Hope: Conferences in Lima

Update: In hindsight, I believe I misunderstood the Rabbi. Jed indicated that he may have been referring to the fact that all religions are struggling with that issue, whereas on other issues we are not all struggling. Anyway, I figured I’d mention that here. My reactions and struggles with my misinterpretation are still real though, so I left the post unedited.

So in the last week, I have attended to conferences here in Lima, one on the way the youth can combat climate change and the other on pluralism and interreligious life in Peru. I’ve learned a lot and have met some highly interesting people, which has been great. And I am hopeful this is a sign of the overall upswing yet to come here in Lima.

I just wanted to touch on the conferences a bit and my reflections.

First was the environmental conference at a Methodist seminary that I attended with Jed. The conference brought together youth from various churches in Lima (and a few other areas) to discuss ways they can be active to combat climate change on an individual level. Generally, I did not learn new strategies, but I learned a substantial amount from Jed’s presentation on ecotheology.

I’ve mentioned ecotheology before and the general idea seemed believable, but I hadn’t learned much about it. Jed walked us through it and as often is this case with new theological interpretations, I smacked myself on the head wandering why I’d never put those interpretations together myself.

For example, Jed brought up the call Jesus gave to his disciples to go out and tell the good news to all of creation, instead of all people. In Greek, that literally translates to all creatures. It doesn’t take much stretching to get the sense that instead of preaching to nature, one should treat it with care. One of those meanings that’s hidden in plain sight til it’s revealed. Now I can’t miss it.

Moving on from that Jed uncovered several other examples like the command in Genesis to care for all nature, that all beings that breath are called to praise God in Psalm 150, that “the glory of God fills all the earth (Isaiah 6:3), and many other examples.

The best bit about ecotheology is it is the best counter to politicians like chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who said, “My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous” in 2012.

My response has always been: “You’re doing religion wrong,” but that’s not constructive. Ecotheology, gives a more constructive counter-interpretation to offer.

Anyway, it was a great lesson to take from that conference. And even better, I got a super fly certificate of participation to hang on my wall. Or keep as a souvenir or something. We’ll see.

The next conference at the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya: La Universidad Jesuita del Perú on pluralism was fascinating as an outsider. The conference featured a panel of a sociologist of religion, Catalina Romero, one Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, and Father Ernesto Cavassa. Before each spoke there was a lengthy, seriously lengthy introduction of their various accolades and achievements, highlighting that these were not just chumps off the street. No, they definitely knew their way around the interfaith block and were all proponents of faiths in dialogue.

Romero opened up with a presentation on religion in Latin America, which unlike the western world has diversified instead of secularized. Mainly, Catholicism has been on a steady decline in every Latin American country while the many Protestant traditions have been spiking. Likewise, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i and Buddhism have some followers.

The topic has, I realized, some notable importance as Peru was the site of a Catholic Inquisition, similar to that found in Spain. And this past Tuesday a plaque was dedicated to recognize and memorialize the loss from that event here in Lima.

Yet, Peru is still struggling with religious diversity and pluralism. Rabbi Bronstein cited that a recent law in Peru allows religions with more than 10,000 registered believers to make special deals with the government to celebrate their rites and traditions. This could include a reduction in tariffs for the importation of sacramental wine or maybe matzoh for Passover.

Unfortunately, like any attempt to put limits on what constitutes a religion, the minimum number of believers is impractical and discriminatory. Judaism has about 3,000 followers, while there are only 600 Muslims, and less of many other religions. The point is, it’s a failed bit of policy and the Rabbi stated we must move forward with dialogue to reform practical issues like this, in addition to working towards peace.

Peace was a major theme and foundational reason for interreligious dialogue stated by all three panelists.

The final panelist was a Catholic priest who offered an interpretation of Ignatian spirituality of which, like most of Ignatius’ writings, I was ignorant. Specifically, he cited a bit of Ignatius’ writings with the claim that all life is to praise God and religious is just a path. Specifically, “religion is not absolute, but just a walk.” Religion is not an end in itself, but God is.

Therefore, religions should not attack one another, but engage with one another. We can believe, but we must also understand that others believe their own traditions just as strongly as us and that may be part of God’s end. The appropriate response then, is to engage in dialogue.

You can bet I loved that.

Of course, I was also challenged by the conference. Specifically, questions were raised on abortion and gay marriage. I’ve made clear how I feel on that issue, so I won’t go into that here.

Instead, I’ll mention a response by the Rabbit that surprised me.

He stated fairly clearly that in regards to marriage, “We are all in the same boat with what the Bible says. Still we must talk about it.” He went on to discuss how he did not like a stance by the Catholic church of Peru to avoid conversations on premarital sex, abortion, and homosexuality in sex education classes. I agree with him that the Catholic Church appears in the wrong there, but I was disturbed by his initial comment.

He did not elaborate on what “boat” we were in exactly, but I felt I could infer. Perhaps in that room I was the lone person with my beliefs on all-gender marriage, but the point is we’re not all in the same boat. And it bothers me that he either is unaware of other theological interpretations or does not offer them any credence.

I don’t fault any of the panelists of the university for that, but it was challenging for me. And I am grateful to the panelists and University for the opportunity to grapple with the socio-theological treatment of sexuality within Peru. I just couldn’t let this moment go unmentioned in my blog, because it stuck with me the most out of all the panel.

And that feels good in its own way. I’m finding new challenges and intellectual stimulation that I really felt I lacked in Ayacucho. I was worried that the comforts of a bigger cosmopolitan area, like Lima, would detract from my growth in Peru, but if experiences like these conferences continue, I’ve got nothing to worry about.


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