The Scandal Of Redemption, by Archbishop Oscar Romero
[Note: This book was given free of charge by Net Gallery/Plough Publishing House. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Sometimes books, like other creations (this happens a lot especially in songs and movies) suffer because of a problem of framing. One may find a great deal that is praiseworthy in content that is presented, but one finds the framing of that content to be troublesome, and one hesitates to praise the content because the person who wrote this book is being co-opted for an unacceptable political approach that he himself rejected. Such is the case with this book. Insofar as my comments about this book are complementary, they are about the writing of the ostensible author of the book, an archbishop who was assassinated in 1980 during the midst of a brutal civil war in El Salvador by the military and government authorities who he criticized for their injustice. That said, this book is framed in the context of liberation theology, a theology similar to the contemporary social gospel of my own nation that I particularly abhor . I think the archbishop was right to reject the narrowly focused and Communist-influenced liberation gospel that was being peddled by the radicals of his time and remains on offer today, even as he spoke the truth to corrupt and brutal authorities who ended his own life far too soon with an assassin’s bullet.
This book consists of excerpts from the diary and homilies of Oscar Romero between 1977, when he became Archbishop of San Salvador and showed that rather than a “safe” candidate he was one willing to speak out against the evils the elites of the country were committing, and his death in 1980. These materials are divided into nine chapters: The Creator, The Word Made Flesh, Redemption, The Call, The Way, The Church, The Kingdom, Liberation, and All Things Made New. In these contents the author shows himself to be directly critical of both the left-wing and right-wing polarization that was present in El Salvador as well as the Roman Catholic Church at the time and that remains present in decadent cultures and societies like our own. Despite my disagreement with the author’s views on soteriology, as he seems to provide a picture of good works leading to redemption rather than from the outward working out of a salvation by grace, there is much to appreciate here. The author is certainly on sound ground in speaking up on behalf of the vulnerable and those who have no voice and in favor of justice, even if his brave and principled stance cost him his life, as it did so many others in his tiny and troubled nation.
Even so, it is one thing to celebrate that Romero’s words have lived on long beyond his own tragic and violent death and another thing to celebrate the purposes to which his life and message have been turned. The foreword to this book is written by someone whose hands were blown off in a bomb attack by a political opponent and who openly claimed to be part of the Liberation movement and politically involved against apartheid in South Africa. As a reviewer who has no particular interest in supporting either left-wing revolutionary politics or right-wing reactionary regimes, I find the framing of this book intensely off-putting and offensive as it presents a false dilemma between those two views, which I find equally abhorrent. Thankfully, after a lengthy foreword and an introduction of who Romero was, as some of the readers of this book may not know, about 100 or so of this book’s 140 pages are devoted to the writings of Romero himself, avoiding the specific references to most of the violent acts that would be unfamiliar to the readers of the book while focusing on the author’s religious beliefs and their implications for the El Salvador of his time. There is much here that will encourage those who seek justice, even if they have no particular fondness for contemporary social justice warriors and other left-wing activists.
 See, for example: