A Pastoral Letter to the People of Colombia and to our Sister Churches on the Threats Received by Human Rights Leaders and Against Congregations in Barranquilla

Version en español

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5.9)

On 15 January 2015 the country was informed through mass media that human rights leaders and churches in Barranquilla were threatened through flyers circulated on the First Sunday of Epiphany (11 January) 2015.

Todd Howland, Colombia Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, joined the concern saying that these were not isolated threats. Similar threats could be found throughout the country. He also said that the Attorney General's office is making progress on important investigations about these threats. These investigations have already helped dismantle attempts against people with high regard in our national life, such as human rights leader, José Humberto Torres.

These circumstances calls us as citizens and Christians to consider the moral and spiritual decline in a sector of our motherland that insists in using threats, violence, and persecution to quiet the hopes for peace of millions of our compatriots.

Rafael Núñez, the father of the Constitution of 1886, noted the persistence of violence in 1880 writing that, "In Colombia peace seems to be the exception and war a constant." This affirmation, which remains regretfully unscathed even with the passing of time, makes evident that our society needs to overcome the use of violence in order to settle the 50-year-old armed conflict we have been living in.

We consider, from our faith perspective, that the recent threats are ways in which these sectors who want to maintain the war can frighten the Colombian people and break up social and ecclesial organizations who continue to work so that the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, and their approach to the ELN, can provide an agreement to end the armed conflict. This is why they make death threats to human rights leaders, and accuse them of being part of the guerrilla. These leaders denounce the truth about this horrific and violent conflict and about human rights in Colombia, a truth that has been recognized by the national government. The government has been working to better the national human rights record with the help of the United Nations, sister countries, and the international community.

We also consider that the threat to churches in Barranquilla, and to five of its leaders, are a result of their evangelical commitment of these faith communities which have been working arduously in the past years in supporting communities who are victims of violence, and in the peacemaking and reconciliation. These ministries – in congregations, parishes, religious communities, and confessions of faith – are now threatened to the point where our fellow priests, monks, nuns, pastors, and leaders who accompany these communities have had to abandon their cities, and even the country for:

  • saying the truth according to the Gospel – "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8.32) – about the a country with more than 6.8 million victims of violence.
  • supporting the peace process according to the Gospel – "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5.9) – a process being put forth by the national government with the support of the United Nations, the United States, and the international community.
  • providing religious services without partiality and without regard where anyone stands politically or otherwise according to the Gospel – "anyone who comes to [Jesus he] will never drive away" (John 6.37). Our religious mission is to save souls wherever they might be and wherever they might come from – "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved." (John 3.17)

We believe these threats to be religious persecution as they are clearly threatening the development and free practice of our pastoral and humanitarian work with those who suffer the consequences of the armed conflict, and our participation in peacemaking for Colombia as the Gospel requires of us. This is a violation to human rights as expressed in articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in international accords agreed upon by Colombia, and as found in the Political Constitution of Colombia.

For the Aforementioned we Exhort and Call

- The Colombian government to recognize that states exist to protect the life, dignity, freedom and wellbeing of its citizens. When a state cannot fulfill these responsibilities it should reconsider its "social contract" and revisit those areas of failure in order to take prompt and corrective actions that can lead the country in a stable way. The current peace process should contribute to the development of a new political agreement in Colombia that calls on all parties to recognize that we all bear part of the brunt of overcoming these many years of violence we have lived through. According to lessons in the Bible, there are sins of commission or of action – the evil we directly do, and sins of omission – not doing the good we know we ought to do, or worst, to allow evil to happen to our sisters and brothers.
As Churches of God we call on the national government, on departmental, regional, and municipal governments, on political parties, and on society to emulate the action of other governments to, as the Gospels compels us, to repent of all violence which has harmed us for so long, and in one voice ask God to forgive us. In this process we ought to commit ourselves to reform the political, legislative, educational and economic systems in order to allow us to overcome poverty, inequality, and all forms of discrimination in order to live freely, securely and democratically, and be able to participate in peacemaking and in the wellbeing of all who live in our motherland.

- All churches, councils of churches, parishes, dioceses, archdioceses, communities, organizations and religious confession to follow the words of Jesus, and come together in the work of the Gospel in buildings ways for peace, reconciliation, and life together among all Colombians without regard to class, religious confession, or political ideology.

- Our sister churches in the international community, and invite them to continue praying for us, and to increase their accompaniment and support to continue the work of building a lasting peace for Colombia, grounded in the message of the Gospel – a message that invites us to peacemaking as a fruit of justice.

The blessings of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be with all of you,

Anglican Church in the Caribbean
Presbytery de la Costa, Presbyterian Church in Colombia
Mennonite Churches in Barranquilla
Peace and Justice Service in Colombia