That All May Be One

All Catholics are Zapatistas, all evangelicals are paramilitaries, and Jesus is a member of the PRI party—to many involved in the struggle for land, food, and religious freedom in Chiapas, Mexico, these pseudo-verities provide all the justification needed for armed conflict. Religious divisions already present have been exacerbated by misconceptions such as these under a strategy of low-intensity warfare.

Creatively seeking to induce further strife among indigenous groups, and using "religious divisions" as one label on which to pin responsibility for current problems, the Mexican government has systematically fanned flames of unrest between churches. Doing so has allowed the government to further justify its military presence as a "peace-keeping force." Scriptural manipulation further complicates the melee: The government often cites Romans 13 to keep evangelical paramilitaries under its thumb. Tensions exploded in the highland community of Actealin in 1998, when a predominantly Presbyterian paramilitary force slaughtered 45 men, women, and children, all members of the Mayan Christian pacifist group Las Abejas.

But into this maelstrom has blown a calming zephyr. Seeking new ways to foster peace between churches in a conflict that is often Christian fighting against Christian, several United Church of Christ missionaries joined hands with the Catholic Diocese of San Cristobal to create a space for ecumenical dialogue. With its first course on conflict resolution in 1998, the Ecumenical Bible School was born.

The school began with the idea of bridging Catholics and Presbyterians, but soon Baptists joined the mix. "And then," said Eduardo "Lalo" Rodriguez, a Mennonite pastor teaching at the school, "something funny happened—Catholics and Protestants started reading the Bible together." Once these ecumenical weekend Bible studies began, old divisions and misunderstandings began to crumble away.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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