Interview with Vitalino Similox, pastor of the National Presbyterian Evangelical Church of Guatemala
Vitalino Similoxa 74-year-old sociologist, pastor of the Mayan kaqchikel ethnic group of the National Presbyterian Evangelical Church of Guatemala (Ienpg) and former secretary general of the Christian Ecumenical Council of Guatemala (composed of the Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Reformed Churches), he played as leader of the Conference of Evangelical Churches of Guatemala (Ciedeg) a very important role during the peace negotiations, which in 1996 led to agreements between the government and the left-wing guerrillas of theGuatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (Urng), ending 36 years of civil war. Then in 1999 he was a candidate for the Vice President of the Republic for theNew nation alliancecenter-left, and today he is rector of the Maya Kaqchikel University of Chimaltenango.
How would you describe the evangelical world in Guatemala?
In Guatemala, evangelicals are about 45 percent of the population and only 1 percent belong to the historic Protestant Churches. The Evangelical Churches have fallen in love with political and economic power, even becoming involved in drug trafficking, for which there are drug shepherds and narco Churches, as seen in the case of the boss Juan Órtiz, alias Chamalé. The political right then took advantage of pastors without biblical and theological training who campaign against sexual diversity, in which evangelical and conservative Catholic sectors converge. Therefore the evangelical movement no longer has a critical and prophetic voice. The historical Protestant Churches are absorbed by internal issues, the Ciedeg has lost political influence and the Christian Ecumenical Council of Guatemala has weakened.
What does it mean to be Mayan and Presbyterian?
I have always been aware of my Mayan identity, so much so that in the 1960s I created with others a network of ethnic communities in the Ienpg, called Kaqchikel presbytery, while in Presbyterianism I learned that the Church is a critical conscience of society and this, together with my sociological training, led me to develop a class conscience and a political option in favor of changing the current structures of injustice, oppression, corruption . Today I try to make my contribution to the dialogue between Mayan culture and Christianity. Being Mayan and Presbyterian means giving an answer to a society in crisis, based on a linear, positivist thought, as explained by Boaventura De Sousa Santos, according to which the epistemologies of the South of the world, which are based on experience rather than rationality, go placed at the service of humanity, in a dialogue of knowledge. The Mayan Kaqchikel University seeks to recover and systematize traditional practices and foster a comparison between conventional education and Mayan science, philosophy and technology.
Has the indigenous experience affected the IENPG?
No. Today I do not see even in other Protestant Churches any movement comparable to that of Kaqchikel presbyteryin the 70s-80s, which ran out. Many indigenous people do not want to know anything about the Church, which bothers me, but they repeat to me that “decolonization passes through de-Christianization”; I object: “Not necessarily. In my experience to be Mayan I don’t need to renounce Christianity, which, on the contrary, has taught me to reject injustice ”. However, in the six Mayan universities of Christianity there is no mention, but everything derives from indigenous spirituality.
What have been the successes and shortcomings of ecumenical work in Guatemala?
The context has allowed and facilitated an ecumenical movement like that of the 80s and 90s, with the commitment of all those who wanted peace and overcoming the causes of the armed conflict, starting with poverty. It was a socially committed ecumenism. Now I don’t see a theme with the same unifying power.
What prospects do you see for the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), which appears to be in perennial crisis and restructuring, while remaining the main interprotestant body on the continent?
Once again, the context seems to me to be decisive to allow for stability. I do not see an issue in Latin America that mobilizes the Churches, not even that of climate change and global warming. And the CLA has become a terrain of power struggles between political positions and competition between groups for the funding of international cooperation agencies, which also have less money.