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Democracy in Haiti : Driver comments on Corbett

From: Tom F. Driver <tfd3@columbia.edu>

Bravo to Bob, for his vivid, down-to-earth, first-hand reporting on
Haiti's Ti Legliz (message #18).  There is a history here that badly
needs writing, and I hope that he will either do it himself or stimulate
the right person to take it on.  In most of what one reads about Haiti
today, the focus is so much on the political class that one easily
forgets there really are grassroots, and that they have not only
legitimate dreams but also methods and techniques for bringing health to
the social body.

Let me recount a scene I remembered upon reading this passage in Bob's

> The Liberation Theolologian wanted to shift the focus away from the
> vertical axis of "me and God" to the horizontal plane of "us brothers
> and sisters working together in God's mode."
> That's not only theologically radical, so radical and to threated the
> Catholic church in it's very foundation, but extremely democratic.  Gone
> is the hierarchy (which is the main reason they were lay-led and not
> clergy led).  Gone is the authority (which is why the leader tends
> overwhelmingly to ask questions and not give answers).  The people would
> then respond to these questions of what does this passage of scripture
> mean to us.

We should understand, as I'm sure Bob does, that the authority
Liberation Theology gets rid of is of a particular kind -- namely, the
"authoritarian" kind that "comes down like a stone falling from heaven"
as the theologian Paul Tillich used to put it.  A different authority
can then grow -- one that arises from the experience of the people
interacting with their reading of the Bible.  Now to my story:

The first Haitian sermon I ever heard was in the church in Little Haiti
in Miami.  The preacher was a young priest from the north of Haiti.  He
began a sermon about the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan.
He remarked that since baptism is a remedy for sin, if Jesus was
baptized it must mean that he had sinned, like the rest of us.  Upon
hearing this, the congregation exploded.  Many began to talk at once,
yelling at him and at each other.  Some were on their feet,
gesticulating broadly as they tried to set the preacher straight.  How
could he say such a thing?  This was "blasphemey."  Others defended what
he'd said.  The debate went on for ten minutes or so before he finally
persuaded them to let him finish his sermon.

Since I'm a theologian and spent my professional life educating
seminarians, I know a bit about preaching, and I thought this guy was
about the best I'd ever heard.  That evening I ran into him in the
kitchen of the rectory, where I was staying.  After introducing myself
and complimenting him on the sermon, I asked, teasingly, whether he had
"planted" the responders in the congregation, since it was such good
theater.  He assured me he had not, then added:  "But I have taught them
that if I say anything in the pulpit with which they do not agree, they
should get up and say so.  I have explained to them that truth does not
come ready-made from above but arises from below in the encounter of the
people with each other, with Scripture, and with the conditions in which
they live.  To know the truth, you must discover it together with other
human beings."

"What does your bishop think about this?" I asked.  "He doesn't like it," 
came the reply.

Yes, Bob, it is profoundly democratic.  First in the spiritual
dimension, and then in the political.


Tom F. Driver
Member, Haiti Task Force
Witness for Peace