US churches urged by Latin America to be aware of world impact

By staff writers
February 22, 2007

Participants at the assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches, which takes place once every six years, have asked US church representatives if they are aware of what their country is doing in the world and how it impacts on their region - writes Peter Kenny for Ecumenical News International (ENI).

The 5th assembly of the council, which is known by the acronym of CLAI, and is the largest grouping of mainly Protestant churches in Latin America, was opened on 19 February by its president Bishop Julio César Holguín.

The discussion was moderated by the US-based Church World Service, a cooperative group of 35 mainly Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican development and aid agencies.

"Are the US churches aware of how the United Sates is functioning and what it is doing in the world, and how then are they facing this reality?" asked one of the 550 participants who are taking part in the churches' assembly.

A participant from the United States noted that the traditional Protestant churches in North America, faced with dwindling membership and also funding, have been paying less attention to Latin America. This has been exacerbated by some internal tensions within churches on social issues, and divisions among Christians that surfaced during the Iraq War.

Another speaker said that if the US churches were to "accompany" Latin American people in a meaningful way, North Americans should "learn from the past" and speak out against what he described as an "empire" that was "destroying life" and "trampling on justice".

Churches needed to strive for justice, by living with less and combating an individualist and consumerist ethic, said one speaker.

The theme of the conference, which ends on 25 February, is: "The grace of God justifies us, the spirit of God frees us for life."

The opening service of the church grouping, which was once seen as a bastion of liberation theology, was held in a Pentecostal church for the first time, in the suburbs of Buenos Aires on 19 February.

Some participants told ENI they were disappointed that discussions on social issues were being sidelined and the focus instead was on trying to woo Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that are experiencing rapid growth in the region. Still one conference official said he had hoped there would have been more Pentecostal groups present at the Buenos Aires assembly.

[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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