Why liberation theologians want us to redefine ‘sin’ and why we need to listen

Liberation theologians have persistently held before us the communal and structural dimensions of sin. Meanwhile Euro-American expressions of sin and salvation continue to emphasise individual sin and individual guilt, seemingly unimpressed by Liberation thought. Reading Miguel De La Torre’s Latina/o Social Ethics, Moving Beyond Moral Thinking (2010) this week brought home to me in a fresh way the perceptiveness of the Latina/o insight into the communal dimension of sin. These words in particular stopped me in my (reading) tracks:

It is God’s will that all of humanity come to salvation, understood as liberation from sin, and not just the individual sin emphasized by Eurocentric ethics, but more importantly, the communal sin manifested in the social structures designed to privilege some at the expense of others. (p 84)

De La Torre’s sentence stopped me in my tracks because right now I am immersed in the ethics of Deuteronomy and De La Torre’s sentence captures how Deuteronomy views sin. Deuteronomy’s ethical concern is relentlessly with societal structures. Deuteronomy’s laws and rituals are ordered to shape a society where every person is dignified and has the means to thrive. Take this principle for example: The land has been given to Israel so that every person in the land can thrive. An implication of the principle is: the rich an powerful may not accumulate land at the expense of others. Ethics in Deuteronomy is not pietistic, concerned with individual virtue. There is no exhortation to patience, humility, gentleness etc. Ethics in Deuteronomy rather is concerned with such things as justice in the law courts, restraining the accumulation of Kings and the inclusion of the poor and alien within town and kinship group.  Even prohibitions against stealing and murder etc, such as those found in then 10 commandments, are ultimately concerned with economic and familial structures.

De La Torre’s own area of interest is American exploitation of Latin American countries. He describes American ‘gun-boat diplomacy’ in Hispanic countries over the past decades that have establish corporate privilege for U.S. companies. As a result, today in many Hispanic countries U.S. corporations have economic hegemony over land, resources and labour, while locals live in terrible poverty.

On the other hand I note that De La Torre affirms the reality of individual sin in the sentence above, and so do I. I affirm the need for every person to turn to Christ in repentance for forgiveness of sin. Yet if this is our exclusive conception of sin, our battle with evil will not extend much beyond our own personal lives. We will see little need to dismantle evil structures that cause suffering for the world’s most vulnerable.

Deuteronomy prompts us to reflect deeply on contemporary social and economic structures, domestic and global. It prompts us to ask: ‘What structures privilege some at the expense of others?’ And Deuteronomy’s condemnation of societal evil mobilises us to advocate for justice.


About Mark Glanville

Mark Glanville is a pastor-scholar who ministers in a missional urban community, Grandview Church, Vancouver. Mark is Professor of Old Testament and congregational studies at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix (missionaltraining.org), and he teaches at Regent College, Vancouver. Mark's research focusses upon the Pentateuch, biblical ethics, and mission. Mark has authored "Adopting the Stranger as Kindred" (SBL, 2018), "Reading Exodus: Society Reshaped by Kinship" (Lexham, forthcoming), numerous refereed articles (including in the Journal of Biblical Literature (2018), Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (2019), and Refuge Journal (2013)) and chapters on the Pentateuch, mission, and refugee related issues, as well as numerous popular articles. Mark is presently co-authoring a book, "Providing Refuge: A Missional and Political Theology." Mark is called upon to speak on in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. His previous career was as a jazz pianist in Sydney, Australia (Chick Corea and Wynton Kelly are his musical heroes).
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3 Responses to Why liberation theologians want us to redefine ‘sin’ and why we need to listen

  1. Terry says:

    Hey Mark! Thanks for this, once again Sooo obvious that I missed it and having just read Deut. I see it clearly now. Thanks for speaking the truth in love 🙂

  2. Pieter van der Leek says:

    I totally agree Mark. Read some of Chris Hedges’ books to confirm your point even more.

  3. Pingback: Confession renews the church for the mission of Christ | …for he has made you beautiful

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