A peace hermeneutic (theological interpretative principle) rooted in community experience has been presented to Latin American Peace Churches meeting in the Dominican Republic.
"Christianity and violence are not compatible," said Alexandre Gonçalves, president of Igreja da Irmandade (the Church of the Brethren in Brazil) at the fourth full day of a gathering of representatives of Friends (Quaker), Mennonite and Church of the Brethren groups in Latin America and the Caribbean outside Santo Domingo.
Gonçalves added that it is impossible to think about an active nonviolence without starting to think about the manipulation of power within ourselves and with each other in our churches and societies.
Describing differences between the Brethren and the many pentecostal-type churches that are growing quickly in Brazil, he gave a forceful critique of pastoral leaders and church hierarchies which are domineering and even abusive.
In Brazil, the leadership of pentecostal-type churches are "every day more oppressive," he said, and are strongly influenced by messianism, and the narcissistic individualism of secular society.
"We are looking at a huge phenomenon of power concentration in the clergy," he declared.
On top of that, he added, Brazil is inundated with the so-called 'prosperity gospel', which he described as "a pragmatic relationship with God influenced by consumerism" rather than the message and community of Jesus.
By contrast, he explained the peace church community hermeneutic based in the tradition of the "priesthood of all believers."
Gonçalves defined "hermeneutic" as the interpretation of scripture and its practical application. The Brazilian Brethren talk about and interpret scripture within the church as the community of God, and with a community perspective, he said. They also seek practical application of the Bible texts as a community. This includes prayer and reflection, directed by the Holy Spirit, and requires participation by all members of the church.
"What we’re interested in is how the Spirit can talk in diversity," he said, "...without forgetting our critical capacity and caring." In their worship services, the Brazilian Brethren do not preach sermons but share about the experiences that they have lived, Gonçalves explained. "It’s a simultaneous process of construction and deconstruction. We want to reflect and live out a life full of significance."
During a question and answer session, in which Gonçalves fielded several supportive but also sceptical questions, he was asked if such a hermeneutic community can ever really exist in practice. He answered in the affirmative: yes, he said, this is being done by Brethren in Brazil. He also acknowledged its difficulties, saying the Brazilian Brethren have not stopped talking about hard issues. But, he maintained that diversity of opinion should not be a problem in the church.
A conference walking tour of the colonial zone of Santo Domingo followed a guidebook presenting an alternative history of the first European city in the Americas.
Entitled Five Hundred Years of Domination and Resistance, the guidebook was created for the 13th International Summit of Justicia Global held in May 2010, with an introduction by Irvin Heishman, a coordinator of the Church of the Brethren mission in the Dominican Republic.
The tour visited sites where Christians can contemplate Columbus’ arrival on the island as "an encounter of two cultures," and invited the conference to remember the genocide of the original population and the exploitation of slaves imported from Africa, as well as acts of faithful resistance to this oppression by Catholic Dominican friars such as Fray Anton de Montesinos.
In 1511, Montesinos preached what is considered to be the first sermon om human rights in the Americas.
Webcasts from the conference are being offered at www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts/PeaceConf2010 . An online photo album has been started at www.brethren.org/site/PhotoAlbumUser?AlbumID=13041&view=UserAlbum
With acknowledgments to Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren