Monday, September 27, 2010

Integral Missions and Ecumenism En Passant

    Yesterday Rev Wilson Costa was preaching at the Igreja Presbiteriana do Lago Norte in Brasília, Brazil. I and my family have been attending the church whenever possible for over a year now. Rev Wilson Costa is currently the Executive Secretary of the Fraternidade Teológica Latinoamericana seção Brasil (aka FTL-B). The pastor of Igreja Presbiteriana do Lago Norte is Rev Carlos Veiga. He is the President of FTL-B. I don't need to summarize here what is FTL-B. There is plenty of documentation available about it. I would just like to highlight here how intimately related is FTL-B with Integral Missions (Missão Integral in Portuguese and Misión Integral in Spanish). FTL-B is, indeed, the forum of Integral Missions in Latin America.
  Rev Wilson Costa preached yesterday about, well, Missions. It was a nice sermon. I liked it overall. (Despite the fact that it took about one hour. And despite another detail that I'll elaborate on below). He even read Matthew 25, for instance.
   In the middle of the sermon Rev Wilson Costa told us a "joke". It went like this: a very poor woman was in dire need. It then went on the radio to ask for help. A Pai-de-santo - the name given to male priests of Afro-Brazilian religions - then wanted to play a prank on her. He gathered lots of supplies to give away to the woman. And he asked those who would deliver it to make sure they mentioned that the supplies were given by the Pai-de-santo. And so it went. When the woman received it, she was very glad, but did not ask who gave it to her. The helpers then asked if she didn't want to know who gave it to her. She then replied: "no, I don't quite want to know. I know that if God wanted to give it to me, even the Devil would obey".
  To me the first problem with the story is the immediate association of the Pai-de-santo with the "Devil". The "Devil" or Satan for Brazilian evangelicals is the impersonation of everything evil. The association of the Afro-Brazilian religions with the "demonic" is close to xenophobia to me. Because it follows that the followers of these other religions are less-than-human. In more troubled times it may happen that basic human rights may be restricted to the followers of these other religions because of these views. Latin American history demonstrates that. This association is, therefore, disrespectful.
  The reckless narration may be better understood in the context of the carelessness of Brazilian evangelicals with ecumenism, even those engaged with Integral Missions. If there were one "group" from which you would expect more proximity with other religious it would be from folks in Integral Missions. Padilla, for instance, wrote that "if church's mission is the mission of the Kingdom of God, then it must be at the same time evangelical and ecumenical" ( "O que é Missão Integral?", René Padilla. Editora Ultimato, 2009, ISBN 978-85-7779-031-9. page 132, free translation by Gustavo) Still, incidents like these are unwarranted and go almost unnoticed.

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