After World War II, many Christians worked to resist all forms of tyranny, and to restore hope in a world that had witnessed world Christianitys failure to prevent global atrocities. In the the United States, a generation was galvanized to fight racial segregation and to protest the Vietnam War.
In 1963, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, a "new opening" to the modern world that implemented in a global context many ideas Protestants had adopted 400 years earlier. The Latin Mass gave way to the local languages of the people, and laypeople were encouraged to read the Bible. Under Pope Paul VI, Roman Catholic interpretation of the Bible included a "preferential option for the poor" expressing concern over injustice throughout the world. New expressions of social and political justice influenced biblical interpretation through theologies of liberation. Roman Catholics in Latin America began to read Jesuss words about the poor, Marys Magnificat, and passages like Matthew 25 that called for ministry to "the least of these," and began to resist the tyranny of military dictatorships. Catholic women began searching the Scriptures for womens voices and stories. Empowerment for the oppressed and voice for the silent and marginalized emerged as themes.
More scholars began to examine how the Scriptures were used both as a tool to oppress, and as a message of liberation. They recognized that all interpretations of the Bible are shaped by the reader or hearers context--an idea known as "contextual" interpretation of Scripture or "contextual" theology. Who is doing the interpreting, and for what purpose? Every interpretation is made by a human being who brings some bias and agendas to the task, and every person is shaped and influenced by culture. "We are all under the power of the culture into which we are born. Our cultural heritage makes us what we are. Our views of life and the world are formed under the direct and indirect influence of our cultural traditions." We have seen contexts such as the early church tensions between Northern Africa, Constantinople, and Rome for control during the heresy debates; the context of feudal lords joining with the Church to gain dominance over land and armies; the context of poor people being exploited by the Church and Luther leading the way to say, "In the name of God, no more!"
With colonization, European and American powers divided up Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia, and other countries, to be ruled or controlled by Western powers. Missionaries spread Christianity and brought the Bible to these areas. But as local converts began to read the Scriptures for themselves, they began to see things differently and to express biblical interpretation as seen through their eyes. Many longed to study in the United States, a Christian nation, but were shocked to see the values of this country such as consumerism and racism.
Christians in many countries read the teachings of Jesus and how he was the innocent victim, crucified by government authorities, and began to interpret the story in their own context. In Korea, a theology called minjung--translated as "the mass of people"--emerged in the 1970s out of the Korean peoples struggle for their basic rights. The "mass of people" perceive themselves as powerless and oppressed, who experience han, or deep-seated collective suffering due to a variety of social, political, cultural, or religious causes. "In minjung theology, theologians seek to preserve the subjecthood of the minjung through their own definition of themselves... particularly in terms of power." Impoverished, exploited Latin American Christians read the Scriptures together in "base communities" that formed part of a theologies of liberation movement. Base communities were lay communities rather like the house churches of early Christianity. For many in Latin America, it was like hearing the Scriptures for the first time. No more was "poor" allegorized away to mean spiritually poor; God cared about them and wanted them to have abundant life. Reading these texts literally was revolutionary.
United States military documents identified Latin American theologies of liberation as one of the most dangerous elements to stability. The throngs of poor people in Latin America were described as "redundant populations." Terrorism became the weapon of choice for dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala and the Nicaraguan regime of Somosa. Out of this mix came new martyrs, the nuns and priests and campesinos who often did no more than pray together and teach people to read and write as well as know their legal rights under a dictatorship. Many Roman Catholics were in the forefront of this movement, while others, along with some Protestants, preached obedience to government authorities, or focused on personal salvation, to stifle resistance by poor people in oppressive regimes.
Terrorism aimed at poor people and anyone trying to educate, organize or advocate on their behalf was effective in repressing resistance. When asked what happened to the liberation movements, a woman teacher from Nicaragua said, "When you walk into a clearing and all your friends lie around you shot dead, its hard to go on." One of the most famous martyrs in Latin America was Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who had become aware of the great injustices of government against the people and the role his church played in that oppression. He defied church authority by supporting priests who advocated for the people, and it cost him his life. He was gunned down by government militants while celebrating Mass in 1980.
Many Latin American refugees fled north to safety in the United States. Tragically, when caught by immigration, they were often sent back to their countries to almost certain death. A "sanctuary" movement emerged from churches to provide shelter for those who had fled the military persecutions. In the United States, FBI agents were caught breaking and entering United Methodist offices in search of names of church workers and refugees in the program. At least one United Methodist missionary spent time in prison for protecting refugees through the church.
In other parts of the world
like the Philippines, South Africa, and Korea, populist movements
resisted tyrannies and many Christians were in the forefront of
the struggles. In other places like the former Soviet Union and
the Peoples Republic of China, Christian tradition
continued and flourished in hiding or underground, until changes
in government allowed more open expressions of faith. The
biblical teachings of the prophets, the Gospels challenge
to wealth and power, the liberation story of Moses, and other
stories inspired people to resist oppression. Many people gave
their lives, and in places like South Africa and Korea,
oppressive regimes have fallen.