Latin America was once considered a Roman Catholic continent but is now characterized by a religious pluralism that can lead to hostile competitiveness, the main governing body of the World Council of Churches has heard.
“An astounding shift is taking place,” Rev. Walter Altmann, moderator of the WCC central committee, said in his report presented to the governing body at its August meeting. “There are no signs to indicate that the consistent trend towards religious pluralism may be reversed over the coming years.”
Mr. Altmann, president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, noted that in his country the percentage of Roman Catholics decreased between 1999 and 2001 to 73.5 per cent from 83 per cent of the population. Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements had correspondingly seen extraordinary growth, said Mr. Altmann, elected moderator of the WCC governing body following its assembly in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in February.
“At the same time, we observe another process developing more silently but with profound implications. That is the rediscovery of the religious expressions of indigenous communities and especially those with origins in the spirituality of Afro-descendants,” said Mr. Altmann, the first Latin American to head the WCC central committee.
“All indications are that Latin America will, in the future, present an even more colourful spectrum of religious plurality than it does today,” he said. Still, “Among evangelical churches there is often a strong anti-Catholic sentiment and discourse. Words like ‘idolatry,’ ‘syncretism,’ ‘witchcraft’ are used without hesitation, when referring to other churches or religious expressions.”
Such sentiments are sometimes also found in traditional denominations as well, he noted. The Methodist Church in Brazil had voted recently to withdraw from interchurch bodies that had the Roman Catholic church and non-Christian groups in membership, including the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil, which hosted the WCC assembly in February.
“Ironically,” noted Mr. Altmann, the decision of the Brazilian Methodist church was taken, “just a few days before the Assembly of the World Methodist Council, meeting in Seoul, expressed its support for the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”