CRLN welcomes back Milton Mejía and Adelaida Jiménez from Barranquilla, Colombia

CRLN members will remember that Milton Mejía and Adelaida Jiménez came to Chicago in 2008-2009 for 2 years of study at McCormick Theological Seminary.  Since that time, Milton is now the General Secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches (Consejo Latino Americano de Iglesias, or CLAI) and Adelaida is Director of the Program of Theology at the Reformed University in Barranquilla. 

Milton met with North American denominational and ecumenical leaders to suggest that the Christian churches of Latin America and those of North America might engage in a joint project to define a common identity, a common mission—taking into account and recognizing the diversity of the churches, but trying to find where their unity lies.  He encouraged them to start thinking in the hemispheric term of “las Americas,  not creating divisions in our very language between north and south.

Adelaida, a feminist and contextual theologian, spoke at 8th Day Center for Justice..  Her talk set the Colombian context: a country in a civil conflict for over 50 years that is in the midst of a Peace Process between the government and the FARC, the largest of the guerrilla groups that has opposed the government during the long war; a country in which a globalized neo-liberal economic model has taken root and been intensified in the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement 2 years ago; a country with a long history of violence against women, which has often been religiously justified or excused by certain theological interpretations of Biblical passages.  She then focused on the positive role of the Reformed University in teaching a theology focused on more central notions of social justice and peace, upholding women’s equal humanity and de-legitimizing violence against women.

Also active in the social movements in Colombia, Adelaida also spoke of the common efforts of women to get 2 important laws passed: one made violence against women a crime (2008), and the other designated serious consequences for a new kind of crime, femicide, the murder of a woman just for being female.  The latter law was passed after an emblematic murder of a woman in Bogotá, in which the murderer cut marks in all body parts particularly associated with being female, which received wide public attention.

Milton and Adelaida spoke to a group from 1st United Church of Oak Park, including four women who had visited Colombia on a delegation in August, about the Peace Process.  The negotiations taking place in neutral Havana, Cuba, between President Santos and the Rodrigo “Timochenko” Lodoño, leader of the FARC, are to be celebrated and bring new possibilities for peace.  Agreements have been reached on 4 out of 5 issues on the agenda, and the end of violent conflict between these 2 groups will lessen the violence experienced by Colombians.

Nevertheless, there are many obstacles to peace still in the way.  The many paramilitary groups, often aligned with the Colombian armed forces, are not at the negotiating table. The population will continue to suffer violence at their hands without some effort to disarm them. Victims of the conflict, such as the almost 6 million people displaced from their land within the country, have not had a place at the negotiating table; neither have women, who make up the greatest portion of victims of the violence. Who will ensure that they receive recompense for what they have suffered and lost or do the work in communities to bring reconciliation and a measure of justice between the victims and the perpetrators of violence?

Milton and Adelaida suggested that the churches will have a role to play in this. International accompaniment during the implementation process will be essential.  They also suggested that because the U.S. funded the Colombian government’s side of the war, the U.S. should play a role in providing funding for implementing the Peace Process.