**This reflection was written back in December. We are sorry for publishing so late, but we trust these words are still as relevant as ever as we work together for God’s mission for peace in El Salvador.
The Importance of Practicing “Social Hermeneutics”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We hope this season has been a time of hope, joy, and light for your and your loved ones.
As we approach the new year, we felt it timely to share another update, this time focusing on the context of El Salvador and the communities where MVP serves.
It is imperative that as Christians we find ways to practice social hermeneutics sometimes defined as “the interpretation and understanding of social events through analysis of their meanings for the human participants in the events.” We must make time to evaluate and analyze what is happening around us from a variety of perspectives, from those who are being “acted upon,” and above all, in light of the teachings and ministry of Jesus. As Christians, an honest analysis may lead us into a not-so-comfortable position. But the truth is, the mission of the Gospel is counter-cultural; it should not, nor can it, become comfortable with the norms of society, especially when they go against the truths presented in the Gospel. As people of faith, we should practice regular, honest analysis of our communities. We should never accept social or political views without first analyzing them, and we have to beware of any discourses that try to convince us that we are “living in the promised land,” especially when our reality is quite the opposite.
As a community that is committed to ministering in El Salvador, we should seek to understand the country’s current realities based on our own sense of mission. This means that we should try our best to understand these realities from trusted sources, and together with the help of our community. These are standards that Christians should regularly uphold as we practice “social hermeneutics” in our own context. It is by no means an easy task, but it is our mission. Understanding the world around us is the only way to ensure that our mission is consistent and coherent, and that it actively responds to the needs of our communities.
A Careful, Honest Reflection
In light of this, I (Eliberto) wanted to offer a summary of my own interpretation of this past year (2021) in El Salvador. These words are not shared lightly, but have been carefully crafted after much investigating, reading, listening, and learning from our MVP community in El Salvador and other neighboring communities of faith:
Currently, the administration of El Salvador is run solely by one person. The “powers of the state” or branches of government have been kidnapped and handed over to the president, a man who spends a lot of money on publicity and creating an image for himself. He distorts information for his own political interests – he plans to run for re-election in 2024, a new law he pushed through this year to allow for presidents to hold consecutive terms of office. He also uses his power for his own commercial interests – he has made the government a “family business.” With majority support in congress, he has stacked the judicial system, practically removing all checks and balances in national government.
With all of the power in one man’s hands, there is no way to guarantee that the rights of those who think critically or speak out on behalf of justice will be honored. We have seen many cases of individuals and institutions who have been harrassed by the State for thinking differently than the government. El Salvador has taken a turn backwards, sweeping away the efforts and life-long work of many who fought to open paths towards justice and democracy, before, during, and after the civil war. Many of these people were motivated by their faith to make significant contributions that offered hope for justice for society. They were professionals and students who offered their lives as a seed of hope for the generations that would come after them.
As you might imagine, with such an imbalance of power, the State institutions are not serving the needs of its people, but rather are responding to one person’s tyranny. It is sad to see the armed forces, the police, and the attorney general so far from offering justice and protection to the population. Instead of serving the Salvadoran people, they have become oppressors. El Salvador’s current government has been characterized by its rabble-rousing and lies. No one can access truthful information. The administration has “poisoned” society with hatred. Never in history there been so many hateful messages created by the government and by people paid by the government (youtubers, journalists, columnists, etc.). These messages publically mock anyone who dares to disagree with the government, threatening and interfering with their personal lives, and, in some cases, even use the police and armed forces to intimidate them and their families.
The people’s needs are growing in complexity each day, while the president seems more concerned with his international image than the needs of his people. As we watch the social, political, and economic crises intensify each day, we can only begin to imagine the clouds of pain and darkness that will overshadow the country for years to come.
To conclude this reflection, there is one final topic that I want to share. This can be very painful for those of us who believe in education as a tool for human transformation. In El Salvador, the public schools continue to aimlessly drift along, without guidance or direction. To date, there is no educational plan for the country (in general for 2022 or in light of the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic), nor is there genuine interest in making any improvements in the area of education. During this break (the school year is February to November in El Salvador), principles and teachers are unsure when the 2022 school year will begin, and which students will move up a grade. Many teachers had an average of 5 students in their classroom this past year, instead of their normal 30. Even the University of El Salvador, known as an academic force with a strong political and social analysis, seems to have fallen captive to the propaganda and lies of the current government. Now, they are left with empty promises and a decreased budget. As the country’s only public university, this affects tuition costs and access to higher education for thousands of students throughout the country. Our hearts ache when we think about the current situation for students and educators in El Salvador.
Our Prayerful Response
As I sit with the pain of these realities (and the many more I haven’t laid out in this short update), my only response is one of surrender. I offer myself to God, reaffirming my own commitment to work for justice, a fundamental element of the message of Jesus. And I invite my brothers and sisters to find strength in God’s grace and wisdom in order to face “the great beast” that is quickly and aggressively impacting El Salvador. Finally, to those who have been influenced by the government’s venomous message of hate, I beg you to return to God’s message of love, exemplified in Jesus’ life, and to spread that message out of your commitment to faith.
We invite you to pray with us. To read and learn about El Salvador and your own community. And to seek how God’s message of peace, justice, and hope might offer light into the dark spaces of our world.
Amidst such darkness, the light of a baby born in Bethlehem shines into our world. May that light offer us hope, even as we face the darkest of challenges.
God’s peace be with you today and always.
With our love, Eliberto, Molly, & Elliot