Thursday, July 18, 2013

Invaded by an imperial power

This month an evangelical group is sending 2,000 to save Honduras. In their publicity they talk about “saving a nation in one day.” That day is July 20, 2013.

I have great respect for many Protestants and Evangelical Protestants. I have family and friends who are not Catholic, I have several non-Catholic clergy as friends (and not only on Facebook). I have worked ecumenically with people from many different faith traditions.

My faith has been enriched by reading people like Will Campbell, a rebel Baptist who recently passed on to the Lord, and Jim Wallis, one of the founders of Sojourners. There’s a nice article about Will Campbell here. My favorite quote from Campbell is “We are all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”

I respect some evangelicals I’ve met here.

This reflection is not about evangelicals, but a critique of a type of “mission” that many, especially evangelicals, promote. For my reaction to being on the receiving end of one of these missionaries a year ago, read here.

The nation of Honduras does need change – or, as we Christians might say, conversion. But conversion is not just something individual. It also means conversion, change of social and economic structures that hinder the work of love that God offers. In the Jewish scriptures the prophets often are calling the political and religious leaders to change, confronting the injustice and violence in their midst.

But one of the strategies of this campaign “one nation, one day” has been to partner with the government. One video shows one of their leaders with Honduran president Pepe Lobo and states that he declared July 20 a national holiday. (I think they’ve got that wrong, but that’s another story.) Another video shows their leaders with the president and other governmental leaders whom, they claim, support their mission.

What disturbs me is the alliance with political power, especially in an election year. Here religion is all too often easily manipulated to help one or another political party.

More disturbing is that One Nation One Day is partnering with political and economic powers that many consider responsible for – or, at least, not responsive to – the continuing violence in the country and the repression. This week an indigenous leader protesting a dam project was shot and killed by government forces. In addition, many of these political leaders see a militarization of the police as the way to deal with the violence, missing the structural issues at the root of the violence here.

These “missionaries” will be accompanied by the National Police, a police that has been riddled by corruption.  (Does this sound like the priests that came with the Spanish conquistadores?) In a few cases, police have assassinated civilians. You can read what I wrote a few weeks ago here or the analysis in Honduras Culture and Politics.

And so, this campaign could be seen as a way to legitimate corruption and repression.

Furthermore, the emphasis of this campaign is individualistic. In their own words, they will “strategically infiltrate” every high school, promoting school-wide calls to salvation. This is one of their ways they are seeking to reach every young person in Honduras; they don’t seem to realize that less than one-third of Honduras young people go past sixth grade! Also, many teachers have to wait months until they are paid.

This group claims it will be mobilizing “virtually every local pastor” – about 30,000, they say – with two major stadium training events. Of course, these are only evangelical pastors. The presence of Catholic leaders – clergy and lay – is conveniently ignored. I wonder if this is more about “saving Hondurans” from their sins than about accompanying Hondurans in their search for the Kingdom of God, a God of justice, love, and peace.

A few days ago a priest friend asked me what I thought about the presence of evangelicals here in Honduras. He, like many, see their presence as part of a campaign to undermine the community vision that the Catholic Church has and that has been reaffirmed in the meetings of the Latin American Bishops Conference in Medellín, Puebla, and Aparecida.

I am not sure that this is really such a campaign – though the support of the Reagan administration to some fundamentalist groups (even in Honduras) is a fact.

But I see most of those who come here in campaigns like this as naïve. They have little understanding of the economic and social situation of the country and the structural injustice at work here. Their individualistic religion often sees personal salvation in individualistic terms and so they overlook the injustice. Some show an unthinking chauvinism that translates into support of unjust regimes.

But most of all they do not see that Jesus is already at work here – not just among the Catholics, but also among many who give their lives to live with and serve the poor.

As a part of One Nation One Day’s publicity, one video declares: “You are becoming Jesus to the world.”

I wonder about this, especially in light of this quote of John Taylor that I share with people who are coming here:
Our first task in approaching
another people,
another culture,
another religion,
is to take off our shoes,
for the place we are approaching
is holy.
Else we may find ourselves
treading on another’s dream.
More seriously still,
we may forget
that God was there
before our arrival.
And so I pray that their time here might be one of conversion – conversion from imperialist religion and imperialist nationalism. 


Tim Høiland said...

Thanks for this post, John. If only evangelicals and Catholics would pause and get to know each other before competing with each other, in the spirit of this:

paul said...

Very insightful. I've been thinking about writing something about One Country, One Day, but it's difficult to criticize people who I'm sure mean well and are good-hearted. And the medical clinics are great
But the notion that a night in a stadium will bring meaningful changes is just wrong.
I'm troubled by the tendency to talk a lot about God's will and not much about the responsibility of people to act to make their communities and county better. The old faith without deeds argument.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

I just saw a follow-up video they made and saw two two-story high Coca-Cola blow-up bottles on the stadium field.

I also read that they are sending follow up groups in March to Trujillo, Roatan, and the Bay Islands.