BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Colombia’s presidential election will be held Sunday, May 27, using a two-round system. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote Sunday, a runoff will be scheduled for June 17 between the top two candidates. Incumbent Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is not eligible for re-election, having already served two terms.
Protestant and evangelical Christians throughout the country are being courted by presidential candidates as a potentially decisive voting bloc. Ivan Duque, a right-wing candidate who has taken a strong position against Colombia’s still-nascent peace process, is one of the candidates jockeying for this vote.
Viviane Morales, former Attorney General and ex-presidential candidate, is an evangelical icon in Colombia. Last week she circulated an email to Protestant and evangelical church leaders supporting Duque’s candidacy. She encouraged evangelical pastors to “vote responsibly in defense of our families” and identified some of the characteristics she looks for in a candidate.
The Rev. Milcíades Púa, minister of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) and moderator of the Presbytery of the North Coast, responded with a letter of his own, expressing his conviction that the role of the Church is to be “a prophetic voice and ethical compass for all activities in the public arena.”
According to IPC Executive Secretary the Rev. Diego Higuita, the whole denomination has embraced Rev. Púa’s response and it is circulating widely throughout Colombia in anticipation of Sunday’s election. Púa wrote the following:
Dear Viviane Morales:
Thank you for including me in your email encouraging a “responsible vote.” This is a wonderful opportunity to engage in dialogue about some aspects of your invitation:
- Commitment to religious liberty: It is the obligation of every public servant to obey the Constitution of our Republic, regardless of that person’s party affiliation, religious creed or choice not to profess any religion. The candidate you support is surrounded by people well-known for their religious intolerance; his fellow party members represent the most rancid sectarian views from decades long past. Despite Article 19 of our Constitution, declaring freedom of religion, the State has yet to make religious equality a reality in our nation. As Protestants, our places of worship still pay property taxes, we are allowed no formal voice for advocacy in the public sphere, there continue to be crucifixes and religious icons in public buildings, and public works continue to be inaugurated with celebrations from a particular religious tradition. As a person of the Reformed tradition I respect the separation of church and state and understand the role of the Church as that of prophetic voice and ethical compass for all activities in the public arena.
- Recognizing and valuing the contributions of the Christian churches: I begin by pointing out a conceptual error: the Christian tradition includes the Roman Catholic Church as well as the various Protestant denominations and evangelical churches. To use the term “Christian churches” to differentiate Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church disrespects our shared roots.
We should not confuse the political and electoral advantage that some parties and candidates wish to leverage from the “evangelical vote,” with recognition of and respect for non-Catholic churches. If this respect were genuine, the ongoing religious discrimination would disappear. Additionally, it is problematic to assume that all Protestants and Evangelicals vote as a block, like sheep, uncritically. This assumption demeans all non-Catholic voters and discounts our contributions to society.
- Restores the central place of family: This is very important and praiseworthy. Democracies built on Christian values around the world have made strides in recognizing the rights of different types of families. The Bible shows us different types of families and not a single model. To limit the concept of family to a single valid model would be to ignore the social reality that surrounds us, which must be acknowledged.
I would have liked to hear you invite us to vote “responsibly” based on other criteria; for example: The struggle against inequality, injustice and poverty — the central message of the prophets of the Old Testament, of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. I look for a candidate who actively supports peace and reconciliation, including forgiveness and restoration for those who have done harm even while seeking noble ends such as justice and equality. I would welcome an invitation to vote for someone who fights corruption head-on, who speaks clearly on this problem and severs all relationship with people who have ties to acts of corruption. I would welcome an invitation to vote for a person who values honesty, who respects those who think and act differently, who gives education a central place so that “families at the nucleus of society” can model respect, love and nonviolence. From your time as Attorney General you must be aware that many acts of family violence, sexual abuse and degrading acts against spouses occur in so-called “traditional families.”
One of the principles of my tradition says that lies cannot be placed on a par with the truth. Ah, you who call evil good… (Isaiah 5:20). It is disturbing to see that many of the political campaigns led by “Christians” are based on lies. Finally, I find it alarming that the candidate for whom you invite me to vote is surrounded by people who incite violence, spy on the courts and legislate for their own personal gain. For these and other reasons I cannot accept your invitation.
Rev. Milcíades Púa, Presbyterian pastor