A letter from Katie Griffin in Argentina
July 4, 2012
Dear Sisters and Brothers, companions in the building of God’s Reign,
It is with tremendous emotion that I send a new newsletter, so quickly after the last one (June 25). We here in the Southern Cone of South America, and throughout Latin America, are struggling with mixed emotions of sadness and great thanksgiving.
This past weekend one of the leading theologians of the 20th century, Pastor José Míguez Bonino, at the age of 88, was welcomed into the loving arms of our great and gracious God. Don José was a native of the city of Rosario, in the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina. His parents were immigrants who worked as unskilled laborers in the Port of Rosario. He was born at a time in Argentina when the doors were closing to the vast numbers of immigrants who had been entering the country since the 1880s. The patrician and Catholic backlash of the 1930s to the liberalizing ideals brought into the country from revolutionary France—“Liberté, fraternité, égalité”—came crashing down on the hopes and dreams of so many immigrants in the country.
In spite of these impossibilities, the Míguez Bonino family became active in the Methodist Church in Rosario and found the hope, strength and courage to keep on keeping on through faith in Jesus Christ. Don José first began to study medicine, but soon sensed a deep call to serve God through the church. He was able to study theology at the then Evangelical School of Theology, the direct precursor to ISEDET.
His first pastoral experience was in Bolivia. He then began to interchange between various pastoral experiences and more advanced studies in theology. He received his doctoral degree in systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. When he returned to Argentina, as professor and director of the Evangelical School of Theology and as a pastor he began to think, teach and write about the gospel as a community event, not just an individual event. If an individual reading of the gospel can change an individual life, then a community reading of the gospel can change the life of the community.
This need for a community of change arose from a very common Latin American context for Protestants: social, political and economic marginalization, and at various times and places of history, discrimination and even persecution. Míguez Bonino’s passion for a community of interpretation of the gospel message led him to seek conversation with those members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Argentina who were willing and desiring to seek change in the years prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). His openness to dialogue with Roman Catholicism led him to be the only non-Catholic clergyperson to be invited to observe that Council. His willingness to dialogue critically with the philosophy of Karl Marx also permitted him to be able to interpret the gospel message to the Christian churches of the then Soviet bloc countries and of Communist China. He was also thus able to emphasize the hope and strength of the gospel for communities being oppressed by the U.S.–supported, right wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay).
Pastor José was constantly being invited to teach, lecture, and participate in ecumenical meetings or in meetings of the United Nations’ High Commission on Human Rights all over the world. Nevertheless, his eyes and heart were constantly turned toward his own people in Argentina. In 1969 he served as the first rector of the Higher Evangelical Institute of Theological Studies (ISEDET, where I teach) and served as professor of systematic theology there for more than three decades. At the same time he served continually on the pastoral staff of various Methodist churches in the greater Buenos Aires area.
In the late '70s he was serving as the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Yet his commitment to the Argentine people, whether of the church or not, led him to return to Argentina even though he had been blacklisted by the dictatorship of 1976-1983. He came back to his own in times of trouble to speak against the human rights abuses of the dictatorship at the risk of his own life.
These are a few of Don José’s many achievements. Those who knew him will remember a kind, humble person, militant fan of his hometown soccer club, with a great sense of humor and the ability to converse with any kind of person who might approach him. The light and the hope of the gospel were his reason for being.
Thousands of people around the globe will miss him. Here at ISEDET we are experiencing a profound and bittersweet mixture of sadness for his passing and deep joy and thanksgiving for his faithfulness to the God of Life and Hope.
Míguez Bonino’s writings have been translated into various languages, including English. I would strongly encourage you to look him up. For now, I will recommend six titles that show some of the breadth and variety of his work. All of which will challenge and stimulate. If you want more, you can look up his English translations at www.worldcat.org.
Faces of Latin American Protestantism: 1993 Carnahan Lectures, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishers, 1997
A.A.V.V., Against Machismo: Rubem Alves, Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutiérrez, José Míguez Bonino, Juan Luis Segundo and others talk about the struggle of women, Oak Park, IL, Meyer Stone Books, 1987
Toward a Christian Political Ethics, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1983
Room to be people: An interpretation of the message of the Bible for today’s world, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1979
Mission as conflict and challenge, Toronto, Ecumenical Forum of Canada, 1978
Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1975
May the Joy of Christ be with you,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 26