Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Summer 2004 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
Argentina: The Painful March Towards Reconciliation
US Religious Socialists Come Out For Kerry
God Who Sweats In The Street

Argentina: The Painful March Towards Reconcilation

Anders Ruuth

In a project of the Life & Peace Institute called Reconciliation and the Churches in the Transition to Democracy, the institute has published a series of studies examining the role of churches in countries where dictatorial rule is giving way to democratic governance. One of these studies is by Pablo R. Andiñach and Daniel A. Bruno: Iglesias evangélicas y derechos humanos en la Argentina (Evangelical churches and human rights in Argentina). In this article, Anders Ruuth gives a personal reflection and analysis of the difficult but necessary reconciliation process.

Can a book of 160 pages, with a picture of a little red lamp on its black cover, have a chance to be spread in a wider circle? I hope so, because it treats a wound, which is still felt with pain by many people after the many acts of violence during the “dirty” war in Argentina. Is reconciliation possible? The book gives rise to many reflections, some of which are presented here.

Since “la conquista”, Latin America has a tragic history of crimes committed against fundamental human rights, above all against the most critical one: the right to live. Guatemala with its secret courts, civilian troops and death squadrons during the latter part of the 20th century. Or El Salvador with its corrupt military rule, which, among other things, proved “brave” enough to kill six Catholic priests and their housekeeper in the dark night hours of the 16 November 1985, and to shoot Bishop Oscar Romero in his back, while he was celebrating mass on the 24 March 1980. As if it were needed, Argentina’s military in 1973 had a lesson from General Pinochet in Chile on how to silence the opposition, when Salvador Allende was overthrown.

It is, however, a very important book, which should be studied and reflected on by both individuals and parishes. During the reading I have asked myself many times: How would I have reacted? How much would I have dared to protest against obvious injustices? How would my church, my vicar, my bishop react to kidnappings and disappearances?

Click here to read more of this article.

US Religious Socialists Come Out For Kerry

Our comrades in the Religion & Socialism Commission in the United States have a tough job ahead of them. Without a proper socialist party in the country, socialists have to work in broad coalitions with the progressive elements of the Democratic Party and the trade union movement if they want to have a genuine role in the political process. In this year's election, with the prospect of their nation (and the world) having to endure four more years of George W. Bush, most democratic socialists have put their support behind John Kerry. Paul Buhle explains the dilemma below:

American socialists are stuck with the Democrats, or at least some Democrats, and that is certain to be true for some time to come.

Especially, but not only at the local level, mobilizations for labor, the environment, minority rights, women's rights and, most of all, against the war, must rely upon liberal coalitions. More than a few activists will also become Democrats in order to gain elected office.

But things are never simple. In Eugene Debs' day a bloc of American Federation of Labor socialists urged abandonment of the Socialist Party electoral effort for an imagined labor party. Those same (soon mostly ex-) socialists lined up behind Sam Gompers, supporting Woodrow Wilson's crusade for empire — and the savage repression of Wobblies and socialists, including Debs himself. This tragedy is ever likely to repeat itself when a grand imperial quest is underway and liberalism shows its sour side.

The FDR Exception

One great and near-complete exception to the rules of warning abides; his initials are FDR. By 1936 the fledgling Congress of Industrial Organizations had built a political machine behind Franklin Roosevelt so powerful that nearly all radicals, from communists to socialists, gave up the ghost of independence, or resolved themselves to work for Roosevelt through independently organized state parties.

Save for a few local settings, the electoral operation of the Socialist Party disappeared, and the party became a virtual booster group for a moral leader, a status from which it and its successors have never quite re-emerged.

Here was a triumph and a tragedy in store. With the Cold War, the most talented and enthusiastic New Dealers in political life, the labor movement, and popular culture, were quickly purged, and the long decline in the grassroots base of the Democrats ensued. George Meany's machine, as I document in my volume Taking Care of Business, pulled steadily rightward on every agenda that would occupy the 1960s, in tow if not exactly lock step with the "Senator from Boeing," Henry Jackson. Peace, ecology, women's and gay rights, affirmative action — each one, potentially making its way within the Democrats, was blocked by thuggish labor leaders implicated in human rights violations and worse, across the third world.

Revival During Seventies

The revival of Democratic prospects during the 1970s owed everything to George McGovern's campaign and assorted 1960s radical movements. New idealists swept into action bringing a rainbow of hopes.

Resistance to the revival and remaking of the Democrats, a return instead to global adventurism and bloated military budgets, was supported avidly by the bumbling Lane Kirkland, keen strategist of organized labor's near-disappearance. The Democratic Party, sliding downward toward the monied minority symbolized in the Democratic Leadership Council, spurned its would-be saviors.

And here we approach the present day, because from Walter Mondale's and Michael Dukakis' campaigns onward, Democrats have run leftward for the nomination and stumbled rightward toward an electoral defeat that candidate Clinton avoided largely due to the candidacy of Ross Perot (President Clinton had incumbency).

Kerry Backtracking

At this writing, John Kerry has already begun backtracking on social welfare issues, avoiding the drastic cuts in the military budget needed for any possible war on poverty. Running away from the idealists of the Dean campaign?the biggest potential boost to a grassroots Democratic party in two generations — Kerry may yet be forced to reverse course and come out for imperial retraction.

Or he will likely follow erstwhile Democratic Leadership Council pet Al Gore (and the repugnant hawk Joseph Lieberman) in defeating himself with vote-costing mistakes that no Ralph Nader could provide. At the local level and in congressional campaigns, peaceniks will nevertheless continue fighting for the endangered soul of the party.

We will be among the Democrats. We have no choice. But we will also inevitably find ourselves beyond them as well, recalling the great spiritual messages of William Blake against empire and doing what radicals alone are likely to do. Unlike our Spanish comrades, we are not soon destined to lead a peace party to historic victory.

God Who Sweats In The Street

David Haslam & Andrew Bradstock

This article comes from our British member organisation's publication Christian Socialist. David Haslam is a former chair of CSM; Andrew Bradstock is Publications Secretary. In 1987 both authored books on the churches in Nicaragua.

Twenty-five years ago the world witnessed a new kind of revolution. In July 1979 the people of Nicaragua said basta, 'enough', to repression and effected radical regime change. Led by the Sandanista Front they laid the foundations of a new society, one where ordinary people mattered and access to education, health care and land were prioritised.

Much to the fore in this process were Christians and churches. Priests, pastors and lay-people actively mobilised and conscientised the people, several becoming leaders in the new administration. Christians put their energy into a campaign to teach adults to read and write, so successful it won a UN award. Liberation theology was much in vogue then. Writers like Gutiérrez and Boff inspired people to read the Bible out of their own situation and discover that God not only promised to free people from oppression but delivered on that promise — as in the exodus from Egypt.

God was seen to be in solidarity with the poor, biased towards justice for the weak and the downtrodden. Hannah and Mary had sung of God bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. Here was inspiration for the struggle to overthrow tyranny and fashion a just society.

A version of the Mass echoing these themes was popular in Nicaragua at the time. Known as the 'Peasant Mass' it spoke of God identifying wih a suffering people...

You are the God of the poor,
the ordinary human God,
God who sweats in the street,
God with the weathered face

it began, seeing God walking hand in hand and struggling with the people in field and town. In the Kyrie, Christ was implored to

join us, be one with us...
be in solidarity with us,
not with the oppressor.

The Credo acknowledged God as creator, engineer, builder and bricklayer, and affirmed 'Christ the worker' who rises again 'each time we raise an arm to defend the people'.

The work of Ernesto Cardenal, minister of culture in the Sandanista governmen, also helped give the Bible new relevance...

Lord who do you think is going to
liberate us
if you don't?

was his rendering of Psalm 12. Psalm 35 became:

You made it public
You announced
you were on our side
you're he only ally
we have left.

Fr. Ernesto community on the island of Solentiname helped Christians find in Scripture inspiration to effect political change.

The Peasant Mass is little used now, and few remember what Nicaragua might have achieved had it been left in peace with its Christian, socialist project and not undermined by folks in Washington (some now involved in Iraq) convinced all revolutions were Communist and atheistic. But as we work for justice in different contexts we still need the nourishment of Scripture and Eucharist, finding in both a God alongside us, speaking, struggling and yes, even sweating with us.

    ILRS News

    ILRS Vice-President Bev Thomas was recently elected the new Chair of the Christian Socialist Movement. As a result, Bev has been busy with interviews and speaking engagements on behalf of the organisation, and has recently appeared on the BBC.

    ILRS President Pär-Axel Sahlberg will attend a conference of the Council of Latin American Churches in Brazil. Our next issue will carry his address to this conference.

    Trefpunt, our member organisation in the Netherlands, has begun a series discussion forums on the topic of Islam and Social Democracy. We look forward to hearing more news about that project.

    ILRS Secretary General Andrew Hammer will attend the 75th anniversary conference of Broderskap, our Swedish organisation, as well as the conference of the British Labour Party in September.

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