A group of Latin American church leaders met here recently to discuss how the Latin American churches can concretize in the world the economic and social justice principles and theological declarations outlined in the Accra Confession of the former World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Accra Confession, adopted by the 24th WARC (now World Communion of Reformed Churches) General Council in the Ghanaian capital.
The confession “is based on the theological conviction that the economic and environmental injustices of today’s global economy require the Reformed family to respond as a matter of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ” and “calls upon Reformed Christians around the world to engage injustices in the world as an integral part of their churches’ witness and mission.”
The gathering here was held by the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of Latin American (AIPRAL) June 2 – 6. The gathering included Bible study, worship, prayers and hymn singing, giving thanks for God’s Grace in Jesus Christ and under the care and nurture of the Holy Spirit.
Hellis Barraza Diaz, a WCRC vice-president and administrator at the Reformed University in Barranquilla, the host site for the convocation, shared with the participants that the “Accra Confession gives value to the WCRC and other church bodies. Our question for this convocation should be: What are we going to do with the Confession?”
Other representatives also spoke from their respective perspectives and concerns. The Rev. Dora Arce Valentin, from the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba and executive secretary for Justice and Partnership of the WCRC, explained how many issues, including finances, affect the ecumenical movement in its efforts to carry out the application of the Accra Confession’s mandates.
She said, “Confessions are like maps for the church that need to be updated because the topography and geography change constantly.”
Maria Jimenez Ramirez, representing the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela and director of AIPRAL’s women ministries, said that the Accra Confession is still “God’s answer to the excesses of economic globalization.”
The question, she added, is, “Would the ‘rich North’ be willing to adopt the Accra Confession ― a primarily global South document – as their own?” She challenged people to adopt a “theology of sufficiency” instead of the current practice of hoarding material things which create scarcity in other parts of the world.
Newly elected WCRC General Secretary Chris Ferguson commented that “Accra is saying that the world today is not how God intended it to be.”
The Rev. Francisco Marrero, dean of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, spoke about how the Confession gives Christians “an ethic of responsibility” for all creatures of the earth.
Dan Gonzalez Ortega, representing the theological community in Mexico, said that the Accra Confession should not be seen as a “doctrinal document like other confessions that become something to defend or memorize, but it should be a dynamic document for our times for prayer, education and above all, practice.”
The delegates also visited El Tamarindo Community, made up of internally displaced people from other parts of the country by the war between the Colombian government and the guerrillas. This group of “campesinos” or farmers had settled in a vacant land just outside Barranquilla, where they worked the land for five to 10 years. When the property became a “Duty Free” zone because of the Free Trade agreements between Colombia and the U.S., the local police and army forcibly evicted the families, bulldozing their homes, destroying their crops and in some cases even killing their animals.
While many have left for other parts of the country, a small group has organized as the ASOTRACAMPO Community Organization aided by Colombian Presbyterians and other organizations. They have been in negotiations with the Colombian government for several years so that they can purchase land elsewhere in the area and relocate.
Authorities and other sources estimate there are more than five million such internally displaced people in Colombia. The AIPRAL participants reiterated that this tragic “migration” and dislocation of families is a direct result of the economic globalization and injustices highlighted by the Accra Confession.
Consultation participants drafted a document which will be presented to the November WCRC Global Consultation meeting in Hanover, Germany.
In this declaration the AIPRAL churches covenant to:
- recuperate a proper spirituality that will challenge a culture of consumerism and individualism;
- develop pedagogical processes to educate and encourage all member churches to include the Accra Confession in their books of Confessions or catechism;
- place the principles of the Accra Confession in public forums such as world banks, governments and other international organizations;
- participate and support community efforts that build economic, cultural and political alternatives that place human dignity and care of the environment at the forefront and;
- make stronger alliances with our sister “northern churches” to develop new economic systems that give God honor and glory for the welfare of all of God’s people.”
Sarah Henken, PC(USA) mission co-worker and regional liaison for South America, summarized the spirit of the consultation with these words:
“The Accra Confession shines the light of God’s loving intentions on our fearful and greedy impulses. Do we trust in God or the Market? If we trust in God, we will loosen our grasp on the money and possessions we so carefully accumulate and open our hands and hearts to one another.
“As a Presbyterian mission co-worker, I have the privilege to be of the global North but rooted in the South. Friends like the members of El Tamarindo are eager to share their life and their stories with us. Will we stand with them? The choice is simple, if not always easy. Day by day, I ask God for the energy and courage to say a joyful ‘Yes!’”
The Rev. Antonio Aja is coordinator for Hispanic/Latino ministries for the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky.