A Lament from the South

This stern word to North American Christians from our evangelical sisters and brothers in Latin America poses the perennial -

This stern word to North American Christians from our evangelical sisters and brothers in Latin America poses the perennial - and ultimate - question: Are we Christians who happen to be Americans or Americans who happen to be Christians? As biblical and sociological scholars, both of whom affirm their debt to this country, C. René Padilla and Lindy Scott tellingly point out in this powerful little book that our very souls depend on the answer to that question. Who are we Christians in this country today? And what is the Christian church here?

The authors paint a disturbing picture - more in sorrow than in anger, I believe - around the subject of U.S. church people’s response to the Iraq war in particular and to our country’s imperial policies in general. Beginning with an extensive listing of Latin American evangelicals’ ringing condemnation of President Bush’s intention to invade Iraq, the book calls into serious question U.S. foreign policies, economic aggression, militaristic impulses, and the very way of life in the United States.

As I read the prophetic statements against this war from our sisters and brothers to the south, I wondered why our secular media - and especially our religious press and our pulpits - failed to report these newsworthy responses to what our government was planning in fall 2002 and spring 2003. Entities in the Latin American evangelical world that condemned Bush’s drive toward war include the Venezuelan Evangelical Pentecostal Union, the executive committee of the Latin American Theological Fraternity, the Baptist World Alliance, the Latin American Network of Christian Lawyers, the Ecumenical Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Guatemala, the Latin American and Caribbean Pre-Assembly of the World Lutheran Federation, the Theological Community of Mexico, and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. The list goes on and on and underscores the importance of what was going on to our south.

It is chilling to read the authors’ conclusion to this outcry and the silence with which it was received to the north: "These Latin American churches, at least in symbolic ways, are further severing the umbilical cord with the churches in the United States." Clearly our sisters and brothers are speaking a word of warning to us.

THE BOOK GOES on to look at the Iraq war in light of the much-discussed criteria for a just war and finds this conflict morally wrong on every point. The authors then survey U.S. foreign policy history and do not shrink from using the phrase "state terrorism" to describe much of that sorry story. Continuing to broaden their focus, the authors then take up the "twin idolatries" of materialism and ethnocentric patriotism, which they say - with absolute correctness - are "rivals of the Lord Jesus Christ" and have "won the day" in our society and churches.

The latter part of Terrorism and the War in Iraq offers an extensive reflection on biblical calls to a "revolution of values," to peace based on justice, to a "new spirituality," and to a "restructuring of the church." The reflection concludes with pointed references to the response of churches during the Nazi era in Germany: "Nazism had a blinding effect to the extent that the Pastors’ Emergency League could draw up statements such as the following: ‘Yes, praise God, all you lands!… [W]e have a government that agrees with and protects the solidarity of Christendom and national tradition which is our destiny and the indispensable prerequisite for the outer rise and inner well-being of the nation.’"

I shall keep this book as a fact-filled resource, as a sermon tool, and - above all - as spiritual reading.

Joe Nangle, OFM, is executive director of Franciscan Mission Service and a member of Assisi Community in Washington, D.C.

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