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Indigenous Theologians Network in conversation with Faith and Order

Statement of Indigenous theologians from different parts of the world, who met in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, on networking with the Commission on Faith and Order and its various working areas.

27 January 2011

Introduction to the context

At the initiative of the WCC’s  Indigenous Peoples’ Programme , members of the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order  (Anne-Louise Eriksson, Standing Commission member; John Gibaut, Director; Cyril Hovorun, Plenary Commission member; Modesto Achata Mamani, Plenary Commission member; Valburga Schmiedt Streck, vice-moderator), and a member of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism were invited to meet with more than 30 members of the Indigenous Theologians’ Network, in La Paz, Bolivia, 22-27 January 2011 . The theme of conversation convened by the Indigenous Peoples’ Program was: Affirming Spiritualities of Life: Indigenous Peoples’ Wisdoms and Traditions in Theological Conversation. Together we formed a community of theologians coming from three global networks of the WCC.  Community was shaped in shared prayer, participating in the life of La Paz and its local churches, a common life together within the hospitality of the Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología (ISEAT), and in deep and respectful learning from one another.

Faith and Order members also met in a smaller group with members of the Indigenous Theologians’ Network (Eleazar Lopez Hernandez, Abraham Colque Jimenez, Tore Johnsen, Enith Inseca Mulcua, Erlini Tola, Juan Jacobo Tancara, Juan Urañavi) to continue the conversation in a more focused way about the divergences and convergences, mutual learnings, and common sacred ground we discerned in our very different contexts. 

What follows represents the fruit of this more focussed conversation, and what we are able to say at this time together to the fellowship of the churches of the WCC, and in particular to the Commission on Faith and Order. The following section was adopted by the plenary session of the consultation on 27 January 2011.

Speaking Together

Members of the Indigenous Theologians’ Network and members of the Commission on Faith and Order met in dialogue with each other. We offer our fresh perspectives on what Indigenous wisdom and spiritualities can contribute to the ongoing work of Faith and Order. 

On the one hand, the representatives of the Commission on Faith and Order learned about the wisdom and spiritualities of the Indigenous Peoples.  On the other hand, the Indigenous Theologians Network learned about the work and the responsibilities of Faith and Order, and its responsibilities towards its own constituencies, namely the fellowship of churches of the WCC.

We offer our perspectives on what we have learned together from Indigenous wisdom and spiritualities, and what we agree is important to bring to the Commission on Faith and Order from our encounter in La Paz these days:

Membership in the Commission: The members of Faith and Order were impressed with the depth of reflection and the very different perspectives offered by the members of the Indigenous Theologians’ Network.  Together with the Indigenous members of Faith and Order and the Indigenous Theologians Network, we commit ourselves to finding ways to honour, welcome and utilize their presence and skills within the work on Faith and Order

Divergence and Convergence: We note that the mandate of Faith and Order “to proclaim the oneness of the Church of Jesus Christ and to call the churches to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship” through theological dialogue and resolution of church-dividing issues does not resonate in the same way with many members of the Indigenous Theologians’ Network. We have encountered difficulties in translation, not between English and Spanish, but between different discourses: one side hears the word “unity” in political terms associated with empire and oppression; the other hears “unity” as communitarian and organic reality, which celebrates and protects diversity and freedom.  From an Indigenous Theologian’s perspective “balance and harmony” comes closer to what St Paul affirms when he speaks of the integrity of the body in 1 Corinthians 12.12-31. We all recognise and honour the Indigenous Peoples’ quest for that unity/balance and harmony for which Christ prays in their struggle for justice and peace, protection of the environment/creation, and the affirmation of life.  As well, we all recognise and honour the experience of unity of Indigenous Peoples in the deep bonds of community and culture, Indigenous wisdom and spirituality.

Where do we go from this encounter? We welcome further opportunity to be in dialogue with each other, for we have much to learn from one another. In particular, we note the following areas where we feel that Faith and Order theological reflection and dialogue would be enriched by the insights of Indigenous wisdom and spirituality:

Ecclesiology: as Faith and Order anticipates a more contextual and comparative approach to ecclesiology after the 2013 Bussan Assembly, the reflections on church and community from Indigenous communities will occupy an important place.

Christianity and Culture: A contextual methodology on the church needs a prior reflection on the relationship between Christianity and culture.  Dialogue with Indigenous theological reflection on Christianity and culture may open new possibilities for churches of the Global North and elsewhere who struggle with this question. There is no Christian faith without structures that are not shaped by cultures. In the encounters with Indigenous cultures, such structures are called to be renewed.  The Indigenous Theologians Network   acknowledges its role in assisting the wider Christian communities in their reflections on the relationship between Christianity and culture; analogous to the way that Ananias opened the eyes of Paul (see Acts 9.10-19).  We consider that common reflection with CWME on this work is essential. Our encounters these days have reminded us that Christianity is wider than the perception—and at times the painful experience—that it is synonymous with its Western European expressions. There are many challenges, but also signs of hope as we listen to each other.

Cosmology: Our encounter with Indigenous wisdom and spirituality has recalled to us the overlooked connection between ecclesiology and cosmology, once reflected in the Faith and Order work such as the 1968 WCC Assembly at Uppsala section report on “The Holy Spirit and the Catholicity of the Church.”  Such a cosmological vision of unity brings us forward to the breadth of the vision of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (1.10, 4.1-6). From the Indigenous Theologians’ Network, Faith and Order is called to be mindful of the more integrated perspective of the universe where the human being is a part of God’s creation, not over and against it.

Unity and Diversity: In Faith and Order’s articulation on the place of diversity and unity, we would wish to learn more about how Indigenous Peoples maintain a balance between diversity and “harmony and balance.” From the Faith and Order perspective, what are the limits to diversity? From the Indigenous Theologians’ perspective, what are those things that cause rupture to harmony and disrupt balance that deny the affirmation of life?

The Naming of God: We wish to encourage an ongoing reflection on the naming of God by the various Indigenous traditions and spiritualities. The diversity of the names of God in the Indigenous communities is an opportunity to reflect more deeply into the wondrous mystery of that which we call God.

Ancestors and Fathers/Mothers of the Church: We wish to encourage further reflection on the relationship between the role of Ancestors in the Indigenous traditions and the Fathers and Mothers of the faith in the churches.  Although the churches profess to be surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses”, some of us feel that in our traditions we have lost the living links with our Mothers and Fathers in the Faith, which we see in the Ancestors’ role in Indigenous traditions and their spiritualities.

Community of Men and Women: The encounter with Indigenous wisdom and spirituality encourages us to reflect more deeply on the roles of women and men in the life of the community, and to continue the Faith and Order reflection begun in the study on the “Community of Men and Women.”

From the experience of the Indigenous communities we learn that their quest for unity does not arise from doctrinal principles, but from the common affirmation of justice and peace (for example, in the South American context: land and water rights, the protection of women and children, the negative effects of globalisation, etc.), of the promotion and affirmation of life.


Our days together in Bolivia marked a “first contact and dialogue” between Faith and Order and the Indigenous Theologians’ Network.  As children of the One Creator, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as those who are filled by the same Spirit, we are bound to each other.  We are also structurally bound to each other in the fellowship of churches of the World Council of Churches. It is only within the context of this fellowship that such an encounter could ever have taken place.  There is more to say to, and learn from, one another.  We hope that we meet again to continue our conversation for the benefit of our wider constituencies around the world, and for the fellowship of churches of the WCC.