Indigenous Theology in Its Latin American Setting

By Hernandez, Eleazar Lopez | The Ecumenical Review, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Theology in Its Latin American Setting


Hernandez, Eleazar Lopez, The Ecumenical Review


The roots of indigenous Indian theology

Indigenous theology--also referred to as Indian theology in this article, which has made its appearance in the church of Latin America clearly and consistently in the last 20 years, did not arise from nowhere, as if by magic or spontaneously. Rather, it is a continuation, a rethinking or reshaping of what already existed here in the pre-Columbian period, and also of the best contributions made by the Christian faith. These contributions were brought by the church during the first 50 years of the evangelism that provided the foundation for what we now are. Thus, what we call "Indian theology" is not the product of recent developments in the church, but comes down to us from the distant past. It cannot be regarded as a product of church pastors, but is a collective movement by the indigenous grassroots, indigenous leaders, and supporters of the indigenous cause within the church.

The most distant precursors of Indian theology are the indigenous religions that were a feature of the life of our peoples before the arrival of the church 500 years ago. They still survive in the present-day religious practices of indigenous peoples. There is no doubt that the contemporary emergence of Indian theology is also a result of the seeds of tolerance and missionary optimism planted in our lands by the best practitioners of the early evangelistic work in America from 1524 to 1574.

Those prophets and visionaries, going against dominant trends and in the midst of various ups and downs, produced for the peoples they served missionary and missiological methods of respect, dialogue, and collaboration with indigenous spirituality. Although they were silenced shortly afterwards, their methods remained latent, awaiting new, more favourable times. In recent years, those times have become a reality.

After those first 50 years, the missionary stage came to an end, giving way to the introduction of the colonial church, with all its structures and administrative organization at diocesan and parish levels. In practice, this meant that the indigenous population was abandoned, since it had been drastically reduced as a result of the war of conquest, disease, forced labour, and the near slavery of the encomiendas (indentured labourers). Understandably, the indigenous peoples, who were not then incorporated into colonial society but had remained on its margins, received no missionary or pastoral attention from the church for the major part of those 500 years.

It was only in the second half of the 20th century that a new serious concern arose in the Latin American church for the native populations, which were then being driven out of existence by the advance of the great projects of the capitalist neo-liberal world. That was when those human communities came out of their centuries-long lethargy and dared to fight back in the midst of history's vicissitudes. The people changed their strategy of self-effacement, which was an attempt to avoid destructive contact with the outside world, and adopted highly visible strategies of critical participation in the society evolving around them. It was in this recent context that so-called indigenous pastoral care, Indian theology, and the indigenous church arose and developed, coinciding with the indigenous struggle for collective rights, independence, and self-determination.

The midwives of the resurgence of Indian theology

Many distinguished individuals in our day have taken an active part in making possible this time of kairos for the Indian peoples and the church. One immediately thinks of renowned pastors such as Samuel Ruiz, Leonidas Proano, Bartolome Carrasco, Julio Cabrera, Jose Haguno, Arturo Lona, Victor Corral, Edwin Krauter and others. Also, some highly regarded theologians, such as Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, Clodomiro Siller, Javier Albo and Margot Bremer have played their part. And, of course, there have been many others, both men and women, from the indigenous communities themselves, who have been the real agents for the fermentation in the church and in the present emergence of the indigenous peoples. …

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