The following is an excerpted from an interview with Rene Padilla DeBorst that appeared in the August 2007 edition of Christianity Today:
During your latest sojourn in North America, what have you noticed about North American Christianity?
Well, the affluence is always striking, but what I’m starting to see while living here is how the power of money can actually detract from the life of a church. In most Latin American churches, not even the pastor is paid. They’re part-time if they’re paid at all.
But here it’s not just pastors who are full-time professionals: There are degree programs in Christian education and youth ministry and worship. So everybody serving in the church is a professional! Being a church staff member is their job. What does that leave for people in the pews? It seems hard for them to be a real part of the church. They just attend and “consume” church rather than acting as an integral part of it.
What good, if any, can come from North American Christians having such a concentration of wealth and power?
I don’t think it’s very useful to say, I’m sorry I have so much power. I wish I didn’t have it. Or for individual North Americans to try to erase that inequality personally. You could step out of the grid, but the grid still exists. Rather, I think you need to say, I do have power. Whom is it supposed to serve?
The free-trade agreements between our countries are supposedly about giving people opportunity. There’s something to that: Part of human dignity is the capacity to work. But people need to be granted that option. How can free-trade agreements really be free when this country subsidizes its agriculture and other industries in order to favor its own interests? North American Christians can do something about this with their political power—by calling for trade agreements that are both free and fair.
But there is more to life than money and comfort. The resources some of these poor people have for coping with life and for understanding others make them very rich—in another currency. The best experiences, to me, of Americans that have joined us in Latin America have taken place when people have recognized that. They may come with wealth and education. But they encounter brothers and sisters with valuable strengths and insights they don’t have, and they are willing to learn in order to partner in God’s mission.