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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) representatives join Global Partners Roundtable in Buenos Aires

Faith-based activists in Argentina share stories of their struggles and visions of a society built on solidarity

by Philip Woods, World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Earlier this month, a delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined their partners at the Global Partners Roundtable in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photos courtesy of Philip Woods)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — For the past year, building on an initiative in the Presbyterian Mission Agency Mission Workplan to organize a Global Advisory Panel, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) team has been working with a representative group of the full range of the PC(USA)’s global partners to create a space where in the spirit of living into a decolonial vision of being the church we could meet with our global partners and explore together how the PC(USA) could most effectively show up in the world today.

The team consists of Dr. Dianna Wright, director of Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations in the Office of the General Assembly; Amanda Craft, manager of Advocacy in the OGA; the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director Humanitarian & Global Ecumenical Engagement in the PMA; Louisa Gallup, project associate in World Mission; and the Rev. Philip Woods, associate director of Global Strategy & Program in World Mission.

Following an initial, externally facilitated consultation a year ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a proposal for a PC(USA) Global Partners Roundtable was created and a small group of global partners elected to bring it into being. Earlier this month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the invitation of the Reformed Church in Argentina, we held the first full meeting of the PC(USA) Global Partners Roundtable.

While attendance in-person at the meeting was not what we had expected due to the change of government in Argentina and an unexpected change in immigration procedures causing the denial of visas to several participants, all 15 global partner members managed to connect with the meeting at least once during our time together and in various ways contribute to our deliberations.  PC(USA) leadership was represented in the meeting by Kerry Rice (OGA) and Sara Lisherness (PMA), together with the Rev. Denise Anderson (director of Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries) and Mienda Uriarte (World Mission director) representing the two most internationally engaged ministry areas.

This first meeting had two purposes. One was gathering the table, where through introductions and getting to know each other, we could understand the breadth and depth of the community represented in the Roundtable and the historical journeys that had brought us to this place of connection. The second was to collectively agree a framework for how we would work together. Alongside this we were introduced to the context of Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, where local faith-based activists helpfully spoke into the work we were engaged in, exploring what it means to be a decolonial church, as they shared stories of their struggles and their visions for a society built on solidarity.

Members of the Global Partners Roundtable worship together.

One Buenos Aires-based resource person, Gringo Castro, told the group that financial capital “makes all the decisions and has no interest in creating jobs.” Our task, Castro said, is to put people first. “This is our struggle,” Castro said, “because faith is life.”

Another, Luis Maria Alman Bornes, a Mennonite, talked about how workers movements, social movements and faith movements are coming together in Argentina to effect change, and how powerful a witness this is.

Coming out of the Kuala Lumpur meeting and subsequent work by the continuation group we had a draft terms of reference for consideration. But as we listened to each other, it became clear that the work we are engaged in is a process and thus would be better represented by a process diagram, and that as global partners and the PC(USA) we have different tasks and expectations in this work.

Thus, in a mix of working together and separately we arrived at the following provisional framework to guide our work.

As one of the participants from the Pacific put it, when sailing the ocean, we can only navigate as far as the horizon, and as we journey the horizon shifts, as do the ocean currents and winds, and we need to navigate accordingly.

About the Global Partners Roundtable

The PC(USA) Global Partners Roundtable has been established so that the PC(USA) might live into a richer, fuller expression of the kin-dom of God, in solidarity with our partners around the world.

In seeking to repent, repair and change, we commit to turn away from centering ourselves and our internal concerns alone, and we turn toward a renewed commitment to human rights and toward a solidarity in which we, the PC(USA), take our place as a part of the global community. We reject the premises and practices of American Imperialism and Christian Nationalism in the United States, and we will interrogate their impact in our church structures and in our church families; in our advocacy efforts; our culture; and in how we receive and treat the world church in our midst.

In confronting powers, the PC(USA) will not only seek to address poverty and injustice by providing direct assistance, but will actively seek to identify agents responsible for causing or promoting poverty and injustice, using their God-given powers to challenge and eliminate harmful practices and policies.

Having recognized the role played by the church in supporting colonialism, the PC(USA) will ensure that its members are made aware of this history and will engage in internal discussion on the matter, providing opportunities for self-examination, repentance and change.

Members of the Global Partners Roundtable share their thoughts with one another.

The PC(USA) will create opportunities for reflection and discussion on the mindsets and structures which promote or facilitate domination. These structures will be named and revised or removed, as appropriate, and affirmative action taken to correct the injustices which have resulted.

During one exercise, a sticky note posted on the wall carried this message: “When there is silence from the PC(USA) when any of our places is threatened, we have to question our relationship with the PC(USA) — when there is no fight against the system that perpetuates these violations.”

In a reflection of Mark’s account of Jesus giving sight to the beggar Bartimaeus, Hadi Ghantous of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon focused on Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” By abandoning the role of beggar, Bartimaeus reclaimed his dignity and his sight. The task of a decolonizing church, Ghantous noted, is not to give aid, but to attend to the things — the wars and injustices — that make people beggars and restore people’s full dignity.

Throughout the discussions, there was a constant call to stress solidarity in the model of how we work and to be aware of how U.S. policies and practices are negatively and often destructively impacting the lives of people, and to ask ourselves, “How are we addressing this?”

The Rev. Philip Woods is World Mission’s associate director for Global Strategy and Program.

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