By Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Last week’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days featured a fine flashback to the heydays of the Religious Left: Liberation Theology, which reinterprets Marxism through a Christian prism. With the fall of the Soviet bloc, liberationists lost much of their popularity. Nevertheless, adherents persist today, though they address a shrunken audience. As the EAD Sunday lunch panel suggests, there is some tension between extreme Marxism with more moderate theo-political measures.
Dr. Nancy Cardoso Pereira of Costa Rica presented on “A Faithful Table.” Pereira—whose specialties include “social relations of gender, agriculture, peasants, Latin American feminist hermeneutics”—holds a plethora of degrees, predominately from Methodist institutions. Her affinity for Native Central American folkways was evident; she opened by stating, “We come from corn; we are seed.” “The earth is God’s table. Land is God’s table. God is not separate from it,” she furthered. “The world, my needs, my body, my holes,” the seminary dean said while pointing to her ears, nose, eyes, and mouth, “It’s so sensual! It’s so erotic!” Some of the audience members (this reporter included) squirmed somewhat uncomfortably in their seats.
Matters soon turned to work, labor, and what is wrong with the world: “[Businessmen] kidnap God’s table and mediate it with money and companies.” Pereira pondered, “Work is a way to be in dialogue with others…We are landless. We lost the opportunity and the connection.” She waxed eloquent on the sacramental nature of bread and land, only to warn, “Every sign can transform itself into a countersign…the diabolic moment of turning away from God and Christ.” “Capitalism…exhausts the resources of the land-bread dialogue…Give us this daily bread or Monsanto,” she bemoaned. Pereira condemned “the voracious appetite of the profit motive” which is “disguised by industry ad campaigns and PR.” The seminarian announced, “It is not possible to find what we’re looking for in the capitalist system…It is not a time to humanize capitalists…to give capitalism a soul.” “Capitalism is not falling from itself,” she observed, “We have to face this straight on. We have to do more.”
Her agrarian themes returned when she concluded, “Worldwide peasantry are attacked by the forces of modern technology.” On the other hand, Pereira remained hopeful as she cajoled, “Another world is possible… ‘Without capitalism, there is not life’—we don’t have to accept that!” “We have nothing, but we share everything,” she concluded.
Gerardo Reyes Chavez of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers followed in the plenary panel. He and his organization have fought for higher wages, safety precautions, and employee protections in agriculture. Immigrant workers often face many perils in this world. For example, women who had been sexually harassed were immediately fired upon any complaint. Chavez and others worked to achieve more just working environments. The Immokalee region of Florida, which provides nearly 90% of tomatoes in the offseason for fast food chains, stands as a high priority for many restaurant companies. Chavez negotiates and tries to peacefully contend with these corporations to better the lives of farm laborers. “Ideas and who came up with them don’t matter if they don’t fit the reality you find yourself in,” he advised
Dr. Pereira outright rejected such a moderate tone. “It’s about class struggle. Let’s name it for what it is,” she contended, “If we are just reaction, then capitalists and corporations…tell us what to do.” She concluded, “We are sure we want land reform. We want agriculture, not agribusiness. Globalize hope, and globalize the struggle.” These statements received a hearty applause.
While these revolutionist themes are nothing new under the sun, they do evidence an oft-neglected extreme. While “ordinary radicals” and other Evangelical Left compatriots stand in solidarity with organizers and workers like Chavez (generally through political activism), many evangelicals hope that such activists will stay away from some of Pereira’s agri-communist suggestions. Not that long ago, such ideas transformed mainline Protestant missionaries into foreign social workers and siphoned congregational tithes to violent guerillas like the Sandinistas. Since the denominational exodus came about during the later quarter of the 20th century, one wonders if the inexperience and naiveté of young evangelicals will get the better of them.