Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Christian faith and political commitment

By Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)

These remarks were offered by Víctor Codina, SJ at the presentation of Gregorio Iriarte ¿Quién fuiste y que dicen de ti?, Marta Orsini Puente's new book about the late Bolivian activist priest.

1. By Christian faith, we mean personal commitment to Jesus in the Church and by political commitment, we mean not only or primarily partisan commitment but commitment to the "polis", political society, citizenship, and ultimately commitment to justice and humankind.

The Christian faith and political commitment pairing is not as simple and obvious as it might seem, because many times Christian faith and political commitment have been -- and are -- separate and sometimes conflicting. There has been and there still is a divorce between Christian faith and political commitment.

Latin American dictators, who professed to be Christians, would take communion and attend the Corpus Christi procession, torture and kill political enemies; politicians professing to be Christian are corrupt.

In many Christians there has been a practical and theoretical deformation of the Christian faith that often reduces faith to the profession of a few truths (the creed and catechism) and compliance with certain rites and devotions, without any of it having moral consequences, much less in the field of social justice and commitment to citizenship. For many traditional Christians, morality is reduced to sexual and family morality, at most with some benevolent actions and charitable assistance. An individualistic faith that has little to do with life, or history or politics. In this case, Christian faith becomes a merely cultural act, a veneer to cover an individualistic, unsupportive and unjust attitude. It's what has been called bourgeois Christianity.

But in addition to this ideological distortion, there is a negative view of politics. For many Christians there is a dualism between church and politics, between the Church and society, the Church and world, between us and them, between right and wrong, as if the Church were identified with what is good and politics with what is evil, the Church with the culture of life and society with the culture of death, as if, to go to God, Christians had to flee from the world and take refuge in the walls of the Church ... No wonder Puebla states that there is a real divorce between Christian faith and social justice in Latin America, which, as Puebla states, is a scandal and a contradiction with being Christian. (Puebla 28).

Nor is it surprising that many think that religion, Christianity and the Church itself are alienation and opium of the people.

On the other hand we also find it very positive that there are many people around the world who practice justice and struggle for human rights with social and political commitment, without adhering to the Christian faith. For example, members of non-Christian religions such as Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, like the protagonists in the Arab Spring, like many young people and volunteers, often agnostic or atheist, who often do not want to know about the Church, but who nevertheless are very sensitive to human rights, to the fight for justice and political commitment to a just society. Political commitment to justice is not unique to Christianity but is an ethical dimension of every authentic human existence.

2. Nothing could be further from this caricature of Christianity alienated from history, justice and society, than the biblical vision of the Christian faith. Already in the Old Testament, Yahweh is revealed, especially through the prophets, as the defender of the poor, the orphan and the widow, the one who wishes that righteousness and justice be practiced especially towards the weak, the one who is moved by the suffering and the cry of the people and seeks their liberation, the one who does not want sacrifices or offerings, but justice and mercy, commitment and solidarity.

This revelation reaches its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth who announces the project of the Kingdom of God, a project of full life and fraternal communion for all humanity, for all of society, symbolized in the messianic banquet at which all will share in the goods of creation and at which the first recipients are the poor and weak whom society ordinarily excludes and marginalizes. Jesus gives his whole life to this Kingdom of God up to the cross, and through his resurrection by the Holy Spirit, the Father confirms the validity of this solidarity project, a project that, since Pentecost, the Church has been responsible for carrying out in the world -- a Church that must be a place of love and grace where all find reasons to live and hope.

3. But it would be unfair if we failed to recognize that throughout the history of the Church there have not only been deformations of the Christian life -- a divorce between faith and justice -- but also authentic expressions of the gospel, integrating faith and justice, faith and commitment to solidarity. Certainly at the beginning of the Church, more was done along the lines of welfare and handouts (alms, hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens, attention to slaves and prisoners, protection of women ...), but since sociology and modern economics have made us understand that poverty is not casual but has structural causes, Christian faith has acquired a clearer dimension of political commitment to justice and the fight against unjust structures that cause the deaths of people. The social doctrine of the Church, John XXIII with his desire for a church of the poor and his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Vatican II with its teaching about the signs of the times, have opened clear paths in the connection between Christian faith and political commitment to justice. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people, especially the poor, are the joys, the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the Church (GS 1). Vatican II doesn't speak of the Church "and" the world but of the Church "in" the world, in political society. It moves from anathema to dialogue, knowing that the Spirit is present not only in the Church but also in society, which helps the Church but from which the Church also gets help, knowing that both in society and in the Church itself the wheat and the chaff are mixed, and we must all walk united towards the Kingdom of God. But also in the other Christian denominations, we have living examples of the connection between faith and politics. We could think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Dorothee Sölle, and Nelson Mandela.

4. Along this line of relationship between church and politics lies the current Latin American tradition that creatively received Vatican II at Medellin through hearing the anguished cry of a people seeking justice, bread, land, health care, education, work, housing, respect for their dignity, their human rights and their cultures.

Beginning with Medellin, the Latin American Church re-integrated Christian faith and political commitment to justice -- a crop of bishops emerged, true Holy Fathers of the Church of the poor, who defended the people against injustice, committed thenselves to structural change, such as Helder Camara, Proaño, Mendez Arceo, Pironio Angelleli, Oscar Romero, Samuel Ruiz, Aloysio Lorscheider, Mendes de Almeida, Manuel Larraín, Enique Alvear and, in Bolivia, Jorge Manrique, Manuel Eguiguren, just to mention the deceased; base communities were born led primarily by women of the people with social and political commitment; religious life, especially women's, is integrated into the poorest and most working class sectors, among miners, peasants, indigenous peoples, accompanying the people in their struggles and demands; there are many lay Christians committed to justice and politics and the political transformation processes that are seeking a better world, because another world is possible; liberation theology emerges that, with its limitations and criticisms, is a prophetic and evangelical force driving political commitment. The option for the poor is implicit in our faith in Christ -- everything that has to do with Christ has to do with the poor, as Aparecida stated (Aparecida 393), all of which has social and political consequences.

But all this comes at a price. There has been persecution and martyrdom, from bishops like Romero and Angelleli, to priests and men and women religious, such as Mauricio Lefebvre, Luis Espinal, Ellacuría, Sister Dorothy Stang and many men and women of the people, holy innocents, killed for faith and justice, for their commitment to the people and politics, true Jesus-like martyrs...

5. In this Latin American historical context of Christian commitment to justice and politics one must place Gregorio Iriarte (photo), his missionary vocation to Latin America, his stay in Argentina and Uruguay, his arrival in Bolivia in 1964 to the Siglo XX mines and Pío XII radio, his shocking experience of the San Juan massacre of the miners, his defense of the persecuted miners, his struggle for justice and human rights in times of dictatorship, his analysis of the national situation, dissemination of the social doctrine of the Church and Latin American teachings, his preoccupation with changing the mindset of many conservative Christians (laity, priests, bishops and religious), his persecution, all his work as a lecturer and writer, especially ultimately from Cochabamba.

And all this because of his Christian faith, consistent with his commitment to and following of Jesus in the Church and in religious life, as fruit of the gospel read in today's world from the people, thus uniting mysticism and prophecy, love for the Church and service to the people of Bolivia, the Bible and the newspaper.

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