Interviews with to Executive Director of Christian Aid, Amanda Khozi Mukwash (Africa) by Leonardo Félix.
LF: What do you think that are the impediments that Christian churches have to talk about discrimination, violence and gender justice in Latin America and the Caribbean?
AKM: Thank you very much, thank you for this privilege
LF: It’s my privilege.
AKM: Yes. I think that the first thing that I’d like to say is that, for generations, Christian churches have been able, whenever possible, to speak out against injustice, and here in Latin America, you got somebody like, you know, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who stood for poor people, those who are marginalised or excluded, and spoke out about injustice. And I could probably give you a number of church leaders, who have spoken out against injustice for many years. You know, when Pope Francis came into office, when he was appointed, one of the things that he did was to start talking about “breaking the silence”, in terms of poor people. I think that it was about two weeks ago, whenabout that the archbishop of Canterbury was talking about those who were oppressed, and asked the Trade Unions to think about this.
So, generally you find that Christian Churches do speak out. And sometimes, they speak out at a very local level. You don’t get to hear about them, because nobody reports on them and it is something that is part of their lives. But having said that, there are some impediments, in terms of speaking out as a collective. You can have one voice in one local community, but sometimes, we need to speak out as a whole faith, you know? And when you look at what is happening now, when you look at the economic injustices that are happening, the number of poor people… I just came from Brazil and, this morning I was just talking about the people in Sãoao Pauloablo who are on the streets, who are homeless, you know? It’s kind of just one person speaking out., you know? ? Personally, I would like to see I would personally like to see where the the churches are coming together, and speaking out very strongly about injustice. MI think that maybe, one of the impediments that I can think of, which I have seen in my travels, in different countries, is that the Christian faith and churches have become so diversified, which explains why that there are so many denominations, and it is which is okaey, because it’s all derivations from the religion itselfreligious-derivative. However, I think it’s time we look at what brings usout together, because I think thesince the focus has been, so far, about what sets us apart and makes us different from one another.
LF: Do you think that nowadays is the ecumenical movement an impediment too?
AKM: No. I think that what they have been trying to do is to look at those things that bring us together, you know? That we all follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, we all follow the will of God, and the ecumenical movement, on the contrary, is not an impediment. It can be if it is forced to unite. But what I’m saying is that they are focusing too much on those things that separate us, anti-pentacostal, anti-evangelical, you know? And that is dividing us unnecessarily, it is dividing our resources, it is dividing our skills, our knowledge, and our ability.
LF: But churches have, of course, different ways and looks about the actual terms in politics, in gender, in climatic justice.
AKM: You know? Yes, they do have differences, but I actually challenge whether we should have differences at the level of humanity. Do you see what I mean? For Christian aid, one of the things that we say is that everybody was created equally before God, in the image of God.
LF: Yeah, it’s an ethic problem.
AKM: So, if that’s the case then, why should the rules be different for women, for example? Why do you struggle so much as Christians? Even when you look at the bible, God used women in positions of leadership. Debora was a leader. Esther was a leader in her own way. Dorkas was a leader, you know? You have different names of women in the bible, God himself. So, who are we to challenge what God himself says? The bible says that male and female, he created thenm isn His image, right? So, I think that, maybe what I’m saying to you is that we have forgotten what brings us together. If we go back to basics in terms of the word of God and what God intended, then we won’t be focusing on doctrinal issues that split us. At the moment, worldwide, not just Latin America, because in LA you can talk for example of violence, but worldwide, if we look at the way that politics is going, if you look at the way that economy is not serving the poor, you see that people are crying out for just some inclusive economic policies, economic activities. You know, we are at a turning point and I think that there is an opportunity for churches, especially for Christian churches, to really recognize that there is a moment for us to make faith something that is really positive for people, meaningful. Not just spiritual, but also in terms of how they are treated, how they are recognized, how they care for the will of God, you know. FI think, for me, Jesus Christ was one of the most radical persons that I know of. And He was very clear, you know? To take care of the poor.
LF: Yeah, without doubt.
AKM: Take care of the widows. Look after the children. The kingdom of heaven is for people like them, you know? So, this morning, I was saying to the interfaith meeting… I said: “As we say that, financial, e.g., system have broken down, right? They are not serving the poor, and we also say the political system is not serving the poor. Let us resolve our question, our religious systems serving the poor.
LF: Do you think that the interfaith event like that really have churches in the daily movement?
AKM: You know, I think that conferences don’t bring about change. However, what I believe, and what I have seen is that you go to a conference such as this interfaith discussion, and it challenges you at the level of your intellect, because you get to hear different data, different information, different ways of doing things. One of the things that I’ve heard, some statistics that I really liked… I don’t know… did you know that 50 %, I think that’s the statistic that I heard today, that about 50 % of all schools worldwide, are run by religious institutions?
LF: Yes, I did.
AKM: Incredible. But the question that I was asking is that, if we are responsible and we won all 50%, then, how can the world be full of intolerance for each other? The values that religious groups and, in this case, Christianity stands for… These are values of respect, of love, of dignity… where are they, in this conversation? So, I don’t think it is all despaired. I think that, for a long time, when I think of some countries in Africa, for example, I remember when I was growing up. There was so many schools and hospitals that were run by the churches.. And you always knew that in a poor place, when the church was there, you knew that it had to take care of people in terms of health, and in terms of education. We have lost that. So, I think that what I’m saying is that the churches have the ability and the capacity of doing it, without doubt. They generate a lot of resources from believers. And I think for me, the challenge that I put there is asking ourselves: Are these resources being used to really help the poor among us?
LF: I believe that.
AKM: so, they did it before, they can do it again, and I think that is just a question of … I think that having that commitment, and I have to say that, we have examples of church faith organisations that work on the ground. I can tell you about what we are doing as Christian aid. So, in Bangladesh, e.g., we are there, and we are working with people with different social issues. And, we are hoping to run a refugee camp. It has over 25000 people in there, and it doesn’t matter that the people who we are working with, supporting, and helping, are not Christians. That doesn’t matter because our work, our values that we work with everybody, irrespective of colour, of age, of creeds, and when I went there, I was very inspired by the changes that I could see, things that we take for granted. For example, there is this woman who came by herself from another country with her two daughters, and she has no support and no protection, right? And she is always threatened in terms of sexual assault. What Christian aid was doing was… what we did was to strengthen her house, so that she would not be attacked at night, because of her two daughters. I think one of them is 12 and the other 15. These are really important things, and I think a lot of faith organizations are working at that level. But for us to make the transformation, we need to bring back that energy together.
LF: Yes, to gather forces. One more question: which do you think that is the role of the media in inequality? And what do you think that should be the role of the media at this time?
AKM: I think two things. I think the media has a very tough role. At the same time, I think that it is a wonderful opportunity for the media. They have a tough role because there has been some kind of polarization of what is news and, you know, what is right, what is wrong, what is the truth, what is false…? In fact, what has happened is that we have simply challenged the credibility of the media. But I think that the opportunity that exists for me is that the media has an opportunity to re-establish itself, as a third voice. Not a voice that is biased, but a voice for the common good.
LF: without fake news.
AKM: Exactly. Without all that. Although, you know, we have to be careful that not everything is fake news. And sometimes, things may be called fake news when, actually, they are right. However, like I said, organizations like Christian aid, and churches as well, we are helping in different countries, right? In Brazil, we are working with the homeless, like I said. In Zimbabwe, we are working with the church communities in the valley, to help them in terms of inclusive market. These types of activities that are taking place need to find a space to be amplified, in terms of voice. So, in answer to your question, I think that I ‘ll say that the media, in my opinion, needs to bring out those examples of where face is really making a positive difference, so that other people can be not just inspired, but their hope can be strengthened by those types of stories. Because there is just too much negativity in public, out there, in the media. What we need is to rebalance that, as it is not that everything is bad. There are people who are making change happen. I know that I may be running out of time but let me give you the example of Brazil that I was talking about. When I went there, I was told that in Sao Paublo there was a problem with homeless people. There are so many people who were homeless. They were working poor. It is not that they do not want to have a job. They do have a job, there are many, but the money is not enough, for them to actually afford a house.
LF: Like in Argentina.
AKM: TNow.the group that I visited hadwere 215 families. They have come together, and they have gone into a building that was abandoned, and what they have done is to clean it up –they told me that it was full of dirt. They took, I think, about 20 boxes of dirt out, and they live there, but the reason that I’m sharing this story with youwith you this story is that they look after each other. They have zero tolerance for domestic violence; they take care of each person. Everybody comes togetherThey are an united group. And I was really struck, because what I actually saw there was faith in action. Not just the faith that you talk about, but a living experience of faith. That was one.Two (Second),This was one side. By the other side, I saw love in action, you know? Just pure love. I’m not talking about all these other things, but they take care of each other, because that’s actually the expression of love. In fact, it is the expression of God’s love. So, I went in to see them, and I was thinking: “Oh, these poor people.” But when I came back, out of there, I’m the one who has been touched. I’m the one that has been shown that: “you know what, Amanda? Love really exists, and it changes lives. And those are the stories that I think that, sometimes, I would love to see in the media. Because what the world needs, at the moment, is strength and hope, right? Because, I mean, if you only hear negative things all the time, then it makes it look as if nothing is being gained. But even when you look at the Sustainable Development Goals, the discussion about that, is that there are some changes that are no good enough, but there are some changes anyway.
LF: I completely agree with you.
In what way do religious institutions become complicit in the structural systems that intensify the poverty of so many millions within the continent?
AKM: Oh, that’s a good one. You know? This morning, we were looking at financial systems, right? And we were talking about how financial systems and structures, globally, are not set up for the poor. They are set up for their few shareholders. And it’s for their benefit, and we see that the majority of the wealth in the world lies in 1% of the people. And then we talked about political institutions that also do not really serve the dignity of the people. So, the question that I think that we started to look at was what is the role of faith organizations and faith institutions as a system, not as individuals, but as a system, because faith institutions have rules, policies, they have regulations, they have believers who provide and contribute (with) resources. So, it is a system, and one example that I want to bring out in terms of an issue that is a structure, is the issue of gender justice. Like I said –I think at the beginning, is that if you go back to the bible, regarding Christian organization, when God says: “I’ve created everybody in my image. Male and females. I’ve created them, and I saw that it was good”.
What we’ve done, in terms of the system of religion that we have, is that I think that we have forgotten that. And so, we have difficulties in terms of “can women lead?”, gender violence. When I was in Zimbabwe, in a church gathering, and I was talking to the women there, and they were telling me about gender () violence in the church. FAnd, for me, I think the challenge that it put is that, as religious institutions, are we turning a blind eye to issues of injustice? Because if we are (If so,) then by default or by choice, we are part of the problem. But, I’m also encouraged when I hear Pope Francis, when I hearre some of the leaders say: “This has to stop”. And because now they are talking about it so openly, I think we need to lead and organise the moment, and get many more church leaders, but also from other faiths, to talk about changes and to stop the issue of gender violence.
LF: Do you think that churches, general churches, (have) lost their prophetic voices?
AKM: I think they went quiet. I think that they went quiet to some extent. And you have to ask the question: “Did we become quiet because we were absorbed by the capitalist system? Because now we are benefitting from that system. Can we then criticise it? And can we speak truth to power? And I think that if we have not been doing that, then it is time for us to start doing it again, because people actually need us to do that. But it is a challenge. Let’s take climate change, e.g. If we are expecting faith-based organizations and church institutions to really start raising their voice on issues of climate justice, then they have to lead by example. So, if they are investing, e.g., in fossil fuels, when we are saying that that is harming our environment, that is harming our planet, then if they are going to speak up and challenge politicians and institutions, they also have to look at where are they are investing their resources as a church, right? So, I think it is a conversation that we can no longer avoid, but it is not an easy one, because, essentially, you’re telling people: “Look, you cannot do a gradual disengagement out of fuse of oils, because otherwise, it will take us another 50 years or so to fix. And if we are going to wait for another 30, 40, 50 years, then, actually, a couple of indices are going to go higher, which is something that the planet can no longer sustain, ok? But, the churches and religious bodies need to be in the full front, while they say: “ we stop this, we are demanding that you stop this”. I was in Malawi and, Christian aid office in Malawi is 100 %& solar power; they don’t use electricity. And we went to meet the minister of energy. And while we were laughing, I toldsaid to him: do you use solar power?” And he says: “No”. And I say: “How are you going to lead by example? How are you going to tell other ministries to change their energy use if you yourself are not doing that.that? But to be really fairfair to him, he answeredsaid to me: “You know what? Next time you come, we’ll have done something”. So I think that is the challenge that the churches and the prophetic voice. Because the world expects more leadership from the churches. And such leadership comes hand in hand with our actions. Our saying and doing has to be closely aligned. If it’s not aligned, then we do ourselves a disservice. Therefore, we lose trust from the public and from the believers.