Church statements provide guidance for ethical postures on peace and conflict. Priests, pastors and other women and men of the church, as well as a variety of Colombians have engaged in dialogues with insurgents, documented rights abuses, and advocated for humanitarian relief and a political solution.
Many church workers have suffered the same ravages of war as the broader civil society. Church leaders have been assassinated and threatened, congregations and parishes have been displaced, and churches have been closed because of violence.
The churches have set up numerous mechanisms for peace and development work. Some are part of the infrastructures of their churches, as in the case of the Colombian Conciliation Commission and the National Pastoral Social Ministry of the Colombian Catholic Bishops Conference. On the Evangelical Protestant side, the same goes for the Commission of Restoration, Life, and Peace of the Council of Evangelical and Protestant Churches of Colombia (CEDECOL).
Likewise, organizations such as the Jesuit-based Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP) and the Mennonite-supported Justapaz and Mencoldes are dedicated arms of the church created to help foster peace and development.
At the local level too, the churches are providing legal, psychological, physical, and spiritual support to victims, especially to the displaced and the most vulnerable. They have sought ways to help communities honor and dignify victims, support conscientious objectors, provide sanctuary, engage in prayer and action for peace, and promote truth, justice, reparations, and reconciliation.
They are working with survivors, communities, and ex-combatants to promote healing. Many ground their work in the Biblical concept of peace as the fruit of justice (Isaiah 32:17), the dignity of the person, and a belief in universal human rights. Likewise, religious traditions of confession and forgiveness are important tools for survivors in the aftermath of violent conflict.
Ecumenism, the idea of unity among various Christian churches, has been slow to take hold in Colombia, given the deep historic tensions between the country’s Catholic and Evangelical Protestants. But an ecumenical movement for peace appears to be growing. On May 18-19, a national Ecumenical Forum for Peace at the Javeriana University in Bogotá was convened by the Mesa Ecuménica para la Paz, an alliance born in April 2012 with the backing of the leaders of many different Christian churches.
The forum brought together some 300 participants from different parts of the country and resulted in a reflective statement, “From an Ethic for Peace to a Peace with Ethics” The forum launched a week of prayer for the unity of all Christians for peace.
The Colombian population today falls into two major religious groups–the Catholic Church, with some 80-90 percent of the population, and other non-Catholic Christians of various denominations including Mennonites, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Presbyterians, and others. There are a small number of non-Christians, including some 70,000 B’hai and perhaps 7,000 Jews. Faith traditions and spirituality are strong within indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
Catholic and Evangelical Protestant women also are becoming an identifiable force within Colombia’s broader peace movement.
Transnational religious partnerships for peace also have developed. Christian Peacemaker Teams, Jesuit Refugee Services, Witness for Peace, Pax Christi International, Lutheran World Relief, and Caritas International are just a few of the faith-based organizations that act on principles of engaging and working together in mutual support and solidarity. The same goes for ecumenical and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship programs based on such a model of “accompaniment.” As an example, a recent television program, Café con Fe, starred a visiting U.S. church delegation to Colombia.
For more than six years now, Protestant and Catholic churches in Colombia and the United States also have engaged in what have become known as Days of Prayer and Action. This year’s actions included initiatives designed to raise awareness of the peace agenda in Colombia as well as advocacy with national leaders of both countries, such as coordinated letters to top officials.
A letter to President Santos and peace negotiators in Cuba called on the government and the FARC rebels to “stay at the negotiating table until you reach an agreement that would reduce the violence, the humanitarian crisis that the armed conflict is generating, and allow all citizens to participate in the construction of peace.”
In the United States, more than 100 leaders of Catholic and Protestant communities and organizations sent a similar letter to U.S. President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. They urged support for Colombia’s peace process and a recognition of the crucial role of faith communities in aiding Colombia’s victims.
Virginia “Ginny” Bouvier is senior program officer for Latin America in USIP’s Center of Innovation. Follow her personal blog, “Colombia Calls,” at vbouvier.wordpress.com.