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Indigenous Theologians Network in Dialogue with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism

Statement of Indigenous theologians from different parts of the world, who met in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, on their dialogue with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, the mission among indigenous people and the preservation of both traditional and Christian spiritualities.

27 January 2011

Introduction

We have gathered in La Paz, Bolivia among Indigenous and non-Indigenous theologians on 22-27 January 2011. In the context of consultation and encounter of differences, this research and international theological dialogue on Indigenous Spirituality was enriched by the various spiritualities that move our Indigenous Peoples. Through deep reflection on Indigenous spiritualities as they are lived out today, we wish our input, our word to be heard by the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) and the Commission of Faith and Order (CF&O).

In this meeting we also took a critical look at the way evangelization by the Western north Atlantic churches occurred. We note that they were accomplices and allies of colonial domination, for they imposed their Western values excluding and condemning our spirituality which was considered as evil and idolatry. In our journey through out the centuries, our life and faith have been a struggle of resistance and reappraisal of our beliefs and our deep ancestral spirituality.

We Indigenous Peoples understand spirituality in a broad sense and, in conjunction with our worldview (cosmovision), this is how we as Indigenous Peoples interact in community with the cosmos, our ancestors and our Gods in a holistic relationship. Each particular context, however, contains elements that add diversity to the common spirituality of Indigenous Peoples. We identify spirituality as the underlying essence that gives identity to our peoples and our history. This spirituality is expressed through the rites by means of which we relate to our ancestors and deities. In this journey we realize that, even while living and knowing Christianity, we can deepen in both our own Indigenous Spirituality and in the Christian faith.

Indigenous Peoples also struggle with the challenge of holding both traditional Spirituality and Christianity in some balance in our religious practices and in a kind of double fidelity. Indeed, many Indigenous churches today identify themselves clearly as both Indigenous and Christian, and want to live both authentically. At the same time, Indigenous spiritualities have always been open to and able to relate to other experiences of Spirituality. Most Indigenous Peoples have been living in both worlds for many centuries which is why they do not understand why they need to choose between the two. The mission of Indigenous Peoples has not been to convert other peoples to their ceremonial ways. Today Indigenous Christians see their mission as one of sharing their experiences in Christ and accompanying other brothers and sisters and suffering communities. In the same way we call on CWME to accompany us on our walk and to find new freedom and strength there. Christianity today must now open up in the same way to being influenced by and respecting other Spiritual expressions.

Affirming Indigenous Evangelism and Mission

The Indigenous notion of respect means first and foremost that we see each other as family, as sisters, brothers and friends. That is the beginning of understanding Indigenous notions of evangelism. In that sense, we see that Indigenous spirituality can contribute to the evangelization of the church as follows:

  1. We bring our concept of life in its entirety and affirm that life is not dichotomized between the spiritual and non-spiritual; life is all full. We can still say that the Indigenous world believes that the profane is sacred.
  2. The sense of celebration of life unites us all. It is the brainchild of all. As a way of celebrating the everyday struggles, the history of resistance, the resources provided by the land, we celebrate the cultural and spiritual diversity and the plural ways of living faith. The common banquet is the end of our journey; this is our goal.
  3. Respect for each other, for Mother Nature and for ancestors is a key value in our cosmologies. We want to continue strengthening values of care for the elderly, youth, women, children, animals, ancestors, deities, and all the elements with which we live. Hence, we Indigenous Peoples call for the remembrance of the traditional practice of mutual respect. Also we honor the role of women in community and in leadership. We also ask for respect and honor for women in the context of high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence in Indigenous communities.
  4. We are open to sharing the wisdom received from our ancestors, Gods, of our painful history which is also full of grace. We ask for an attitude of attentive listening to our differences in thinking and our desire for a development that can be different from the western and north Atlantic societies and churches.
  5. We bring our community organization to work for the common banquet of the Reign of God; for the Good life in which we have what is necessary for our production and social reproduction, not for the accumulation of wealth. We want to live out community in the full sense of the word in such a way that the result of our joint efforts is to have the necessary food and good living. That would be the ultimate metaphor of our spirituality.
  6. We found that within our integrity and spirituality of relatedness to the whole, there are contradictions. Therefore we consider it a highly desirable that relations between men and women, in this perspective of integration, also be harmonious and not based on the power of one over the other. We value the work, spirituality and struggle that women bring to our people.

Mission of Indigenous Peoples

The history of the colonial form of missionary outreach must be addressed in a very sincere and critical way so as to decolonize the current forms of mission and evangelism, remembering that genuine mission will require honest dialogue. Indeed mission may require a new word, the Indigenous word and voice. Indigenous Peoples will always see mission as contextual and inclusive of Indigenous elements and principles of life. Indigenous leaders insist that mission be envisioned as including both the biblical tradition as well as the Indigenous wisdom in order to praise God and encompass Indigenous beliefs of the Creator as around us in all time and all places, especially in the feminine manifestation of the Pachamama.

Our historic mission as Indigenous Peoples is to maintain and recreate our spirituality to strive for fullness of life or Good living. This quest cannot be understood from the perspective of the capitalist market economy; it is a search for harmony with all of creation. Indigenous Peoples live out this mission through defending land rights and protecting the Land, forests, water and Indigenous cultures.

Despite the different understandings of mission, today, we live mission differently. The practice of mission is complimentary to our Indigenous beliefs. Indigenous Peoples believe it is not necessary to convert but to accompany the people and work with the local organizations. Our mission should be to defend the lives of each culture, and to strengthen the church from the perspective and vision of Indigenous Peoples.

Transformation

We Indigenous Peoples have engaged in a process of transformation. We have taken responsibility of dialogue for our theologies and spiritual experiences. Now we insist that the churches of the global north, the institutional power centers, begin a transformative process that will shift their views about us and our spiritualities. Rather than building strong institutional churches, Indigenous Peoples want to help, heal, and change the world.

In celebrating theology we need to review how we live our Christianity in the community setting rather than as western-style individuals. Some Indigenous Peoples have inculturated liturgies working to keep our sacred side and relate to our spirits. The experience of Christianity in Bolivia has greatly contributed to understanding them.

We recognize that while many WCC member churches have moved beyond a colonial notion of mission and evangelism, some still engage in this questionable colonial practice, as is the case in many churches outside of WCC. According to our view, it is time to rethink the idea of converting the ‘other’ and to emphasize instead ideas of self-transformation. We have to transform ourselves and our mind, otherwise it will be difficult. The task of the mission begins in us. The churches of the North, the institutional power centers, need to acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Christians have modalities for healing and providing salvation for our communities.

We know that CWME is at the forefront of trying to reform the concept of mission from its colonial modality and has engaged in various other types of decolonizing missions so they are more inclusive and holistic. It is possible that there has been a paradigm shift in mission theory, but the Indigenous experience still senses that the old modality continues to be dominant in practice. Moving forward, Indigenous mission must have an interreligious and ecumenical context complemented with a careful analysis of the socio economic and political context in which Indigenous Peoples live.

In the daily fight for our rights, in every village and every community, a religious reference inspires us to walk and fight for the lives of all. We recognize that each spiritual reference, divinity or God, accompanies our liberation processes. We therefore believe that the historic mission of the Christian church is of accompaniment in defense of life and in the struggles to maintain and recover our lands, identity, festivities, liturgies and recover all the features of our rituals and identities (singing, dancing, prayers, meals, and expression of each culture).

However, this historic mission could never be carried out alone. We still need the support of other organizations and other religious denominations. Therefore, our request is be for WCC to join in the quest for the Good life for human beings as well as for the creation. For example, Indigenous Peoples would highly welcome accompaniment in the decolonizing process and in recovering Indigenous languages. CWME could play a key role in achieving these goals in local communities.

Mission is a struggle for life in all its dimensions and manifestations. The day when we no longer need mission will be the day when water is abundant, the forests thriving and the land respected. That day will have life. There will be a reason to continue living and celebrate. Until that day we must we must engage in evangelization and mission.

Conclusion

We consider the meeting in La Paz as the beginning of a process in which we affirm our spiritualities and dialogue with other spiritualities. We commit to continue to be in contact with our Indigenous and non-Indigenous brothers and sisters for future discernment affirming spiritualities of life and unity of humanity in protection of God’s work in creation.