It is the 24th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1968.
It was according to various newspapers and publications “the Year that Shattered America,” “the Year that Rocked America,” and “the Year that Changed History.” 1968 was something like the 2020 of the 20th century.
It was a year of cultural landmarks that announced the changing of the guard and the evolution of new forms. Perhaps we can best understand part of the changing cultural scene by looking at the best album released this year. 1968 saw the release of the ambitious self-titled, double album from the Beatles. Known as “The White Album,” it shocked some who still thought of the Fab Four as the guys who wrote, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The album, like the year itself, was filled with contradictions. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” finds the Beatles impersonating the Beach Boys imitating Chuck Berry while Revolution #9 plays like avant-garde theatre. It was recorded throughout 1968 and released in November, at the tail end of the year, after the assassination of M.L.K. and Bobby Kennedy, and worldwide protests.
The world was interconnected either through popular culture, war, or travel. Since the end of the Second World War, companies like Boeing had focused on passenger planes. By the 60s, more people were flying than taking ships. With any successful transformation of travel and exploration, the benefits can include cultural enrichment, the exchange of ideas, and the spread of news (for good and ill). The smaller the world gets, the more growing pains reveal themselves.
While the major players on the international scene were the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., smaller nations played important roles as either non-aligned, independent entities or as proxies for one of the big two. The term “third world” was coined to refer to those non-aligned states. The so-called “Third World” of South America became a hotbed of revolution with countries pushing for various forms of reform or revolution. And, so it goes with culture, so it often goes with the church. It was on this the 24th of August, in 1968, that Pope Paul VI opened the Second Episcopal Conference of Latin America in Medellin, Columbia.
The goal for these bishops was to discuss how they might adapt the decrees of the Second Vatican Council in a South American context. What came out of this conference was a distinct South American theology. It would become known as “liberation theology.” Liberation theology is multifaceted; we won’t explain it all here. But essentially, it comes out of a desire to care for the whole person, spiritually and physically. For this, base communities were built to minister to the needs of specific communities.
A Peruvian Priest Gustavo Gutierrez authored the seminal text of the movement, “A Theology of Liberation,” in 1971. While Pope Paul VI encouraged the South American movement, John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) would actively work against South American Catholics working for social change. Pope John Paul II was familiar with Soviet-style communism in his home country of Poland. Conflating social movements for material change and only appointing right-wing prelates led to the muffling of South American Catholic Liberation theology. But it found an audience outside the Catholic church and all over the world. It all started in Medellin, Columbia, when the Second General Council of the Latin American Episcopate met on this, the 24th of August, in 1968.
Our reading for today comes from the ever-quotable Martin Luther. This is from his 1521 Defense written to the Pope.
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. Christopher Helter Skelter Gillespie produces the show. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.