Environmental Racism and the Struggle for Economic Justice in Brazil: A Discussion Guide

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The General Commission on Religion and Race invites United Methodist Christians of goodwill to engage in conversations about race, cultural, tribe, and national and the challenges that come when prejudices and bias are combined with institutional power and privilege.

We are also called to increase the capacity of our church to reach more people, more diverse people and more young people across the globe, which is also a call to address those practices, policies and ideals that may keep people from feeling welcomed by those who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

These discussions are not easy to undertake. Our shame, fear, race, anger, frustrations, confusion, personal biases, separation and segregation—including that which is national, institutional, ideological, personal and familial—often render it nearly impossible for even well-meaning people to “get at” how we feel about and how we can move through differences toward becoming God’s beloved community, locally and around the world.

Still, God in Christ Jesus is calling us to be courageous, steadfast and true to our calling to transform the world from one divided and warring to one where God’s peaceable kingdom will come. The Scriptures beckon us:

  • “Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all time.” (Psalm 106:3)
  • “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18)
  • “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:12)
  • “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

As we read and watch news reports, observe and participate in the happenings in cities and towns across the world, and assess the dynamics in our communities and in our churches, we believe that Christians can and must bring our understanding of the power of God’s reconciliation and God’s justice to bear on troubles of this world.

So, for the next year, the General Commission on Religion and Race will release one or two video discussion-starters each month for your use. We invite you to begin this conversation in your Sunday school class, as a weekly class meeting, among United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men’s groups, young adult fellowships, ministry leadership teams, annual conference Cabinet, or as a study with team with people from other congregations or denominations.

Some suggestions:

  • Invite people to participate in a weekly/biweekly/monthly discussion group about global racism, tribal conflict, war, people fleeing oppression, and religious and other forms of intolerance. Explain the time commitment. Set a firm meeting time and stick with it.
  • Plan for one or two sessions for each video, with each session lasting at least 60 to 75 minutes.
  • Keep your group small, say no more than 8-10 people, so that everyone has the opportunity to reflect and speak.
  • Rotate the roles of facilitator and recorder each time, so that everyone may participate fully. (Note-taking should be limited to any ideas the group wants to carry forward.)
  • Affirm that frustration, confusion and fear are all part of the discussion—do not attempt to tamp down those feelings. And suggest that what is said in the group stays in the group.

Questions/Discussion Starters

PRE-WORK: Ask study group members to read this online article on women and indigenous land rights in Brazil: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/jul/23/indigenous-women-latin-america-climate-change. Then view the video as a group or ask individuals to view before your session.

  1. How does Dr. Cardoso define environmental racism? What would you add to her definition and what examples would you include? (Stay focused on racism for this question.)
  1. Cardoso recalls as history of land acquisition by the rich and powerful, resulting in marginalization of the rural poor, women, indigenous people and the descendants of Africans kidnapped into slavery in Brazil. These are examples of institutional economic injustice, sexism and racism. What is the role of “power” in institutional injustice? What kinds of power are at play in these instances
  1. “The land” or terra is about more than just land or soil. What does it mean for an individual to have access to land? To own land? To come from a land?
  1. What happens when only 52% of the land is owned and controlled by a minority of wealthy corporations? What is denied to the rural poor women, indigenous people ad Afro-Brazilians because of this inequality? Recall Dr. Cardoso’s explanation of land as “soil, land, the earth, the homeland” and as a place “to live, to die, to create, to build houses, to plan food, to create connections for a meaningful life.” She also cites the Creation story in Genesis. Reflect on this story in light of the reality of land rights’ struggles.
  1. Cardoso is a pastor who lives among rural poor women, and she is part of the Pastoral Commission? What services are offered by the Commission?
  1. How might you and Christians in your area become involved in combating environmental racism, sexism and economic oppression? What issues or concerns should you research and learn more about in your community, state, province or nation?
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GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.