Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 1, Number 1



Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

Ivan Vallier, in his most-quoted work, Catholicism, Social Control, and Modernization in Latin America, argues that Latin America is so historically aligned with the Roman Catholic Church that there will always remain the emotional longing for the "Mother Church" no matter what practical and philosophical changes might be effected by the presence of conflicting social and political ideology. When one points toward the great defection from Latin American Catholicism during this century, Vallier simply categorizes such departures as a type of "lovers' quarrel." He further states that the defectors have chosen either Pentecostalism on the one hand or Communism on the other as an organized and institutionalized protest of the outmoded ecclesiastical order. In other words, the people feel betrayed by the church and are presently seeking to meet their needs through participation in institutions employing "meaningful opposites" from the high-church, usually passive (if not fatalistic), tradition-bound customs of the Roman order. His conclusion is that the "erring flock" will "return to the fold" once the established church again takes its place as the champion of the people, providing a philosophical raison d'etre as well as charity for those who are not self- sufficient in this world's necessities.

In an attempt to meet both the practical and philosophical needs of Latin American peoples, a portion of the clergy has resorted to what is known as "Liberation Theology." This enterprise has been met with mixed reactions but has been generally censored by the higher echelon ecclesiastics such as bishops, archbishops, etc. In fact, on the historic occasion of the Second General Conference of the Latin American Bishops (Medellin Conference), Pope Paul VI himself warned against ideological and systemized conflict as a means of needed change in Latin America. However, the liberation movement has continued and is championed by those who think that through participating in armed conflict they will again gain the political and social leadership they enjoyed in colonial times; in those days king and church promoted each other through such institutionalized practices as "royal patronage," in which the pope allowed the king's governors to have a voice in the appointment of bishops for the New World.

The removal of Ferdinand VII in 1807 from the Spanish throne by Napoleon ushered into Creole thought the ideas of self-determination and democracy. In like manner, the present departure from standardized dogma and ideology is opening up opportunities for meaningful dialogue and conversion among the intellectuals of Latin America.

True, there are only two Latin American countries (Cuba and Nicaragua) presently under the domination of Communist governments, but one must not forget that Marxist ideology as a "thinker's alternative" has been promulgated vigorously, especially through the universities, as well as the political machinery of countries such as Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Traditionally, the universities have turned toward Europe for philosophical understanding. For the past several decades, Latin American universities have taught openly their admiration for Marxist-Leninist thought and have been openly critical of Capitalism and her champion, the U.S.A. But now, the "European solution" is crumbling with the Berlin wall. Communism is on the defensive and its own inherent failures are being openly admitted. An additional surprise is that the U.S. is no longer blamed for every reversal in the socioeconomic system of the Third World.

Fidel Castro, of course, is a diehard, the ultimate hardliner trying desperately to maintain Cuba as a Western showcase of "Communist Success." However, although many politicians contend that the U.S. "cannot afford another Cuba", as they rally support for the Nicaraguan Contras, the truth of the matter is that Russia cannot afford another or even the present Cuba (as this writer has pointed out during the last 10 years). It is Russian foreign aid that has made Cuba look like a success!! Even during the heyday of Castro's popularity, several knowledgeable people noticed the erosion of values in Cuba's society. Jean M. Del Aguila in his work Cuba: The Dilemmas of a Revolution concludes: "It is the judgment here that the disappearance of political freedoms and associated civil rights represent the highest cost borne by the revolutionary generation." And now, domestic social security, international revolution and the entire underpinnings of Marxist philosophy will also be sacrificed.

The dramatic changes seen in the 1989-1990 transition are being felt in Latin American universities and social institutions. The ensuing bewilderment brings the thinker back to two basic concerns: 1) "What are the basic philosophical tenets that can give a rationale upon which one can order his life and see purpose in existence?" 2) "What system can bring brotherhood, concern and cooperation among the inhabitants of this overcrowded planet?"

It is my suggestion that if we of the churches of Christ cannot or do not provide dynamic and positive answers to these questions, we have no right to call ourselves "of Christ". Rather, we should close shop, steal away, and say nothing.


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