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Consultation explores multiple religious belonging in Latin American context

Consultation explores multiple religious belonging in Latin American context

Members of the consultation on multiple religious belonging in Matanzas, Cuba. Photo: Carlos Ham

21 December 2017

A theological consultation in Matanzas, Cuba explored the pastoral and theological questions that the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging poses to Christian churches in Latin America.

Organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) programme on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation and hosted by the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba, the consultation brought church leaders and scholars to examine the complex ways in which religious self-identification is forged in contexts of religious multiplicity in interaction with cultural and political realities. The aim of the consultation was to explore responses which would be theologically credible, pastorally sensitive and inter-religiously accountable as churches in Latin America encountered the increasing and undeniable phenomenon of multiple religious belonging.

Rev. Gloria Ulloa, president of the Latin American region of the WCC, brought greetings to the participants on behalf of the WCC. Rev. Milton Mejia, general secretary, Latin American Council of Churches, introduced the participants to the diverse religious landscape of Latin America, highlighting the need for increased reflection on theological questions relating to religious multiplicity.

Welcoming the delegates, Rev. Dr Carlos Ham, rector of Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary, highlighted how Cuba in general and Matanzas in particular were the ideal setting to explore the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging given the strong presence of hybrid religious identities like the Santeria. Participants visited the San Severino Castle and the Museum of Afro-Religions in Regla which helped them understand how indigenous religious traditions were brought to interaction with Christianity to produce a spirituality which helped communities facing the oppression of slavery to cope with their daily realities.

This consultation followed previous consultations held in Chennai, India (2014), Cleveland, USA (2015) and Birmingham, UK (2016), which explored the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging from various contextual perspectives.

Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, who has been involved in organising these consultations feels that the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging is a pertinent challenge for churches across the world. Very often churches try to sweep the issue of multiple religious belonging under the broad theological carpet of syncretism. But recent experiences across the world have shown that the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging is seldom a case of one size fits all. There are remarkable differences in experiences and it is important that the WCC engages with this phenomenon from a global perspective both in confident and creative fidelity to our faith. The experience in Cuba helped us engage with questions at the heart of this phenomenon.

For Rajkumar, exploring such a contentious issue is important as this will be an important theological question for the future. The WCC understands its calling as equipping member churches to be theologically competent to address difficult and emerging questions. Multiple religious belonging poses one big question and to embrace this question with honesty and openness is an important way for us to strengthen our conviction and broaden our theological vision in ways which testify resiliently and patiently to the faith we have received in and through Christ.

Learn more about WCC's work on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation