Voice of the Communion: Elizabeth Arciniegas, Gender Justice Coordinator, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia
(LWI) – Elizabeth Arciniegas of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) is one of three coordinators of the Women and Gender Justice Network for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). She serves with Ángela Trejo Hager of the Mexican Lutheran Church and Ofelia Dávila of the Peruvian Lutheran Church.
In this interview, Arciniegas shares where she finds strength in scripture to do her work, as she calls on the whole church to commit to justice and equity for women.
What was your religious or denominational background when you were a child?
I was born in a small town north of Boyacá called El Cocuy. El Cocuy is one of the first places visited by Christian missionaries. Originally, the missionaries were Catholic, then the state religion was Catholic until the political violence of the 1940s in Colombia. During this period, Protestants, as Evangelicals were called, were persecuted. Because my parents were both Protestant and had liberal political views, their house was burned down when I was young.
This period of history is often remembered for the political turmoil, but there were also religious aspects that are not highlighted.
The inequality of religions at this time meant that Protestants had separate cemeteries and schools. For this reason, I studied in an evangelical school because it would have been difficult for me in a public school. I would have been bullied because I didn’t have ashes on my head or didn’t know the Catholic prayers.
One of my oldest and fondest memories is of a Lutheran missionary, a pastor who lived behind our house, and he had a green truck that he used to do pastoral visits.
What is the situation of religion today?
Today, the constitution does not claim a state religion.
Thanks be to God, today we have the freedom to worship how we want and where we want. It’s much easier than when I was a kid. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia is like a bridge in ecumenical relations within the community. In many ways, much of the work we do as a church is to reconcile relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church and in other faiths.
Tell us about the work of ordained and lay women in the church.
The Lutheran Church of Colombia has been ordaining women since 1993, Reverend Consuelo Preciado was the first woman ordained to ministry by our church. Ordaining women is important not only to respect numbers and ratios, or to practice what we believe to be theologically correct, but also to have more and wider spaces in the lives of people, members of the church. We have come a long way, thank God. I hope that more women will decide to study theology and continue to share the faith, because it is also very important in the life of the congregation. For example, when you have a female pastor that you can talk to, that you can converse with, it gives women confidence to speak.
As a lay leader, I refer to the words of Paul. When he says that “in Christ there is no longer man, woman, Jew or Greek, because in Christ we are all new creatures and made in his image, sons and daughters of God”, it gives me hope. In Colombia, there are many women who participate in lay leadership in education, in the direction of the theological school and in the coordination of projects and programs, to name a few areas.
Who are the ecclesiastical gender justice actors?
Gender justice will truly be achieved when everyone recognizes that some people in the body of Christ must set aside their privileges so that other less privileged people can participate in the work of God. The gender justice movement has identified the barriers and obstacles we struggle with and now we are using this knowledge as a tool to break down those barriers, bit by bit. Sometimes in this work we may stumble and fall, but we get up and keep going. When men and women recognize these obstacles, we can walk together and pave a smooth road for everyone. The book of Acts tells us that “God is no respect of person”.
What does it mean for your church, your work, you to be part of the fellowship of churches?
To be part of communion means that I walk with others in solidarity; I care for them and they care for me – as one body.
Voice of Communion
The Lutheran World Federation is a worldwide organization that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we feature church leaders and staff as they discuss current issues and present ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring that churches and communion grow in testimony and strength.