The General Secretary of the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC), has been honoured with a Human Rights Award presented to her by the Brazilian federal government on 12 December 2013.
The award recognises the Rev Romi Márcia Bencke’s efforts in the area of promoting religious diversity. It was given to her in a ceremony led by President Dilma Roussef in Brasilia.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, congratulated Bencke, saying: “We are happy to hear the news of the Rev Romi Bencke receiving the Human Rights Award and we admire her efforts for human rights, justice and peace issues.”
“We pray that Brazilian churches under her leadership may be even more inspired to continue their historic struggles for human rights,” Dr Tveit added.
Bencke called the award an appreciation of churches’ efforts in linking religious diversity with the process of overcoming threats of gender violence and religious intolerance in Brazil, especially against Afro-descendants and indigenous religious expressions.
“The ecumenical movement in Brazil has been challenging the fundamentalist religious rhetoric trying to legitimatise words and acts of violence and intolerance towards Christians, other religious groups and sexual minorities,” she said.
Bencke added that relationship between religion and politics is crucial given the increase in number of cases of violence against the indigenous peoples and small farmers in Brazil.
She expressed concern over religion used as an instrument for politics, or vice versa, attempting to legitimise right-wing arguments which she said can “jeopardise historical achievements of the Brazilian civil society”.
Bencke added that landlords in different regions of the country build alliances with conservative Christian groups in order to obstruct Agrarian land reform policies and indigenous and Quilombola (descendants of African slaves) land demarcation. “These are practices that hurt God’s project of justice and peace,” she said.
Bencke is the first woman General Secretary to lead CONIC in its 30 years of history. She comes from the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil and is a member of the board of the Brazilian Ecumenical Forum, a space for collaboration among the ACT Alliance member organisations and international ecumenical partners.
* National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC): http://www.conic.org.br/cms/