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Reviving a tree so it still gives beautiful fruits

 

Representatives of faith leaders and organisations across Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil from 26 to 28 October, to discuss the context, potentialities and challenges for faith-led gender justice in the region. People came from across the LAC region and from the UK too, representing national, regional and international organisations such as WCC, AA, CREAS, CA, NCA and CLAI.  People came in representation of a range of different Christian denominations, Afro-Latin American and Caribbean religions, as well Indigenous people’s spirituality and cosmology.

 

The challenges presented by different cultures, religions, languages, were easily overcome by the sharing of common experiences across the region, but also by the deep understanding of the importance to confront inequality and discrimination. This was debated with warmth and passion during the first session, in a theological reflection on the episode of the healing of a woman during Sabbath in the Gospel of Luke 13: 10-17. In it, Jesus defies the religious laws and social norms, and performs a healing on a woman on the wrong day, in the wrong place, because it is the right thing to do. In addition, he does it by reaching out to an individual who is doubly excluded: a disabled woman. The central message debated is the revolutionary and challenging message of Jesus, who reaches out to a woman who is the personification of exclusion, in defiance of the rules of the time. This defiance of the absolute laws defined by the Torah is a provocation to us to reject the normality of discrimination, as codified by social and religious norms. In some realities, there is today a dichotomy between Gospel and religion, the first one liberates and the latter can oppress.

 

The intersection of inequalities (gender, disability) resonated in a prominent way among the group: the issue is an everyday reality in LAC, as different identities (gender, economic and social condition, race, ethnicity, rural or urban, age, ability, migratory status, gender identity and sexual orientation) reinforce each other.  The privilege of being white, male, urban, exists because a black, rural woman is structurally excluded.

 

Gender and a right to live in dignity

 

In the second session, the group continued debating the barriers preventing women and men from enjoying their right to a decent standard of living, with agency and free from violence. The common issues identified ranged to a growth in conservatism (both political and religious), poverty and absence of decent public services, lack of access to sexual and reproductive rights, racism and sexism in all spheres of society, setbacks of previously conquered rights, lack of separation between state and religion, religious fundamentalism and separatism. Another important issue raised was the tiredness with the issue of “gender”. In some places (Europe), this is wrongly seen as done and dusted, while in other places there is a backlash from the conservative church leaders against what they term “gender ideology”.

 

On the bright side, we found that most people in the group are already doing a lot of work to achieve gender justice: bible readings and theology, awareness raising, work to address women’s poverty and gender based violence, as well as advocacy at the highest level – for example, a group of faith women managed to influence the 2013 UNPFA Declaration of Montevideo make it more progressive.  However, there is much more to do.
“We need to think of a strategy for change: can we do this from within our groups and churches, or do we need to do it from the margins, as outsiders, as Jesus did?”  – Pastor Romi Bencker. CONIC, Brazil.
A prayer for revival

 

The day was opened and closed by prayers, which used the analogy of a tree representing the project of Jesus and containing his sap. A tree that today is without leaves and is dried up because over time it has strayed from its original purpose and has created exclusion, violence, genocide. However the roots still contain the sap of Jesus, his project for the world. Our purpose and hope is to revive this tree, so it can return to bear beautiful leaves and its intended fruit: inclusion, love, and justice.

 


 

 

Amy Smith, Christian Aid.

Posted by: Side By Side | Thursday, November 5th, 2015
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