From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Brazilian Church Challenged to Focus on Contribution to Society

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Thu, 09 Jan 2003 13:55:45 -0600

Theologian Walter Altmann Installed as IECLB President

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil/GENEVA, 9 January 2003 (LWI) - After a
restructuring period leading to a new constitution in 1997, the
Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) is
now challenged to focus on the quality of its contribution to
Brazilian society today. The changes include a new church order
and financial system.

Recently installed IECLB President Dr Walter Altmann cited the
main issues as theological identity, social responsibility and
missionary commitment, and underlined ethics, justice, peace and
the integrity of creation as the mainstay of Lutheran identity.

Altmann assumed his four-year term in the IECLB's highest office
on December 28, succeeding Rev. Huberto Kirchheim, who had led the
church since 1994. The new president was the church's
vice-president since 1998, and headed the Latin American Council
of Churches from 1995-2001.

Speaking to Lutheran World Information (LWI), the 58-year-old
theologian said Lutheran Christians must realize their social
responsibility. He will ask the church council to appoint a
commission for public affairs "in order to address the fundamental
issues being discussed in the nation." The commission will be
responsible for preparing public statements or initiatives for
proposal to the council. Even though Lutheran Christians represent
onl 0.5 percent of the total population, the position of the
Lutheran church "receives more attention than one would expect,"
he said.

Central themes for the IECLB include Brazil's economic situation,
the foreign debt, and consequences of the neo-liberal
globalization that has led to decreased social spending, lower
investments in public health, education, and old-age support. A
high urban crime rate, increased violence and illicit drug trade
mirror a system that is geared toward discrimination rather than
integration, according to the new IECLB president. With the newly
elected Brazilian government, there is hope that other priorities
would be set and that there would be more emphasis on the social

Altmann backs the Argentinean churches' call for the International
Court of Justice in The Hague to examine the legitimacy of the
foreign debt. Thorough research in Latin America has proved that
the greater part of the continent's debts has its origins in the
time of the military dictatorships, who were supported by the
industrialized nations. For Altmann, it is inappropriate to speak
of "debt remission," as if responsibility for incurring the debt
lies exclusively with the "under-developed countries. It is, to
say the least, a shared responsibility," he stressed.

Altmann noted that Brazilian society is developing toward a vast
diversity of religious movements, even though 86 percent of the
population is Roman Catholic. He felt that in such a situation,
the IECLB should effectively represent the Lutheran confession and
its relevance for contemporary issues in Brazil.

The new president hopes that the IECLB will in the near future
develop into a church with a strong ecumenical emphasis and
commitment. He cited the 2006 World Council of Churches (WCC)
Assembly in Porto Alegre as an opportunity for local ecumenical
co-operation and for participation in the global ecumenical
movement. He believes that the Assembly, being the first such WCC
event to be held on the continent, "will have a Lati American
dimension and attract the Brazilian and Latin American public." It
would be essential that the Roman Catholic Church actively
participate in the Assembly's local organization.

Commenting on the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly
that will be held 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, Altmann
emphasized that its theme "For the Healing of the World," is very
relevant. He expects the Assembly to provide a new impetus for the
Lutheran churches to be perceived as a communion that is committed
to serving people in need. He foresees the issues of globalization
and integrity of creation as being of major importance on the
Assembly agenda.

Altmann studied theology in Sao Leopoldo, southern Brazil, Buenos
Aires (Argentina), and Hamburg (Germany). In 1972, he earned a
doctorate in Hamburg on Karl Rahner's understanding of tradition.

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