Mission, Justice and Diakonía: The Puertorrican Experience Angel L. Rivera-Agosto As Protestant churches, 1 we aim to speak out of the pastoral experience of our congregations and our concern for those needing our help who knock at our doors day by day. We see with sorrow how the poor become yet poorer and the middle classes impoverished, while a limited group of individuals and families become immensely rich.
Like you, we sometimes feel that we too are complicit, by either inertia or passivity, in contributing to a value-system and to life-styles producing much pain and marginalization. We are creating a ‘civilization of inequalities’ 2.
This is not simply an economic problem, but also a moral and ethical problem, a problem of values and insensitivity in the face of suffering. The economy today is more than an economic system: it is a value system, a pattern of living, and a civilization of the unequal.
We do not claim to be economists, or that we have solutions to the evils afflicting us. So, what is our motive for speaking out? It is not the economy, but the importance of our fellow human beings. So, what is our concern? It is not the economy, but an economic system that degrades the human condition.
What is our task in face of this suffering? ‘If we remain silent, the stones will cry out’ (cf Luke 19:40). 1 The description ‘Protestant’ is used here in an inclusive sense to include the diversity of
our Protestant and Anglican churches arising directly or indirectly from the Reformation movements of the 16th century, which are not part of the Roman Catholic Church.
2 A description used by the well-known Austrian economist Joseph Schrumpeter.
The basic task of the Church is to help people change their lives; discover spiritual peace and salvation for living. However, the Gospel also reminds us of our duty to participate in building a moral and ethical order ensuring life in abundance for all.
We recognize that globalisation is an irreversible historical fact, but also that it needs to be significantly changed. We recognize its reality, but we cannot accept its perversity. As Protestant churches we wish to hold on to the idea that a different world is still a possibility.
Out of the pain we feel for the suffering of the marginalized people of our continent, we wish to make our own the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he said that he had come, ‘to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18).
Out of faithfulness to our mission to proclaim the Gospel, we feel challenged to struggle against social injustice, the great inequalities in international relations, the wide gulf between the countries of the North and of the South, social problems arising out of violence, illiteracy and the evils of corruption, drugs and terrorism.
We see around us people’s obsession to possess, to be powerful or successful, to be winners and to make profits, all to the detriment of being, of well being and of human dignity. Economic miracles are aimed for yet what is produced is social hell. We are encouraging the creation of societies based on exclusion and lack of mutual care, which greatly hinders God’s plan of salvation for all.
As churches, together with other humanitarian movements and organizations, we have attempted to foster a community spirit in our societies based on living values for all, such as dedication to work, commitment, effort, compassion and mutual care.
‘Globalisation – in its social, economic and technological dimensions – has become more predominant in the life of our peoples. Globalisation has been presented to us as the universal panacea. We have been told that through it, technology and the market will make this world a better place. In fact, globalisation has reintroduced with even greater force the law of the strongest in social relationships, enabling minorities to live in comfort while condemning millions to be sacrificed on the altar of the market, that present-day idol greedy for human sacrifice’3.
A distinguished church leader4 has said that as churches we are at present unable to put into practice the parable of the Good Samaritan, given the extent of the suffering that we are experiencing in our region. The global economic system is leaving so many injured people on the roadside that our churches are not able to lift up, accompany and feed all those who need us. The time has come for us to confront the problem of the thieves and robbers on the highway. As Protestant churches, with love and not hatred, and in a constructive and not destructive spirit, we wish to make our contribution to finding effective solutions to the evils in our societies. Our calling is thus not only to relieve poverty but also to confront the causes of power being concentrated in the hands of a few and to call for a new approach to wealth distribution.
We are not fatalists but we do believe that chaos and social breakdown are real possibilities in Latin America. In order to achieve what seems to be impossible, one must be realistic. The time has come for us to join in a united effort to find solutions.
We wish to persist in speaking of a new economic vision, which places people right to life at the centre of their actions, of an economy, which promotes solidarity, mutual concern and responsibility, and of an economic model, which proposes ‘to globalise life in abundance’. 3 Final declaration of the Fourth General Assembly of the Latin American Council of
Churches, Barranquilla, January 2001.
4 The following thoughts are inspired by an address by Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen, Executive
Secretary of the Council of Methodist Churches in Latin America (CIEMAL).