Background: Colombians have been taking to the streets since April 28, initially to protest a proposed tax reform, which the government issued in response to the national budget deficit. Parts of this reform — tax, health, education, etc. — would have most adversely affected the lower- and middle-class citizens, individually and collectively. The mostly peaceful protests have been met with severe political violence and police brutality. While the government withdrew part of the tax reform, the protests soon escalated into frustration with the government over its failure to implement the 2016 final peace accords, its absence in the face of the pandemic, and its horrific and violent suppression of peaceful protesters. All of this is transpiring during the third, most deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia.
The following is what I experienced May 5, when I joined the marching: whistles blowing; horns blaring; people shouting through muffled facemasks, "Viva Paro Nacional" (Long Live the National Strike) and "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido" (The people united will never be defeated); empty aluminum pots being clanked against each other in nonviolent protest; the vibrant primary colors of the Colombian flag never out of sight; people waving white flags of solidarity out apartment windows; the cacophony of stomping, singing, and dancing. These were the sights and sounds that engulfed my senses on May 5, as we marched up the Septima (one of the busiest streets in Bogotá) with JustaPaz, in solidarity with thousands of Colombians desiring the same outcome: the rights to life, dignity and human flourishing.
As communities of faith mobilized to march on the seventh day of the protests, the questions in the air were almost audible: Why are we, as Mennonites, as people of faith, marching? What does it mean to march in solidarity with all of Colombia? After marching, Peter Stucky, pastor of Teusaquillo Mennonite Church, answered these questions like this: We march because we are witnesses of the resurrected Lord and Savior of heaven and earth. Additionally, much like the resurrected Jesus with those on the road to Emmaus, we walk alongside people and reveal insights about Jesus and the Scriptures. This framing is a helpful orientation for the churches and like-minded individuals who continue to show up and give witness.
In the Gospels, we read that Jesus asked his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44), to be abundantly merciful (Luke 6:36), to repent and forgive (Matthew 3:2 and Luke 6:37), and to not violently resist those who enact evil (Matthew 5:39). In those same Gospels, we also see how Jesus modeled a nonviolent way of life by confronting both injustice and violence, as when he disregarded Sabbath laws to heal the sick (Luke 13:10-17), confronted unjust and perverted power in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17), and challenged a mob of assailants accusing a woman of adultery (John 8:7-9). And, the night before he died, Jesus demanded that Peter put down his sword (John 18:11). Neither passive nor weak, Jesus' nonviolence is the power of love in action for the flourishing of all humanity. This is why I say Jesus would have marched beside us, had he lived in the 21st century.
In the face of violence and injustice, Mennonite church institutions and communities across Colombia are following Jesus' example of both acting and speaking out in love. Seminario Bíblico Menonita de Colombia (SBMC, Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Colombia), where I serve, published a joint statement with Justapaz. It expresses clear articulation of a theology of political reconciliation: "We understand that the theological and ethical criteria of nonviolence and conflict transformation are fundamental factors in moving toward reconciliation coupled with social justice. Christian peace is God's Shalom, that is, a sign of integral well-being and relationships based on justice and equity, both for human beings and for all of creation. Guided by this spirit and the principles of the gospel of peace and social justice, we urge the government and civil society to pursue and deepen dialogue and negotiation on policies that will guide us toward equitable development, just peace and full respect for human rights."
The Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL, Colombia Mennonite Church) also released a statement. It summarizes the current, ongoing and unfolding reality. The statement explicitly condemns the state-sponsored violence and commits itself as an agent ready to act in society. The statement also advocates for staying true to its calling and pacifist commitments. The statement closes with gratitude for the solidarity shown by the international community: "We thank the international community for its expressions of solidarity during this time. We urge [these communities] to remain vigilant in monitoring the development of this turbulent situation, as well as to denounce any human rights violations that may occur."
For access to these statements in English and Spanish, click here:
English Colombia Mennonite Church statement
English JustaPaz and SBMC statement
Spanish Mennonite Church statement
Spanish JustaPaz and SBMC statement