Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Relevance and Urgency of Anabaptism for Our Time: Several Proposals in Light of Contemporary Currents in Latin American Christianity

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Relevance and Urgency of Anabaptism for Our Time: Several Proposals in Light of Contemporary Currents in Latin American Christianity

Article excerpt

Abstract: The Anabaptists of the sixteenth century were known as radicals for their desire to return to the roots of the Christian faith. When we speak of a "radical ecclesiology," therefore, we are referring to the perspective and practice of the church at its roots--in agreement with New Testament faith and the faith of primitive Christianity as it was understood by the early Anabaptist movement. This essay is an attempt to respond to several compelling and related questions: Is there any difference in Latin America among the ecclesiologies of evangelicals, Protestants, charismatics, Pentecostals, and Anabaptists? Is "Anabaptism" relevant to our context? This essay begins with a review of the context in Colombia, and then explores three dominant forms of ecclesiology present in Latin America today. It concludes with a review of several distinctive features of Anabaptist ecclesiology that are relevant to this contemporary context.

To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.

--Cicero

THE COLOMBIAN CONTEXT

As with many Latin American countries, the cultural context in Colombian is very diverse. Indeed, we should probably speak of various Colombian contexts, rather than "the" Colombian context. And, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez illustrates in One Hundred Years of Solitude, all of Colombia's historical periods exist simultaneously, (1) making it very difficult to identify a single unified identity. Nonetheless, throughout Colombia several discernible patterns relevant to our study can be identified as common to each region, and many of these factors are also shared by other Latin America countries.

Poverty, Suffering, Oppression, and Violence

According to the historian Marco Palacios, "Colombia offers one of the worst pictures of income distribution in all of Latin America, and therefore the world." (2) Historically, poverty and inequality have persisted in Colombia. Shortly after gaining independence in 1810, the elites of the country--descendants of the Spanish conquistadors--secured nearly complete control over virtually all political and economic power. These traditional political parties have continued to dominate the elections in Colombia, which has allowed the same families of elites to hold on to their positions of privilege and power. (3)

This pattern of political inequality and economic injustice has truncated opportunities for development by the Colombian people, resulting in heightened levels of social conflict, frustration, and desperation. Colombian cities have large areas of illegal settlements where people subsist in subhuman conditions. Meanwhile the rural areas have traditionally suffered from total abandonment on the part of the central state.

Approximately twenty million of Colombia's forty-six million inhabitants live on less than $8 per day, and eight million survive on less than $2 per day. (4) The extreme lack of economic opportunities has been one of the catalyzing factors in the formation of numerous armed insurgent guerilla groups since the end of the 1950s.

With the goal of destabilizing the elites, these insurgent groups have consistently used violence and repeatedly committed serious abuses against the civilian population. In response, the elites, with the support of the state's military forces, have formed self-defense groups (formerly known as AUC) or paramilitary groups. These self-defense groups often engage in serious confrontations with government officials, insurgents, or other paramilitary groups. From the late 1990s to 2003, the self-defense groups took part in dozens of horrific massacres against rural communities, resulting in the displacement of millions of people. From the mid-1980s to the present, some 6,000 leaders of the political opposition have been assassinated.

According to the United Nations, the civilian population of Colombia has suffered "the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere. …

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