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Practical theology is tool in South America land struggle

Posted on: October 30, 2015 7:53 AM
Local community representatives at the Faith and Territories Network meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Photo Credit: Sicsal

[ACNS] Local communities in South America, who are facing an increasing battle to preserve their common lands from powerful corporations, are turning to practical theology to assist them in their struggle; as church leaders pledge to be “doers of the Word, not merely hearers of the Word.”

That was the message that emerged from members of the Faith and Territories Network who gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, recently for their fourth meeting.

“We stress the need to return to the sources of the New and Old Testament, where God is committed to impoverished people with distributive justice, where the land is considered as a gift, an inheritance that cannot be concentrated, destroyed and commodified,” the meeting’s participants said in a letter. “From this deep conviction, true theology must be based on love and solidarity with the impoverished, excluded and victimized people,” they said.

Under the motto, “The Strength of Faith in Direct Action in Defence of Territories”, participants explored the intersection of religious practice and spirituality, and fervent concern for the “territory” - the oikumeme or common house.

In particularly, the participants explored how faith is lived out in an area where people’s territory is subject to development that focuses on profit and minority benefits; to the disregard of local people and nature. The aim was to develop new theological paradigms and praxis to support communities’ struggles for sustainability and eco-justice.

The Anglican Alliance facilitator for Latin America and the Carribean, Paulo Ueti, was one of the participants at the meeting. “Local communities – be they Indigenous, of Afro-descendant, quilobolas [descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves] or poor Mestizo [of combined European and Amerindian descent] farmers – are facing the monstrous power of mega, international corporations,” he said in response to the testimonies of local community representatives who spoke of their struggle to safeguard the integrity of their common house in the face of powerful mining and petroleum companies, palm oil producers, widespread single-crop agricultural operations and militarisation.

“Traditional beliefs and practices have been lost, even intentionally destroyed, in the past through acts of conquest and enslavement,” he said. “This continues today with the invasion of industry, where agribusiness, mining companies and mega infrastructure projects affect nature and the most vulnerable communities.”

Theologians from the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the Oscar Romero International Christian Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Latin America (Sicsal), the Pastoral Commission for the Land (Comissão Pastoral da la Terra - Brazil), the National Council of Churches of Brazil, and Pueblo Indio (Ecuador) invited further reflection on links between current struggles for eco-justice, and past and present expressions of faith and spirituality.

"We welcome this comprehensive, theologically-rooted approach and commend it to others across the Communion," the Revd Andy Bowerman, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, said. “We are greatly encouraged to see the outcomes from this gathering. We will ensure that they join with vulnerable voices from around the Communion as we build momentum towards the COP21 meetings in Paris later this year.

“The Anglican Alliance is committed not only to be the voice of the voiceless but also to enable those often quiet voices to be heard at the centres of power and influence.”

  • Click here to read more about the initiaive on the Anglican Alliance website.