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Affirming a spirituality that gives life to all

Statement of Indigenous theologians from different parts of the world, who met in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, for dialogue and exchange of knowledge on issues around spirituality.

27 January 2011

An open letter from Indigenous communities and theologians to the churches

We met together as Indigenous theologians from different parts of the world for dialogue and exchange of knowledge as we continue ‘to affirm spiritualities of life’. The city of La Paz, or Chuquiago marka in the Aymara language, in Bolivia, was the venue for our meeting and we soaked up its atmosphere as we sought new ways for our peoples and humankind ‘to live the good life.’

In our gathering we came to understand that, despite the thousands of kilometres, despite the oceans and seas separating us, our Indigenous Peoples share similar sufferings and historic pains, but also share a wealth of experience of offering resistance and reviving culture. Our peoples today are steadfastly alive and question the global model of development that is leading the world to the point of collapse.

We are taking this opportunity as Indigenous theologians to address the Christian churches and communities that have become part of our very lives, and which we trust are, and will continue to be, bearers of the Good News. With deep love and in the firm confidence that we have in the God of Life and of the Peoples of the earth, we venture to speak out so that our churches may be witnesses to the Love of the God of Life for humankind and for all living beings.

Our position in the churches

As aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples, we have not been able to give expression within our churches to our own cultural and spiritual identity. In all church bodies world-wide, we have been told that, if we want to be true Christians, then we must discard our own culture, traditions and practices. In the majority of our peoples, the Christian religion was imposed alongside the culture of the dominant society, and both the right to express our religion in our own way and the fundamental rights of every human being have been trodden underfoot.

In our attempts to survive as peoples and maintain the cultures developed by our ancestors we have, in the majority of cases, been compelled to live with a dual identity – Christian and Indigenous. Many of our customs and approaches to life were driven underground, and we came to have in our own way the same experience as the early Christian communities when persecuted by the Empire.

In most societies we are still a minority and as such marginalized and denied our rights as humans and citizens. Despite the progress made in the field of human rights and in legislation that is beginning to protect the culture, identity and life of Indigenous Peoples, our Indigenous ways of living and of understanding our role in the recreating of life are still not recognized or respected. We therefore condemn the world order that has been imposed in the form of domination of entire continents and the pillage of the wealth of our peoples. The present-day face of this world order is the capitalist economic system, which is imposing on us the ideals of individualism and consumerism, thereby destroying, particularly among our young people, the community life and the sense of solidarity.

In recent years we have seen how reflections and contributions have flourished in the various Indigenous theologies world-wide. However, we are now witnessing afresh serious threats and a return to models of church and theology that are exclusive, centralized, culturally standardized and subservient to the dominant world order.

Our confession of faith

As Indigenous Christian theologians we hold to our faith in the God of the Covenant (Gen. 9:12), the God who makes a covenant not only with humankind but with all living beings in order that life may be preserved.

We declare our faith in the God of the world’s peoples, who continues to inspire exoduses, freedom movements and the building of just inclusive societies in all peoples and cultures (Amos 9:7).

We believe that the Word of God is Good News and Gospel for all individuals and peoples, especially for those who are suffering, excluded and oppressed. The Word of God can only be interpreted as life, life for all (John 10:10), which leads us to doubt whether that word still being spoken by ‘religious authorities’ does produce death and legitimize exploitation and social injustice. We believe that the Word of God is Good News, coming to humankind from Indigenous Peoples, affirming love of life and life in community in mutual respect.

We believe that the Holy Spirit, life-giving power, is embedded in all the world’s cultures and peoples and inspires the movement of persons towards a life of community in harmony, and in various ways shows a desire for fullness of life for all living beings.

We believe in Jesus Christ, risen from death, who is present among the Indigenous Peoples, accompanying them in their resistance to exclusion and encouraging them in their values of equality, harmony and brotherly and sisterly community with all creatures.

A variety of words and symbols are used to describe God. God is, for Indigenous Peoples, like a generous and compassionate mother, like the refreshing breeze and wind, like the warmth of the morning sun, like the heart of the earth from which life emerges. God is like a great tree giving shade and shelter, like the river that waters the fields, like the ancestors who watch over us on our journey. God is even more than that, depending on the perspective of each of the Indigenous Peoples; however, the universal form in which God’s presence is recognized is in the faces of those whose suffering is being relieved, in the smile of a child, in the hopeful eyes of children, and in the life that springs up again after being doomed to perish.

Our statement of hope

As persons belonging to Indigenous Peoples and communities who have become followers of Jesus Christ, and being members of different churches, it is our hope.

  • that the voices of our Indigenous Peoples will be heard. Despite having undergone situations of oppression and exclusion, they have been able to advance, and, out of their own experiences, they have set forth ways for living the good life, for living with Mother Earth, and values fostering inclusive community life.
  • that our churches will be places of genuine inclusive community life and authentic expressions of faith in the God of the peoples and of life; that churches in Indigenous communities will take on the culture, language, symbols and spirituality of the peoples themselves, and that they learn to incorporate the incarnation of the Word in the cultures and history of Indigenous Peoples;
  • that in our churches we will be enabled to express our own faith experiences and that they will no longer be regarded as peripheral to our people. We wish to see a church that celebrates the rising again of the Jesus of the world’s peoples in their own words and expressions, in worship that takes into account the rich symbolic, liturgical and spoken traditions of our Peoples.
  • that our churches do not separate faith from life, but rather deeply express the Gospel as commitment to life for all. We ask that more love, solidarity and justice be practiced, rather than focussing on dogmas and doctrines that are divisive and judgmental of peoples and cultures, and that our churches bear testimony in the ways in which they organize themselves to deep human and Christian ethical values.

Our commitment

Having addressed our words to the churches, we now state our own commitment to achieving the dream of inclusive churches and societies that affirm a life of justice and dignity for all living beings.

We commit to continue deepening our Indigenous spirituality, seeking practical dynamic ways of affirming life in the complex situations of pain and death being experienced by our peoples. We shall continue to engage in critical reflection on our faith, in which both Indigenous and Christian elements are interwoven, in order for it to avoid being manipulated in favour of sectarian or power interests, but rather being the foundation giving meaning and direction to the life of our peoples and of each individual.

We shall seek to make the presence of Christ in our spirituality and in our peoples a tangible, lively, incarnate reality, so as to leave behind the dualistic thought forms and mindsets that have been dominant in Christianity – although they, too, have been the product of other experiences of encounter.

We commit ourselves to work at creating new ways of interpreting the Bible out of our own context, providing us with valuable elements for an inclusive life, such as reciprocity, living well, harmony, complementarity, and other values necessary for life in its fullness. We shall seek dialogue between the rich traditions, so as to find in them the Word that is the Fountain of Life.

We shall endeavour to ensure that coming generations in our non-Indigenous Peoples and societies follow the spiritual path of Indigenous Peoples and recover the valuable tradition of the early Christian communities, who, in the days of Empire, affirmed community in their sharing of bread and possessions, and, principally, ensured that no one has the right to lord it over humankind. Those communities and their determined purposeful resistance are a testimony calling us to be faithful Christians, and, on the other hand, the struggle by our ancestors urges us on to build a ‘land without evil’.

Chuquiago marka (La Paz), January 2011