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La Paz report - Just and inclusive communities

Representing the experiences, perspectives and visions of different excluded groups, a select group of 25 theologians from many parts of the world gathered in La Paz, Bolivia during May 2007, perhaps for the first time, to articulate their visions of the world and the church. Their attempt was to identify the possible thematic directions for the new programme - Just and Inclusive Communities - that brings together WCC's ongoing work in the areas of Overcoming racism, Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network, Indigenous Peoples and Dalit Solidarity.

03 May 2007

Report of the theological consultation
La Paz, Bolivia, April 29 - May 3, 2007

 

Introduction

 

This report attempts to outline a theological framework for WCC's new programme: Just and Inclusive Communities that has been put in place by integrating four areas of its ongoing work: Overcoming Racism, Indigenous Peoples, Dalit Solidarity and the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network. It reflects a consultative process of sharing and conversation among persons impacted by these and other concerns. This is the first step towards identifying a process to enable and accompany the churches through theological reflection to discover ways in which they might become more just and inclusive communities. As such it is by no means a finished product. The issues raised in this account of the conversation will give shape to the programme.

 

At the outset it needs to be mentioned that this paper emerges out of a struggle for many reasons. To begin with, it was an attempt to develop a common theological vision based on the distinct vantage points, experiences and visions of four excluded groups - Indigenous Peoples, Dalits, people with disabilities and those who resist and also victimised by racism - groups that have historic connections to the work of the World Council of Churches. It acknowledges the complexity of the issues facing these groups in varying contexts, understanding the importance of each, as well as the common longing for inclusion. However, it soon became evident that a theological reflection aiming at a more holistic understanding of inclusivity and one that is based on life experiences in concrete historical contexts, could not remain focused on the four specific forms of exclusion alone. It kept wandering through the life-world of migrants, asylum seekers, political detainees, ethnic and religious minorities, elderly people, children, sexual minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS, etc., pointing to the reality of the interconnections among social identities and locations and the consequent vulnerabilities and disempowerment. It points to the need to address other forms of exclusion for a holistic theological understanding of inclusivity. Recognising that it is often a combination of various forms of exclusion that are at work, this paper emphasises the need to foster solidarity among excluded people as they struggle to dismantle structures and cultures that exclude and deny and as they strive to realize the vision of more just and inclusive communities. It is also conscious of the absence of the perspectives of those who experience other forms of exclusion. In spite of its limitations, it must be said that this is an attempt towards articulating the contours of a theology from within the church, from a legitimate part of the church who are excluded within and who yearn for its transformation so that the church is able to holds itself forth as a sign, as an alternative to the unjust, discriminatory and oppressive world and its institutions.

 

This document is also shaped not only by the realisation that all excluded groups have certain experiences of pathos in common such as: poverty, marginalization, oppression, victimization, rejection and discrimination but also of hope - in the form of resistance, celebration, solidarity and a vision of a new society. It is these experiences of hope that inform this exercise of discerning the directions for the pursuit of just and inclusive communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theological Vision

 

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of times, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.( Ephesians 1: 9, 10 NRSV)

Attempts were made initially to develop one theology that spoke of and to the common experience of the four diverse groups of people. It was quickly acknowledged, however, that such a project would not be authentic, for each group had developed different approaches to understanding God and different visions of what a just and inclusive community would be like. It is thus acknowledged (at the beginning of this document) that multiple theological perspectives based on diversity of perspectives, experiences and contexts on just and inclusive communities are inevitable. What this theological vision attempts to do, therefore, is to honour these differences by weaving a tapestry of perspectives together in one document, each thread, creating its own distinct picture and in turn contributing to the whole. The theological understandings have developed here are not intended to be the last word either, but a part of a process towards developing a theological vision that underpins the strategies that Christian communities can adopt in fostering just and inclusive communities. The silence of the other voices means that this tapestry contains gaps which in time may be filled in as representatives of other excluded groups make their contributions.

 

One other challenge in discussions has been the area of Christology. It was felt that the dominant Christologies in our churches often contribute to the exclusion of the socially disempowered sections. It was felt that it is important to formulate Christologies based on concrete experiences of exclusion, emphasising the broken Jesus on the cross and the Christ who articulates and integrates the broken creation in the resurrection. This may include using language which speaks of a Jesus, the sinless and incarnated son of God, who takes upon himself the identities of those who are exploited and excluded, such as those with disabilities, of colour, of despised caste identities, of the marginalised Indigenous Peoples, abused women and children, the aged, those of different sexual orientation, etc., in order to expose the life-denying tendencies of certain cultures and structures that govern human relationships. Such a pluralistic understanding of Christ enables the church - the body of Christ to be an inclusive community. The body of Christ suffers and longs for restitution and healing of the creation with childbirth pains because of the multiform ways that people exclude one another. (Romans 8:18-25). It is acknowledged that each of the focus groups underlines other Christological aspects too converging into the basic affirmation that Jesus is the truest image of an inclusive God (Col. 1. 15-20).

 

In the spirit of respecting differences, it is again affirmed that any theological formulation is part of an ongoing process that is dynamic and should resist the historical theological categories of dualism. The theological vision presented here considers the following:

  • A framework for understanding exclusion

  • A framework for presenting approaches to inclusion

  • A framework for a future that is birthed in the hope of just and inclusive communities.

 

In discussing these three areas, each part of the discussion is supported by stories from representatives of excluded groups. This allows space here for theology to be developed through both argument and narrative. It also provides a space for the voices of excluded peoples to be heard.

 

 

 

I. Anatomy of Exclusion

 

But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (I Cor. 12: 22-26 NRSV)

 

In the conversations that took place in La Paz concerning excluded groups, it was quickly recognized that such groups have a number of experiences in common. These include experiences of violence, physical, psychological and emotional suffering, demonisation, humiliation, rejection, the experience of being made to feel that oppression is the result of personal or inherited sin, a religiosity that is considered liberal, and the experience of having their voices silenced in oppression. It also became clear that a variety of means and ways are employed to oppress and exclude and that these also operate at various levels. The most prominent and pervasive are those cultures of exclusion that manifest themselves in the form of racism, casteism, sexism, and other derisive anthropological notions, which operate to consolidate and strengthen the powerful through the subjugation of the weak and vulnerable, manipulation of their minds as well as of common sense, and the consequent exploitation. These ideologies operate together in combination of forms of exclusion as they make and keep people in perpetual state of disempowerment and vulnerability. For example, a person may be oppressed because he/she is black, but triply oppressed if a person is a black, woman and poor.

 

Perhaps this is where sin comes into the discourse as it causes and justifies rupture of relationships - between persons and with creation. In other words, actions - words and gestures, of exclusion are to be seen as sin. Since these patterns of human behaviour emanate from and find legitimacy in institutions, be they civil or religious, the systemic / structural nature of sin also needs to be recognised. This is important because many actions of exclusion tend to find fault with those who are excluded than with the ethos - of structures, culture, norms, beliefs, superstitions, etc., which creates the space for such. For example, victims of rape are subjected to subtle forms of exclusion in spite of the verbal condemnations about the offenders. Indigenous people are marginalised within the Church in spite of the various affirmations made about their identity.

 

Many stories of exclusion were shared and forms of exclusion and their combinations too were identified. Here are a few stories to help to illustrate some of the theological issues and questions thus far raised:

 

Illustrative Stories:

 

An African descendent woman from Brazil

 

To understand the violence that African descendent women in Brazil suffer today, first of all, we have to speak about our history - the history of colonialism, oppression, harsh discrimination and racism. Violence for us has its beginning with the slave trade. It began when we were taken away from Africa, our mother land, and forced into slave dungeons and boats that brought us to the Americas and to Brazil. Violence was there in the way we were uprooted from our land, taken away from our African cultures, separated from our families and relatives. Violence was there when in the crossing were beaten, suffered harsh treatment, starvation and death. Thousands of our ancestors died in the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Once in Brazil, violence continued - the violence of forced labour, and of working in the plantations, of separation from anyone that would speak the same language, or practice the same rituals; the violence against our integrity and dignity through rape and unwanted pregnancies. Violence of isolation and alienation has been our daily experience eversince.

 

Life did not get better for us, especially African descendent women when abolition of slavery was declared in Brazil, in 1888. Nothing was put into place to guarantee the minimal material conditions for our survival. We were left to ourselves to face the new situation. From one day to the other we were free. What kind of freedom was that? We had nowhere to go, no land, no houses, no education. Our only professions were those learned under slavery.

 

That injustice is lived even today by the African descendent women. We are affected by systemic forms of violence. We suffer racism, racial discrimination and domestic violence in our daily lives. These are barriers to our development, to equal economic opportunities, to access to education, to access to positions of power and decision making. African descendent women and children in Brazil are the poorest of the poor, we are the majority of those living in slums, in the periphery of the cities, of the ones that do menial jobs and work as domestic servants.

 

Despite these realities of violence and exclusion, we, the African descendent women in Brazil, together with our communities are living expressions of life, endurance and resistance. We have resisted slavery by forming our communities of resistance, the "Quilombos". We have found strength and courage to keep going in our diverse forms of spirituality. We are survivors of today and tomorrow!

 

An African-American perspective:

 

Peoples of African descent have been demonized in the stern psyche as a result of its need to justify their brutalization and enslavement that began during the eras of the Protestant Reformation and Europe's Age of Discovery wherein those conquered, colonized, and enslaved by Europeans become also the objects of Christian missions. Integral to this process were modes of biblical interpretation that reified wholeness as normative for what it meant to be Christian and human. The Black Community was signified within this scheme in threatening and perverse images of irrationality, idolatry, immorality and inferiority. Thus, the enslavement and colonization of Africans became an essential component of the church's civilizing and Christianising project that presupposed an inherent deficiency in Black humanity.

 

A Person with a Disability from Cuba:

 

The history of the concept of disability as a sin which emerged from religious traditions, has survived until today in most cultures. It is the interpretation of the projection of one's own or inherited sin. The non-acceptance of persons with disability comes from different sources, sin being one. In the religious practice of some Christian communities in Cuba, people pray to God for healing, they insist that God take away the sin as the curse of the disability. On some occasions the person with a disability is required to do penitence or to be involved in other religious practices. In many cultures, persons with disabilities are hidden by their families to avoid criticism and condemnation as it often implies making one's sin visible. In some cultures, a child with a disability is eliminated before it is born. However, what Jesus preaches (John 9:31) is contrary to this concept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. Anatomy of Inclusion

"Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' (Matthew 25: 34 -36 NRSV)

 

The reality of the sinful exclusion of many sections of people becomes an important matter of concern for the churches as they begin to pursue the vision of just and inclusive communities. At the outset, it is important to ask to what and with whom are excluded peoples to be included into? The theological vision of inclusivity does not present the need of excluded peoples being included into existing structures and practices. Rather, inclusion is here defined as the realisation of communities in which those who exclude and are excluded, oppress and are oppressed move towards each other in love and compassion so that both are transformed through an encounter with one another and create new communities which are truly just and inclusive. In the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.22-28, Jesus is transformed by the encounter with the Gentile he compares to a dog (v.26) and both come to a new understanding and recognition of the other. From the various theological perspectives of the excluded groups contributing here the following components provide a theological framework for working towards such just and inclusive communities. There are different nuances of the theological concepts presented here, yet, it is believed that these are some of the first threads that need to be woven in as we work towards completing our tapestry.

 

1. Imago Dei

 

There is a need for a hermeneutic of suspicion concerning traditional images of God and it is affirmed that God's image is not that of an exclusively white, stern, able bodied, upper class male. Traditional perspectives of God also describe God in terms of perfection, burdening human beings with the need to strive for that perfection and in so doing, encourage excluded groups to negate all that is good within them and within the creation. Images of God should help individuals and communities to understand what is happening in the here and now rather than striving for something that is beyond our reality and reach. The image of God has to be seen in the way the whole creation expresses God's love, generosity and wisdom. Therefore hierarchical social structures and values that privilege some over others contradict this understanding of God's image. There is thus a need for a multiplicity of images of God that resonate with the yearnings of every marginalised group. Such a method expresses continuity with the tradition of plurality in the Godhead articulated in the doctrine of the Trinity. Below are two stories that illustrate differing understandings of God from two distinct communities. The first describes an image of God from the experience of being in community, the second draws on stories from an indigenous community that talks about God on the basis of what God does.

 

Illustrative Stories:

 

From the Dalits in Rural India:

 

‘I don't want to go to church and worship God along with those who are not willing to share even a small piece of tamarind fruit. It is better to stay away from the church than to pretend to love somebody. If I do that, God will not be there'. This statement from a Christian from a rural community encapsulates the way that God is perceived and understood by that particular community. God is realized primarily through their daily life experiences. It has a very personal, participatory and ‘real' dimension to it. Most importantly, God is conceived to be with them and not as an isolated and distant reality, which gives them the freedom to interact with that divine presence, get angry and swear at God when things are not going right and pour all praises when things are fine. In other words the worshippers have an ‘ownership' of God and place a corporate and communal emphasis on God while explaining the significance of worship without hypocrisy in this context.

 

From the Indigenous peoples in Mexico:

 

Nanahuatzin is the name of a god from the religious traditions of the Mexican Indigenous People. This god was excluded from the other gods because he was sick. He was covered with pimples, constantly suffering. For the sun to heat more, the gods said that one of them had to immolate himself. Among all the gods, precisely the excluded and sick god courageously sacrificed his life and immolated himself for the sun to be stronger, warmer and reach a better reproduction of the whole creation. The re-creating God was the excluded despised, sick God - he gave the supreme good, his life to the world.

 

2. Concept of what it means to be human

 

There are a variety of ways in which the value of the human being is conceived. For example, dominant philosophical notions emphasise on the human ability to think and rationalise - ‘I think therefore I am'. The Protestant work ethic suggests a person's humanity and worth in his / her capacity to work. In some contexts, such as that of the Dalit community, one's status determined by birth/descent, defines one's worth as a human being. People with disabilities, among others, are often told that they are disabled because of either personal or inherited sin. Women and children are perceived to be weak, inferior or dependant and therefore discriminated or abused. On account of these notions, the dehumanisation, experiences of violence and abuse of the disempowered sections are either ignored or legitimised.

 

New approaches are needed to describe what it means to be human and the following is proposed as a starting point:

 

  • Each human person is of value because they are a creation of a loving God (Gen 1.27).

  • The capacity to love is crucial to our humanity and what it means to be truly alive (Luke 10.27-28). All humans have the capacity to give and receive love though this potential is not always realized in the churches and in personal relationships. How this love is expressed will vary in each context.

  • Community is the context for the expression of this love (Col.3:12-17).

 

A Story from the mother of an adult son with severe learning disabilities in the UK:

 

Frances Young speaks of how Arthur, her severely intellectually disabled son had ‘been the catalyst of significant discoveries about human relationships'. She remarked ‘he has helped us all to a greater maturity'. She writes of the benefit received from her weekly visit to the hospital for mentally disabled adults: ‘Just to go and be with people for whom life was basic and simple, for some of whom verbal communication was difficult or impossible, became profoundly important. It was a sharing of peace and friendship and simplicity, entering a community in which there was a remarkable atmosphere of simple gratitude, a capacity to receive, a delight in little treasures'. (Young, F. (1990) Face to Face, p.81)

 

 

 

 

 

3. Holistic view of creation - the importance of understanding interdependence

 

A holistic view of creation recognizes the interdependence of human beings, animals, vegetation, spirits and the eco-system. This vision is broken by the sin that causes separation within - the complex web of life. This is illustrated in the struggle of indigenous peoples to reclaim the land that was taken and exploited by colonial powers, the loss of connectedness to the land of the African Diaspora exploited through slavery, and the experience of Dalits whose basic humanity is denied by being deprived of access to land, water and a basic livelihood. The denial of property and the exploitation of land and resources by the powerful is also part of the larger global reality for many other excluded peoples, resulting in them being among the world's poorest people. Globalisation has often promised transformation of such realities but in practice has resulted in further exploitation of marginalised peoples displacing them from their lands and depriving them of the basic necessities of water, food, shelter and even clean air.

 

A story from India:

 

Palghat is a district in Kerala, South India, which is popularly known as Kerala's "rice bowl". Compared to other parts of Kerala, Palghat is drought -prone. And Plachimada is a tiny hamlet in Palghat. It is to Plachimada that a multi-national corporation had decided to come and set up a manufacturing plant. The company opened its plant having secured the permission of the local government, the Panchayat, to use motorized pumps to dig water for its project. However, the company went beyond the limits of the permit, went ahead and drilled six wells and illegally installed high pored electric pumps and extracted millions of liters of pure water ("the harlot sitting on many waters" Rev. 17":1-3).

 

The company also violated the existing Kerala Land Utilization Act and cleared several hectares of paddy fields to establish the plant in Plachimada The annual rainfall in the region is 1200 m.m. Water that can be rain harvested, at the rate of 60% of rainwater, is about 10.94 million litres. Water that was consumed by the company was 24 million litres per annum. As a result, the communities that were living in and around the plant started experiencing severe droughts and water shortage because their own wells had gone dry. The extraction of underground water by the plant also resulted in the pollution of water with minerals. High levels of Chloride and Fluoride were found in nearby wells. Due to acute shortage of water, women in the community were forced to walk about 5 km to fetch water.

 

For the indigenous people, the integral (comprehensive) creation is considered a living and interrelated body, composed as a cosmic community, a universal house (Oikoumene) inside which every being has its own specific place and function. This vision is cosmo-centric and not anthropocentric, and as such the human being is not the owner but the guardian of the non-human world. Each dualistic separation violates the balance and harmony of the cosmic order which is the picture of an inclusive world.

 

From the Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia:

 

For the Indigenous groups, religious practices are plural and syncretistic. There are combinations of Indigenous and Christian (stern Christianity) elements in the rites which include the need to be thankful for the life and work of the land, animals and persons. The church celebrations include symbolic elements, music, and images of God from the indigenous traditions. Such practices are considered unorthodox by traditional churches which in turn indulge in exclusion, satanisation, and oppression of the native peoples. This perspective ignores that Christianity is a religion that is embodied in different cultures from its origin.

 

4. Justice

 

Justice in its essence is about right relationships. Isaiah writes of the need to ‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow' (Isaiah 1.17) Micah also reminds us of the need to do justice (6.8). Justice is not an intellectual ideology but a reality achieved through radical action. The articulation of justice has often been expressed among the excluded communities contributing to this report both as the equitable distribution of opportunities and resources as well as respect and acceptance in a spirit of mutual love between persons and communities. The clamour of the excluded people for justice is often a clamour for acceptance and freedom to be. Justice is when every human person is aware that they have a right to sit down at the table without needing to be asked or to seek permission.

 

 

III. Anatomy of Hope

 

1. Keeping hope alive despite ambiguities

 

Every human being lives in the ambiguity of God's creation. Human life is constantly touched both by its goodness (Gen. 1.31) as well as suffering. However, amidst this ambiguity, hope is found in acts of resistance, experiences and expressions of spirituality and the discovery of grace.

 

A testimony from a woman with a disability from Brazil:

 

I am a woman with a disability. I believe God has created me like other people who are without a disability. I feel loved and precious. My disability was not God's desire but it happened because of the way we live in this world where sickness appears and then is controlled. But many people and God sees me as good creation. God wants me to be a part of the main life of the world. At the same time, some people reject me because of my appearance and I suffer marginalization, prejudice and exclusion. I live in this ambiguity of acceptance and rejection, of being a whole person with a disability and at the same time excluded. But I believe that God is a God of both wholeness and brokenness.

 

2. Spirituality of Resistance

 

Traditionally spirituality is always understood and interpreted in terms of piety and sobriety. On the contrary, excluded people believe that resistance to injustice, exclusion, discrimination and derision - through affirmations, attitudes and actions, is also a valid form of spirituality. Resistance may take the form of either subversive action in opposition to powers that oppress as well as celebration of life in spite of the oppressors. South American indigenous peoples have always lived out celebration as a symbol of their resistance to marginalisation and negation of their dignity for more than five hundred years. Community values of solidarity and encounter are lived out and the same values are also proclaimed from the point of view of their Christian faith. The spirituality of excluded people resists and condemns the systemic / structured sins of exclusion and depravation - of racism, casteism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, suppression of indigenous groups, marginalization of people with disabilities, and materialism that dehumanises people and destroys the creation. Such resistance is not based on the objective conditions of oppression but also on the eschatological hope through which excluded communities have imagined a new creation of just and inclusive structures and communities within which all humanity have a place to be and to flourish: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly' (John 10.10). Grace is understood as the experience of God's love that inspires, directs and empowers the excluded communities to envision, work towards and experience individual and social transformation. There is life, new possibilities for life, for transformation of both the offended and the offender in spirituality that is grounded in resistance to life negation.

 

A testimony from the Dalits in India:

 

Even though resistance to derision and discrimination that can make a difference is still a distant reality, the Dalits do resist in spite of the violence that follows. My neighbours belonged to the upper caste, and as landlords they hired Dalit men and women to work in their farms. One day the upper caste landlady scolded her own children calling her children's inappropriate behaviour as the ‘Dalit way' and using demeaning words that would insult the Dalits. The Dalit men and women who re working there sharply reacted to their humiliation and resisted the landlady's words by refusing to work for the family and also influenced others in the community to do so. The landlord, understanding his dire need, and his dependency on them had to apologise to the community and urged them to come back to work. I see the resistance of Dalits in this story as an expression of their spirituality through which they re able to assert and recover the fullness of their humanity. The spirituality of Dalits here comes from honouring themselves and the fullness of the image of God in them.

 

Summary

 

The discussions attempted to verbalise and clarify the various threads of the experiences of the excluded communities and to distil the common themes related to the experiences. These are: 1. Poverty, Disenfranchisement and Resistance; 2. Stigma, Physical Appearance, Alienation, Exclusion, Oppression, Violence and Discrimination (sub-Themes: Oppression and Violence); 3. Collective Memory, Vision of a New Society, Celebration and Hope; and 4. Solidarity, Dialogue, Theology in Context

 

On the basis of these a number of themes have been identified during this time of theological reflection to inform further plans to develop future programmatic work on just and inclusive communities. (In considering these themes, it is important to acknowledge the complexity of their expressions.) Those identified include the following:

 

  1. Imago Dei - The need of talking about God using language and images that refer not to perfection but to human capacities for goodness, justice, compassion and love.

  2. Sin - as the rupture of relationships and to acknowledge where such sin is actualised by persons, cultures and structures.

  1. Elaborating on what it means to be human (questions around wholeness and normality).

  1. The tension arising out of the accents on Christocentricity, Theocentricity and Cosmocentricity in a theological reflection based on the specific contexts and experiences of those who are subjected to various forms of exclusion.

  1. Justice as accepting and affirming the humanity and dignity of the other.

  1. The need for Churches to respond to systemic/structural forms of exclusion in themselves and in society more widely

A framework for the process


This theological reflection began with the image of a tapestry, an image introduced to us by our partners from the indigenous peoples. The cloth woven by us with rich and vibrant patterns was in front of us right through in La Paz, enhancing our worship, and inspiring us to live together as an inclusive community. The empty spaces in the image reflected the incompleteness of the tapestry pointing to the need for our theological reflection on inclusivity to be informed by including those voices that are yet to be heard. It was, however, seen as a small contribution towards effecting truly just and inclusive communities. Some of the suggested strategies beyond this report provide concrete ideas as to how this might happen:

In keeping with the theme of tapestry, the programmatic framework towards an authentic vision of just and inclusive communities must reflect a multi-faceted dynamic approach which demonstrates an understanding of the complexity of the issues and responses needed. In the light of this the WCC must resist any attempt to develop a one size fits all approach and process for its programming in this initiative of just and inclusive communities. All programs must recognize and respect the dynamic multi-level complex system of the whole spectrum of communities and groups. The WCC needs to develop with its member churches kenotic practices that (a) seek to resource the assets of marginalized peoples, (b) builds partnership with marginalized groups as well as facilitates partnerships among them, and (c) responds to the systemic/structural nature of marginalization. Excluded peoples reveal the human face of God and calls us to work for a more just and inclusive communities.

 

The programmes must grow out of strategies that address both the formal work of the WCC and the work of the member churches. It must be rooted in and shaped by the stories and lived experiences of excluded peoples, who must be invited to participate in the programmes by giving leadership and to accompany the process. Programmes must essentially be about transformation.

 

In order for this to take place there are two key processes that must precede any development of programmes; (a) The WCC must commit itself to a process of training its staff and leadership to the issues. As the programme team moves towards actualising the strategies outlined below, the WCC should consider, building on the model of the consultation in La Paz, organising training sessions for Council staff, facilitated by excluded peoples, and also building a workshop time for member church leaders when they gather, also facilitated by excluded peoples. (b) As the process moves towards more holistic understanding of inclusivity, there need to be a conscious attempts to recognise other forms of exclusion, to draw in those experiences and perspectives, and to recognise the interconnectedness of issues faced by all excluded peoples / persons.

 

The following are some strategies that can begin to shape the process:

 

  1. To provide space within the context of the Church/Community for people to tell their stories as has begun here in La Paz. These narratives may include experiences, hopes, aspirations, dreams, challenges, self-definition etc. Attention must be paid to developing methodologies and systematic procedures for collecting and handling stories. As an example the WCC could help to facilitate local gatherings to explore theology related to their experience of exclusion and help to network local groups with each other around the globe.

 

  1. To create facilities for receiving, documenting and sharing these stories among marginalised people and at a number of levels including communities, churches, theological colleges, community organizations and people's movements. This should be shared across local, national, regional and international levels. These Stories could be published and sold to help fund local initiatives of some of the marginalized communities.

 

  1. To initiate an Annual International Community Building Core Programme of 12-15 young (18-35) people from diverse communities, regions, ethnicities, genders, people living with disabilities, to live, work and theologize together for 3-6 months in a community setting. This event could serve to create a context for understanding the dynamic of exclusion and the challenges of inclusion and will benefit: (i) Individuals who attend the programme, (ii) the receiving communities, and (iii) the wider ecumenical community.

 

  1. To continue to raise awareness of the sins inherent in our structures and cultures that continue to oppress people today as they have in the past and to call on the churches to recognition, repentance and transformation.

 

  1. To encourage the churches to move beyond recognition and repentance to restitution and justice and to join hands with social and political movements to pressurize governments and other national and international justice delivery mechanisms such as the UN and the International Courts to do the same. We recommend that mechanisms and processes in collaboration with social and political movements that ensure that this process of sensitization, recognition, repentance, restitution and justice takes place.

 

  1. To initiate a study on mission from the perspective of Just and Inclusive communities and to enable excluded people not only participate in major conferences and events of the WCC but to ensure and enable mechanisms and processes by which excluded people are able to set the agenda. We recommend that there should be a consultative body which is constituted of representatives of the diversity of excluded/marginalized people to help in identifying the people who would be responsible for setting the agenda and participating in events. Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, perhaps through a report card system, whereby the WCC and its member churches are evaluated annually about how they are doing with the vision of becoming more inclusive communities, may be attempted.

 

  1. To ensure participation and involvement in the following events:

  • Plenary Commission of the Faith and Order in 2009,

  • The 2010 International Conference to commemorate Edinburgh 1910,

  • World Mission Conference in 2010,

  • International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011,

  • A plenary session on Just and Inclusive communities in one of the forthcoming meetings of the WCC Central Committee.

  • A concerted process of integration of the concerns of the marginalised and the excluded communities in all the programmes of the WCC.

  • Training sessions for Council staff, facilitated by excluded peoples, and also workshops for leaders of the member churches.

 

8. To encourage the WCC to continue in its ongoing work on the issues of human sexuality and of inclusion.

 

9. To encourage the WCC to affirm and join the celebration of hope through actions of resistance in the context of the institutionalization of injustice in a globalised world.

 

10. To overcome violence, particularly the violence of the powerful, the violence of structures, cultures and institutions that exclude and dehumanise people.

 

11. To form a core group to accompany this process besides evaluating and monitoring the progress.

 

Conclusion

In the struggle to formulate a theological vision it was quickly realized that the participants were not alone. The historical memory of each group tells the story of violence, oppression, resistance and hope. The way forward requires of us to learn from both specific historical memories as well as by adding new memories, in order that we are able to effect to larger expressions of just and inclusive communities.

The theological conversation as this report summarises was difficult at times, but in a context of open, honest and respectful dialogue here begins the development of a framework for moving towards just and inclusive communities. Stories played a fundamental role in developing this framework. Stories also provided windows to understand and appreciate each others' experiences and perspectives and gave many insights about language and structure.

The process of the La Paz consultation should be seen as a first step in building understanding and partnerships; recognising that the relationships that were built will go a long way to developing the reality of just and inclusive communities, the impact of which cannot be quantified at this point in time. In that spirit it is acknowledged that our time together in La Paz was indeed a divine moment.

 

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Participants:

Rev. Israel Batista Guerra

Quito, Ecuador 

Rev. Michael Blair
Toronto, Canada

Lic. María Chávez Quispe
La Paz, Bolivia

Mr Abraham Colque
La Paz, Bolivia

Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Coorilos
Kerala, India

Rev. Dr Gordon Cowans
Kingston, Jamaica

Ms Susan Ngura Esimirdana
Nairobi, Kenya

Dr. Josef Estermann
La Paz, Bolivia

Rev. Noel Osvaldo Fernandez
Ciego de Avila, Cuba

Mr. Lázaro Gonzaléz
México, México

Ms Brenda Harrison
Camberley, United Kingdom

Rev. Anderson H. M. Jeremiah
Vellore, India

Ms Catarina Elena Morales de León
Queltzaltenango, Guatemala

Dr Wayne Morris
Chester, UK

Rev. Iára Muller
São Leopoldo, Brazil

Sr. Marco Murillo
Quito Ecuador

Rev Surekha Nelavala
Frederick, USA

Rev. Dr. James Anthony Noel
San Anselmo, USA

Lic. Ormara Alicia Nolla
Ciego de Avila, Cuba

Mr. Philip Peacock
Kolkata, India

Fr. Cristian Popescu
Brno, Czech Republic

Ms Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga
La Paz, Bolivia

Dra. Elizabeth Salazar Sanzana
San Pedro de la Paz Concepción, Chile

Ms Marilia Schüller
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ms Semmalar Selvi Thandavarayan
Chennai, India

Dra. Tânia Mara Vieira Sampaio
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Ms Lerleen Willis
Sheffield, United Kingdom

Staff:

Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala
Geneva, Switzerland

Rev. Eugenio Poma
La Paz, Bolivia

Ms Miriam Vargas Flores
La Paz, Bolivia