and political factors is not the solution or approach to the issue of religious pluralism for all time necessarily.  Rather, it is because these factors have presented unprecedented challenges for this time.  Hence, the “validity of the competing claims of different religions to ultimacy, universality, and absoluteness” are not unimportant, but they do become secondary for Min.[16] Adherents to various faiths should dialogue, but not before seeking solidarity.  At minimum there is required for Min a dialectical relationship between dialogue and solidarity – the main reasoning here being that the intellectual matters are not divorced from the material ones, as if we could obtain peace simply through understanding or even mutual transformation (which are two of the most common Western ideals for interfaith discourse).

Min intentionally calls for a solidarity of others instead of with others so as to protect against a movement of inclusion by incorporation from a Christian center.  Furthermore, Min wants the Christian faith itself to be decentralized, as one more “other” among many others.  Min’s theology of religions is a theology “from below” in that it disallows for stepping beyond or outside of history and claiming intuitions into ahistorical, universal truths.  This is what Min argues is the key distinction between what he proposes and what many traditional Christian inclusivists maintain (Rahner, Tillich, Pannenberg, and more recently Moltmann, Jacques Dupuis, Gavin D’Costa, and Joseph Dinoia).  At the same time, it would of course be incorrect to say that Min is only working from a material and collective starting point.  His method is first one of faith guiding reason in a classical-Christian manor, and in this respect is also unavoidably a revealed theology “from above” in which Christ is largely the object.  This does not however preclude the liberationist perspective from being a thoroughly historical one.[17]

Despite these epistemological limits and the ontic contingency of human beings, Min asserts that there must also be dialectical flexibility in this thesis.  Just because we cannot stand above history doesn’t mean that a certain degree of objectivity is unattainable.  This is what distinguishes Min on the other hand from those in the post-liberal tradition as well as from post-structuralists.

As has already been noted, Min does not see any compelling reason to reject christological inclusivism as such.  For him it is “premature to abandon our traditional commitment to the finality of Jesus Christ so central to the identity of Christian faith.”[18]  Of course Min acknowledges that upholding this commitment to christocentrism is done in faith and by confession – not by intuition into ahistorical truth.[19]  So Min “cannot a priori dismiss the possibility that we may have to modify or abandon our christological belief at some point in the future.”[20]  And it is this risk that constitutes faith as faith.  Christians cannot deny the sincerity of the followers of other religions, nor the validity of all their respective truth claims, but neither can they live without faith in the transcendent and without a commitment to truth as humanity can best discover it in the obscurities of history and as mediated by human concepts.[21] This is true especially today, Min affirms, when humanity is compelled to rise to a more universal perspective by sheer historical dynamics, without yet having achieved theoretical clarity and consensus about many of the ultimate theological questions.  Cooperative praxis of liberation then becomes all the more urgent precisely in light of the historical conditions of our knowledge in an increasingly interdependent world.

Min believes a theoretical resolution of the issues of comparative evaluation of different religions – insofar as such a resolution is feasible – will simply have to be left to the judgment of future history.  Historical praxis, it is hoped, would expand humanity’s perspectives and create a consensus of intellectual presuppositions that are more universal, thus enabling a resolution of the remaining issues more adequately, dissolving certain present issues as issues altogether.

In addition to the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, pluralism itself, Min argues, must be taken dialectically.  The historicity of pluralism as a reality and the situation of global encounter cannot be taken for granted as simply given.  Min sees this as the mistake of many theologians addressing the problem.  Min first asks, what is the impact that the practical has had or should have on the theoretical?  But “dialectical pluralism is dialectical in the Hegelian/Marxian sense that it takes history . . . to be a process of differentiation, contradiction among difference, and sublation or reconciliation of such a contradiction.”[22]  Because of this, the preservation of particularities as such is not the goal.  Religions inherit their identities and are dynamic in nature, not immutable.  Accordingly, the pluralistic situation is not simply a conglomerate of unrelated juxtaposition of self-contained, unrelated religions; each has its own history of development with many internal tensions.

Thus, Min is striving to be dialectically and historically committed to both his Christian particularity and the irreducible pluralism of religions at the same time.  And like many traditional inclusivists, Min requests a readiness by Christians to make themselves vulnerable to the possibility of being transformed by the other.  More than just being open to mutual influence though, dialogue permits every religion to share its “good news” and invite others to be affected by this good news.[23]  Unlike Knitter then, Min does not think a renunciation of one’s own commitment to particular truths and confessions is necessary for genuine interfaith dialogue. This being said, Min also considers any evaluation of the salvific role of other religions from the Christian perspective premature.  So the primary question for every religion from Min’s view remains: “whether and how it is able and willing, from within its own [tradition], to promote the solidarity of others by contributing to the cooperation of different cultures and religions in common space, and to reinterpret itself and others in light of that solidarity.”[24]

A Critique Considered

Min “understands religion to be a matter of existential commitment, discipleship, and transformation that includes but also transcends objective rationality; thus it is more a (salvific) way of existing to be confessed in faith and praxis than a theory to be understood in detached reflection.”[25]  But is Min not implicitly conceding to Hans Kung, for example, who believes there can be a kind of “best” or “true” universal essence of religion in the first place?[26] And while Min does not subordinate the integrity of other religions to a particular Christian criterion per se, does not Min nonetheless subordinate the value and even utility of other religions to his own viewpoint?  If so, is this acceptable on the grounds that he claims to have no a priori universal perspective?  Indeed, Min is quick to reassure that his point of view is one among many, but is he aware of or fully transparent about the degree to which his religion functions as a mere contingent, concrete totality in the world himself?

Min has a response to this question.  He says, “I gladly admit that my very description of religion as a concrete totality that as such is irreducible to a particular perspective, contains an implicit definition and is caught in the contradiction of claiming both irreducibility and reducibility for religion.”[27]  For Min “it is a question of a practical solidarity of others, of together creating the concrete social conditions of mutual justice and solidarity.”  So Min asks, how will the people of faiths behave toward each other in the face of common historical problems?  Will agreements, governments, systems and laws be set to ensure a minimum degree of respect for life and security and other basic human need?[28]

Those like Heim and John Milbank would likely accuse Min of imposing a Western humanist or eurocentric ethical/categorical imperative on everyone else.  Min contends, however, that there is in fact “a common longing for the reality of justice in the sense of basic fairness in treatment and basic freedom from genocide and externally imposed material suffering and political oppression.  What is at stake is an absolutely elementary reality accessible to all religions.”[29]  In other words, nobody wants to starve or be murdered and dominated.  Ethical common ground between religions therefore “is determined from within the context of needs that human life demands for its survival and development.”[30]  Any focus on cultural or identity preservation and reproduction is based first on the supplication of material needs necessary for physical existence.  Thus the latter must be regarded as primary and fundamental – even universal.

Such an argument would have to allow for various and even, to an extent, competing theories of justice among the religions.  And here, Knitter and Min are in agreement, [31] as Knitter appeals to suffering as a universal with similar and immediate causes such as “poverty, abuse, victimization, and violence”[32] – the latent ambiguity of these terms notwithstanding.  Contra Milbank and Heim then, for Min and Knitter justice is not just one value option for social existence across religious and cultural boundaries.  Min and Knitter would accuse Heim’s model of reducing the problem of religious pluralism to the theoretical which can too easily lead to complacency about urgent matters of life and death.

So is Min judging other religions by his or a Christian standard of justice?  Yes and no, he might reply.  It is only a relative judgment that does not dismiss any religion as a whole. And he admits that Christianity deserves the same scrutiny, since the Church has been guilty of and responsibility for atrocities throughout the centuries.  A dialectical understanding of religions prevents this judgment from becoming too total, as religions are never inherently separate from all of the other historical conditions and factors influencing them.

Thus it may not be Min’s christocentrism that poses the biggest obstacle to a wider acceptance of his proposal.  As for the fervent defense of a universal imperative for justice, certainly many could see the idea as desirable if not compelling.  The more pressing problematic appears to be the looming unresolved tension.   between In response, one could make the case that Min is calling for a commitment to solidarity for specifically Christian reasons – not because of a general, abstract philosophical conviction.  In doing so, he avoids the temptation of trying to solve the pluralism problem in strictly abstract terms.  Presumably it is the witness and practical response to a particular christological revelation handed down by the community of believers that is informing Min’s decision more so than universal theology as such (however implicit in this a universal theory might be).  Perhaps what William Cavanaugh has suggested for the Church’s application of a universal principle can serve to “bring down” Min’s analysis: “The Christian is called not to replace one universal system with another, but to attempt to ‘realize’ the universal body of Christ in every particular exchange.”[33]  With this modest corrective in mind, it should be possible to transfer this reflection on solidarity into the ecclesial realm for the discovery of some implications.


            If solidarity before dialogue is the approach to interfaith relations, what are the stipulations on the ground for the Church?  Following Min, a shift in emphasis and attention is compulsory, from religious inclusivity to economic inclusivity – which already assumes religious inclusivity.  This is not to discount dialogue, but rather to take seriously the most pertinent issue facing a particular global situation.  In the words of Enrique Dussel: “We speak of ‘economics’ . . . as the moment in which praxis and poiesis, in a concrete synthesis, are articulated in order to constitute the practical-productive level par excellance.[34]”  Simply put, economics is the language for meeting basic needs and analyzing material poverty.  Material poverty in this instance is assumed to be, as liberation theology has said, a “subhuman situation [. . .] Concretely, to be poor means to die of hunger, to be illiterate, to be exploited by others, not to know that you are being exploited, not to know that you are a person.”[35]  Furthermore, in the age of globalization, by and large poverty is not caused by chance; it is usually a result of actions by those whom the prophets condemn.[36]

This reframed struggle, however – from dialogue to solidarity, or religion to economics – does not prioritize the political and economic issues to the exclusion or negation of other factors (be they cultural, racial, gender, etc.).  Rather, it takes precedence because of its exigency in this particular time and place, in which the difficulties posed by globalization seem overwhelming.  Following Dussel’s argument, the standpoint of the marginalized, the exploited, the poor is henceforth privileged, as “[t]he one who has the ability to discover where the other, the poor, is to be found will be able, from the poor, to diagnose the pathology of the state.”[37] This applies especially to the Church in the dominant stratum of the globalized context.  The Church must be able to scrutinize the state from the perspective of the poor, not because the Church subsists on the same plane as the state or abides by the same rules – of course it does not – but because it must be able to appropriately stand with the poor in solidarity and protest, and this cannot be done without the right tools of analysis.

For Gustavo Gutierrez, “Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and under oppression, so the Church (or body of Christ) is called to follow the same path in communicating to others the fruits of salvation . . . But [Christ] does not take on the human sinful condition and its consequences to idealize it.  It is rather because of love for and solidarity with others who suffer in it.  It is to redeem them from their sin and to enrich them with his poverty.  It is to struggle against human selfishness and everything that divides persons and allows that there be rich and poor, possessors and dispossessed, oppressors and oppressed.”[38]

Secondly, the body of Christ strives to institute a communal life in accordance with the values of the kingdom of God.  And since the kingdom of God implies the establishment of justice in this world, it is not enough simply to denounce poverty.[39]  Nor is the church fulfilling its duty in the age of pluralism and globalization if it merely works to eradicate poverty (through charity, political activism, social programs, etc.).  Churches can actually strive to create concrete, alternative economic practices, spaces and transactions that are truly free – as opposed to the so-called “free market.”  This requires envisioning and realizing spaces marked by the body of Christ, where the key question in every transaction is whether it contributes to the flourishing of each person involved; that is, to the ability for each human life to participate in the life of God.[40]

Gutierrez speaks of the Church of Latin America in solidarity and protest.  With Min’s discussion of solidarity in play, I propose the faithful Church in the North American setting can find in Gutierrez the means and path for reaching economic inclusivity: namely, protest via kenosis.  The former is not achievable without the latter, which is why denouncement by itself is not sufficient.  Gutierrez calls for a church of the poor more than just for the poor.  In other words, the church as such is challenged to practice self-emptying.  Not only by rejecting poverty but by, as Gutierrez avows, “making itself poor in order to protest against it can the Church preach something that is uniquely its own: ‘spiritual poverty,’ that is, the openness of humankind and history to the future promised by God.  Only in this way will the Church be able to fulfill authentically – and with any possibility of being listened to – its prophetic function of denouncing every human injustice.”[41]  This level of solidarity means that the Church makes the problems and struggles of the poor its own problems and struggles.[42]  To use Roger Haight’s language, the Church must be willing to “shake off the ambiguous protection provided by the beneficiaries of the unjust order.”[43]

One has to acknowledge of course that in the 21st century – despite definitive aggregate differences between the global North and South – a church’s location does not always determine its economic status.  There are poor churches and there are rich churches, together, sometimes in the same neighborhood.  Furthermore, a poor church does not always consist of poor people, and visa versa.  With this in mind, what Gutierrez says about spiritual poverty is instructive: “Spiritual poverty,” according to Gutierrez, does not merely incarnate itself by way of detachment from material goods.  It is more profound than that.  Above all, it is a “total availability to the Lord.”[44]  This can be the attitude of the so-called poor churches in America.  As for the affluent congregations, a different rule applies.  Protest in this case for Gutierrez manifests itself in specific action, a style of life, and break with one’s own social class – by committing to radical economic inclusivity.  All of the practical implications cannot and should not be worked out in abstract theory here, as every locale will have its own material demands.  Suffice it to say, in the words of Ricoeur, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty yourself.  If the Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, like the bodies of believers, the practical significance of clergy lifestyle for instance cannot be stressed enough.  A proper martyrdom as it were to the contemporary world may very well demand a restructuring of the financial dependency of clergy on the people they serve.  Gutierrez advises those who do not wish live on stipends or from teaching religion should be willing to experiment with healthy, secular jobs.[45]  This is just one tangible example of how the leaders of the Church themselves could practice kenosis.

In sum, there may be little that is fundamentally novel about either what Min or Gutierrez have recommended in matters of solidarity and protest, or about pluralism and economic inclusivity from the Christian perspective, as both of them rely heavily on their tradition and the signs of the times.  Nevertheless, a certain combination of their respective views might very well contribute something genuinely unique and fitting for dealing with new issues and questions facing the Church in terms of inclusivity and exclusivity in the age of globalization.


Assman, Hugo. Teologia desde la Praxis de la Liberacion. Salamanca: Sigueme, 1973, 40.

Haight, Roger D. Christian community in history. Vol. 3, Ecclesial existence. New York: Continuum, 2008.

Cavanaugh, William T. “Balthasar, globalization, and the problem of the one and the many.” Communio 28, no. 2 (June 1, 2001): 324-347.

———. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.

Dussel, Enrique. Philosophy of Liberation. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

———. The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy of Liberation. Indexed. Atlantic Highlands: Humanity Books, 1996.

Goizueta, Roberto S. “The Christology of Jon Sobrino.” In Hope & solidarity, 90-104. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Revised. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988.

Haight, Roger D. Christian Community in History, Volume 3: Ecclesial Existence. Continuum, 2008.

Heim, Mr. Mark S. The Depth of the Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.

Heim, S. Mark. Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995.

Hick, John. An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent, Second Edition. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Knitter, Paul F. Introducing Theologies of Religions. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002.

———. “The solidarity of others in a divided world: a postmodern theology after postmodernism.” Theological Studies 66, no. 2 (June 1, 2005): 469-470.

Kung, Hans. Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic. New York: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004.

Min, Anselm Kyongsuk. Solidarity of Others in a Divided World: A Postmodern Theology after Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: T & T Clark International, 2004.

Petrella, Ivan. Beyond Liberation Theology: A Polemic. Cambridge: SCM Press, 2008.

[1] Hugo Assman, Teologia desde la Praxis de la Liberacion (Ediciones Seguime, 1973), 40.

[2] See Mr. Mark S. Heim, The Depth of the Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000).

[3]  S. Mark Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Orbis Books, 1995), 3.

[4] Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Orbis Books, 2002), 134-136.

[5] John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent, Second Edition, 2nd ed. (Yale University Press, 2005).

[6] I take globalization, very generally speaking, to be the process of worldwide economic, political, and cultural integration that has accelerated substantially in the last few decades.

[7] Anselm Kyongsuk Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World: A Postmodern Theology after Postmodernism (T & T Clark International, 2004).

[8] Ibid., 183.

[9] Heim, Salvations, 3.

[10] It should be mentioned here that Min doesn’t seem to necessarily be espousing a full subscription to a Hegelian or Marxist understanding of history in the totalized teleological sense, which in the case of Hegel in particular arguably amounts to a kind of trinitarian pantheism – something Min elsewhere criticizes from a Thomistic perspective.

[11] Min, Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 157.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 158.

[14] Ibid., 159.

[15] Ibid., 160.

[16] Ibid., 161.

[17] Roberto S. Goizueta, “The Christology of Jon Sobrino,” in Hope & Solidarity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 92.

[18] Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 170.

[19] It should be mentioned here as well that Min provides incisive critiques of the pluralist perspective as made famous by Hick and Knitter, as well as of postmodernism from the perspectives of Derrida and Levinas, but to address his criticisms in detail here would take us beyond the scope of this paper.

[20] Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 170.

[21] Ibid., 169-70.

[22] Ibid., 175.

[23] Ibid., 185.

[24] Ibid., 175.

[25] Ibid., 174.

[26] Hans Kung, Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004).

[27] Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 181.

[28] Ibid., 191.

[29] Ibid., 192.

[30] Ivan Petrella, Beyond Liberation Theology: A Polemic (SCM Press, 2008), 10.

[31] Paul F. Knitter, “The solidarity of others in a divided world: a postmodern theology after postmodernism,” Theological Studies 66, no. 2 (June 1, 2005): 469-470.

[32] Min, Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 192.

[33] William T. Cavanaugh, “Balthasar, globalization, and the problem of the one and the many,” Communio 28, no. 2 (June 1, 2001): 324.

[34] Enrique Dussel, The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy of Liberation, Indexed. (Humanity Books, 1996), 12.

[35] Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, Revised. (Orbis Books, 1988), 164.

[36] Ibid., 166.

[37] Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), 43.

[38] Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 172.

[39] Ibid., 167.

[40] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), viii.

[41] Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 173.

[42] Roger D. Haight, Christian Community in History, Volume 3: Ecclesial Existence (Continuum, 2008), 68.

[43] Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 58.

[44] Ibid., 171.

[45] Haight, Ecclesial Existence, 71.

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén