The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
We should be more careful when pointing to the evangelical churches of Colombia as the promoters of the “no”.
The media and some pastors have produced an imaginary called "Christian Church" in Colombia, with which they try to include all non-Catholic Colombian churches and portray them as the promoters of the “NO” in the last referendum on the agreement between the government and FARC.
This imaginary is strengthened with unproved and unsupported statistics, saying that "the Evangelical Church", with 10 million members, tipped the scales towards the “no”. Evangelicals are portrayed as a force the government does not want to ignore and a group former President Álvaro Uribe wants to claim as part of his political opposition.
But there is another side of the churches that the media have hardly mentioned. It expresses the diversity of Protestantism, a faith group divided into several movements that are as alive today as then. This diversity was also expressed in the plebiscite, in which some voted “yes” and others voted “no”.
A first group of the bigger churches have agreed on the Christian Pact for Peace, propeled by the International Charismatic Mission and Apostolic coalition, in which leaders of megachurches in Bogota and other cities are involved. Its impact is undeniable. However, there are many other churches, including some megachurches, which are not members of this coalition.
A second group are those megachurches that endorsed the peace agreement, this is evident in their statements. For instance, the Revival house on the Roca and Cucuta Christian Center church. Their pastors share their insight on the historic moment the country faces, and encouraged the peope to vote conscientiously. The church discussed the peace agreement and endorsed it.
A third group of churches, associated with the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL in Spanish), had an open position between “no” and “yes”. Its president issued a statement in mid-September saying that CEDECOL would not support any option, because they respected the differences among their members. The president of CEDECOL has sought to keep the unity and has defended the importance of recognizing the diversity and the differences within Colombia´s oldest evangelical organisation.
A fourth group of churches are grouped by the Association of Pastors, which since the 1980s brings together the so-called independent churches. Most of them voted “no” and they tried to boost their political participation openly. This organisation has been close to evangelical politician Ricardo Arias, member of the Freedom movement (Libres).
A fifth group are the so-called historic churches. These are known for their social work, some of them also for their commitment to peacebuilding. It is likely that most of the members of these chuches would have voted “yes”. This group includes churches such as the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, Mennonites, Baptists and the Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean Association. Other historic churches are gathered in an interfaith group known as CONFELIREC, like the Anglican and Methodist churches. The Orthodox Church and representatives of Islam and Judaism do also participate in the CONFELIREC.
These churches have supported the peace work for more than 25 years, within the Commission peace of CEDECOL, as well as out of the organization, in the Ecumenical Network of Colombia and now in the Interchurch Dialogue for Peace (DIPAZ in Spanish), with other Christian organizations. They have worked togeter with some sectors of the Catholic Church and have been supported by the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical organisations.
THEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL REASONS
What were the reasons for these churches to vote YES or NO? We can identified at least two variables.
1. The political variable. Some churches have links to political groups, parties or movements that have been around churches and see them as their "ecclesial sector." An evident and public example is the International Charismatic Mission. Its former National Christian Party allied itself with different parties and movements when it was active. On the other side, another example would be the Ministerial Church of Jesus Christ International and its party MIRA, which vote “yes” in the plebiscite.
This ties are not always so clea in other chuches, but of course their political choices can be framed in a wide range of trends from left center to right center. The members of congregations are not always aware of these allegiances.
2. The theological variable. The religious discourse manifested in sermons and Bible studies has also influenced churchgoers to lean to one side or another. Some churches are guided by a theological speech which says that the world is evil and we must fight that evil. These churches try to understand evil through "microethics" which deal with issues such as family, abortion and euthanasia, among others.
In the plebiscite's debate, the gender ideology was in the center of the discussion. What has become clear is that the vast majority of churches do not accept that the current LGBT movement has tried to use the agreement as a platform to promote their projects. Additionally, the the gender perspective was seen as a threat to the existence of the family, because of the future implications that it may have to legislate on some issues such as education, or the stigmatization some churches may suffer because of its preaching.
The churches and organisations which voted “yes”, understand the "gender perspective" as a vindication of the rights of women, and also accept that the rights of all should be equally recognised without discrimination, including sexual orientation.
Other churches (known as neo-Pentecostals) have a more proactive approach regarding the 'evil world', they see it as a field that can be conquered. In order to do that, believers must leave shyness and participate in politics. On the horizon, the transformation of society by the imposition of Christian values under the leadership of the church. Some may see this model as a new version of non-Roman Catholic Christendom.
The theological variable also has other views. Historic churches see the world as something temporal that can be transformed. The world is seen as the house that God has given us to live. Therefore, these churches are more open, not only to political participation, but also to the promotion of human welfare and the development of human potential. Education, social action and political organisation are a priority in the projection of these churches.
Three theological currents of the last 40 years can be the umbrella of these diverse theological variables: the liberation theology born in the 1970s, which promoted the service to the poor and encouraged the possibilities of social transformation; the theology of integral mission, which reviewed the concept of mission and its impact in all dimensions of the human being, both individually and collectively (social); and the "prosperity gospel" theology, started around mid-1980s, which has been the choice of many poor people, encouraged by the possibility of transforming their socioeconomic situation.
The vote for “yes” and “no” of the churches is diverse and confusing, so we should be more careful when pointing to the evangelical churches of Colombia as the promoters of the “no”.
Only recognising this diversity, we can understand why these churches will not be in the same lane in 2018, when Colombians will decide their next government.
It is better to use the term “churches” in plural than "Church" (although this is the theologically term that defines us Christians).
There is a huge variety in the church's historicity in Colombia that should not be underestimated or suppressed.
Pablo Moreno is Director of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL). On October 13, the Council published its proposal for adjustment of the Peace Agreements between the national government and the FARC-EP by the Evangelical Church of Colombia. It is available here (in Spanish)