Land Movements in Latin America
excerpt from Joshua and the Promised Land
by Roy H. May, Jr.
In Latin America, traditional farmers and Indigenous Peoples often find the land themes of the Old Testament to be sources of aspiration for their own struggles against oppressive landlords and big companies. They see the landowners as Canaanite kings and themselves as land-needy Israelites. For these Christians, the Promised Land stories give moral support for today's struggles for land. They hear these stories as stories of resistance to domination and struggles for liberation. They see their own situations as parallel to the Hebrews' fight for land. "Today, just like yesterday in the Bible, we struggle for land," a group of indigenous Christians in Mexico concluded. "The powerful try to end the people's hope, but the land gives us strength. Today also the people are certain of victory."
Two Peruvian Pentecostals say, "It is in the Book of Joshua where we find a story that lets us confront the hope of the displaced to find a new land where they can five in peace, as God orders." This is because at the time of the Exile when the book was finalized, "the message of Joshua was adopted to revive the faith and hope of a people who had been dispossessed of their land." "Read in this way," they say, "Joshua gives us faith, encouragement, enthusiasm, and hope."
In the Bible, traditional farmers discover that God condemns policies that push aside small landholders from their fields or that take away territory from Indigenous Peoples. "Throwing people off their land is against God's plan. That provokes death, ambition, and violence. When they take our land they take our freedom and the rights that are ours as Indigenous Peoples," the Mexican peasants argue. This understanding provides a powerful moral tool for the land-needy today. (6)
For them, God's plan is that the poor have land. They believe that's the point of the Old Testament stories about the conquest of Canaan. As a study guide from Brazil puts it:
The history of the tribes of Israel describes the struggle for land and how the law of God for the People is formulated in terms of Land Reform. God's covenant requires an egalitarian and just society, and for that reason, the law prescribed the Sabbath year, the year that the land was redistributed among all the people. (7)
6. The statements by the Mexican peasants are found in CENAMI, III Encuentro nacional de pastoral de la tierra, Mexico City, Mexico (April 27-May 1, 1992, p. 13, and Asambleas de EAPI, Somos reflejo del Dios vivo: teologia de la identidad y teologia de la historia, Temoyay, Mexico (February 17-21, 1992), p. 76. The Pentecostals' statements are by Bernardo Campos and Daniel Cordoba, "En busca de una tierra de paz". Complete bibliographic data is not available. (return to text)
7. Terra e vida, Semana do Indio 1984 (CNBB/DIMI), p. 20. (return to text)
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