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Liberation Theology and the Heroism of Ruth

By Fr. Mark Perkins

The Scriptures give us vanishingly few unambiguous heroes outside our Lord himself — though we do get a few unambiguous villains. Nearly all the Bible’s protagonists are inconsistent at best. More often they are consistently disappointing, from the coward Adam to the liar Abraham all the way down to that pack of fools who constitute the original apostolic Church. Yet we do have a few figures of heroic virtue who stand far outside the canonical norm. It is perhaps not surprising that, in this era of antiheroes, contemporary scholars should resent these genuine heroes and attempt to tear them down.

A highly intelligent reader will see, based on the essay title, that I am responding to a piece by David Justice titled “Ruth: The Model Minority?” It seized my attention both because, like him, I just recently read Alter’s translation of and commentary on the text, and also because I will shortly be leading an adult Sunday School class through the book of Ruth.

Justice, I claim,

describes Ruth using evidence from the biblical text, yet he uses this data to fashion a mosaic which bears almost no resemblance to the biblical character. Justice’s Ruth is diminished, stripped of agency and vibrancy alike, her redemption transformed into one last exploitation.

The blame for this colossal misreading, I argue, is his liberation-theological hermeneutic, which "tends in practice to produce sloppy reading and unclear writing."

It's not that liberation theology is all bad -- its "enduring accomplishment" remains "attentiveness to the ways that oppressors can misuse and abuse Scripture." But it does blind Justice to who Ruth actually is: "not a helpless and submissive foreigner who is acted upon but rather as an actor in her own right making her own choices." And, as I go on to argue, a wholesale embrace of liberation theology ultimately undermines the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

PS: Fr. Sean and I are emerging from our paternity leaves, of sorts, having successfully baptized our babies. (Yes, we used first-person singular; yes, we performed the baptism ourselves; no, there was no separation of form and matter; no, I don't really believe any of that would be likely to invalidate the baptism; yes, I would nevertheless consider a conditional baptism out of an abundance of caution; also yes, that question is above my pay grade, and I would actually just ask my bishop and do what he told me. Gees, anything else?... Good. Anyway.) Look for us to begin posting and writing on a more regular basis. And other exciting changes are coming, so stay tuned!

Fr. Mark Perkins is Curate at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida and Assistant Editor of Earth & Altar.


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