Gustavo Gutierrez: Who Are the Rich?

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez

Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia in the U.K. has a nice commentary Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

Simon’s got a great anecdote about Gustavo Gutierrez, the “father of Liberation Theology” (or “really just the uncle,” as Gutierrez told me once).

In my experience, where you talk about wealth and poverty makes a huge difference in the conversation. A conversation that happens in a corporate board room at the World Bank will come to a radically different conclusion than the one had in a tin-roofed home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some years ago the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, was addressing a large international Christian audience on the subject of biblically-informed responses to poverty. Someone got up from the audience and asked pointedly, ‘But really, professor, who are the poor these days?’

This was a question he was often confronted with, Gutierrez noted. But it was invariably asked by a particular kind of person. Namely, someone who was not in any sense in danger of falling into poverty themselves!

Sit a group of wealthy people down and ask them to identify the poor, suggested the Peruvian “father of liberation theology” (who has spent a good deal of his own time and ministry working among the most vulnerable, oppressed and on-the-edge), and “they will argue about it until the cows come home, or until the kingdom of God comes, whichever is first.”

They will split opinions over ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. They will earnestly ask whether someone living in a shack who has a small TV can really be classed as poor. They will debate measurements, guidelines, axes and thresholds for arriving at an adequate definition of ‘the poor’… before deciding, in all probability, that it is too complicated, that no-one really knows the solution, and perhaps that “poverty isn’t the only or even the most important issue” when confronting human need today.

Then they will most likely retire back to their own comfortable lives and put some money into a charity box dedicated to “those less fortunate” than themselves (ourselves).

By contrast, remarked Gutierrez, if you were to get together a group of people who know themselves to be poor – who struggle for daily survival, who are left out, who are made dependent because of their lack of resources – it will usually take them only a matter of seconds to answer the parallel question, “Who are the rich?” They will take one look at you, in comparison to themselves, and point their fingers of recognition.

Read the whole commentary here.

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