Responses and Alternatives
The reaction to this way of looking at and living out scripture has been varied. As was pointed out earlier, the Vatican under John Paul II has tried to counteract some of the influence of Latin American liberation theology. Over the years the Roman Catholic Church has taken official steps in relation specifically to those hermeneutical postures and biblical interpretations. For example, in August 1984 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, issued the ‘Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”’. This document accused liberation theology of being overly materialistic, naïve in its utilization of Marxism, and manipulative of the biblical text. It is also possible to trace a shift in the stances taken at the Bishops' Conference in Medellín (1968) from those postures that prevailed at the Conferences of Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992). The latter two were convened by Pope John Paul II. In both cases, there was much pre-conference debate and manœuvring concerning liberationist perspectives, and the results of these proceedings included, for instance, the softening of some of the strong language against the hegemonic economic systems (even though a pastoral commitment to the poor was maintained). The hierarchy was able to ensure, too, that the activities of the base communities be brought under the authority of the local bishops. In other words, the Vatican has moved in several ways to curtail the hermeneutical and theological space of liberation theology.
Another developing, but very heterogeneous, mass religious movement among the marginalized over the last few decades has been the explosion of evangelical churches of a wide spectrum of theological traditions, especially of the pentecostal variety. It has been said that liberation theology opted for the poor, but that the poor opted for the pentecostal churches. This interesting demographic phenomenon continues to be the target of sociological and anthropological research. The surprising lack of actual participation in the base communities by the poor and the broad impact of these evangelical churches is now admitted by certain liberationists. While this reality has been the source of consternation or even has been deliberately downplayed by some, others would say that liberation theology and evangelicalism share certain common ethical concerns and also have much to learn from one another about ministering among the poor.
There has been an effort by not a few evangelicals to propose more contextualized readings of the Bible. This perspective is best represented by the Latin American Theological Fraternity, which has sponsored consultations and congresses to probe the significance and responsibilities of evangelicalism within Latin America. Members have published exegetical and theological works, which interact with liberation theology and try to respond constructively to the many challenges of the continent. Differences with liberationists centre primarily on convictions concerning the Bible as divine revelation, the prominence given to some Marxist analysis, and the utilization of certain critical textual methodologies.