Latin American churches stand firm on social justice agenda

By Ecumenical News International
March 11, 2007

Churches in Latin America remain committed to denouncing injustice, violations of human, economic and environmental rights, they say in a document after concluding a meeting of a governing body held every six years – writes Peter Kenny for ENI.

The Latin American Council of Churches, once known as a bulwark of liberation theology, has recently made available the final document drawn up during its fifth assembly.

This was held from 19 to 25 February at Ward College, a Methodist institution in the city of Ramos Mejia on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires, and was attended by about 550 participants.

The final statement noted: "During this Assembly, we had the presence of churches and cooperating agencies of North America and Europe, who brought us close to their own struggles and hopes."

Some participants told Ecumenical News International the statement seemed aimed at deflecting criticism voice during the assembly that the council, known by its Spanish language acronym CLAI, had been forsaking attention to social and human rights issues in a bid to woo more Pentecostal and Evangelical churches into its fold.

The packed opening service was for the first time held in a Pentecostal church, one of the many that are experiencing rapid growth in Latin America compared to Roman Catholic and traditional Protestant churches.

There was also criticism from some participants about there not being a strong enough leadership voice in CLAI for indigenous people, women and young people.

The final document said, however, "We affirm the new horizons of the assembly in receiving greater participation in the decision-making processes of the council from the youth, indigenous peoples, and women, maintaining the validity of their respective programmes without renouncing their wide-ranging importance to the rest of CLAI's work."

CLAI, a 150 member church council represented in 20 countries, warned of "the risk that faces churches in accommodating themselves to systems that are opposed to the values of a Theology of the Kingdom of God".

"It is therefore urgent to continue exercising our prophetic voice in denouncing injustices, violations of human, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, thus announcing a liberating theology that practices a communal, educational, and transforming ethic," said the church leaders in their final statement.

"We need to deepen our commitment in affirming full and abundant life in matters…such as the annulment of the illegitimate and odious external debt, of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean … the affirmation of the rights of native peoples, African descendants, women, children, youth and people with disabilities."

For the first time CLAI elected a descendant of black African origin, Anglican Bishop Julio Murray of Panama, as its president during the assembly.

The church grouping said it needed to continue awakening "responsible awareness to stop … growing environmental contamination, global warming, and the tendency towards privatisation of natural resources".

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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