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How Colombia’s Evangelists undermined the peace referendum

Government underestimated power of group in run-up to vote on peace accords with FARC

A peace march in the city of Medellin.
A peace march in the city of Medellin. EFE

On September 28, four days before Colombia held a referendum on the peace accords recently signed by the government with the leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) soccer player Daniel Torres, a member of one of the country’s powerful Evangelist churches, posted a video on Facebook that soon went viral in which he outlined his opposition to the accords, concluding: “Only Jesus Christ can bring the peace we so desperately want.”

The following Sunday, a tiny majority of the less than 40% of Colombians who bothered to vote in the referendum rejected the peace deal. It appears President Juan Manuel Santos had miscalculated in calling the referendum, and his campaign had certainly failed to convince many of the country’s 10 million Evangelists (out of a population of 48 million) that the accords with the FARC, aimed at ending 52 years of conflict and that took four years to reach, did not “endanger the traditional family.”

Evangelist leaders are outlining their concerns regarding education and the family 

Santos was already very unpopular with Colombia’s fundamentalist Christian groups, which have vehemently opposed legislation liberalizing abortion rights and permitting same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In recent weeks, Colombia’s media has noted that Gina Parody, who led the government’s Yes campaign in the run up to the referendum, stepped down as education minister following the defeat. Parody, a lesbian, has faced a sustained campaign against from right-wing groups over her sexual orientation.

The former minister had been in the eye of the hurricane in the months before the referendum after ultra-conservative Christians accused her of seeking the “gay colonization” of Colombia’s youth when issuing a teacher’s manual on how to deal with gender-related bullying.

The same group of ultra-conservatives used her sexual orientation to discredit the FARC deal.

The peace agreement Parody was promoting sought gender-specific care for victims of sexual violence, but ended up being explained to concerned Christians as a “gender ideology” that sought to promote sexual diversity.

Santos was already unpopular with Colombia’s fundamentalist Christians

“The agreement breaches Evangelical principles such as the family when it talks about balancing the values of women with these groups,” says Edgar Castaño, president of the Evangelical Confederation of Colombia.

“They have their rights, but they can’t take priority of everybody else’s,” says Héctor Pardo, an advisor to Colombia’s Evangelical Council.

The government worked hard throughout the campaign to try to convince the country’s Evangelists that the peace accords were not a threat to their way of life, but failed. Two days after the referendum result was in, the leaders of Colombia’s Evangelist churches met with Santos.

An evangelist meeting in Colombia. pulsa en la foto
An evangelist meeting in Colombia.

“They want clarity. We are going to remove everything from the accords that threatens the family, that threatens the church and we are going to find the sentence, the words that will not instill fear into believers,” said President Santos after meeting with religious leaders. “He told us he believes in the family,” said Castaño.

In the meantime, Evangelist leaders are busy preparing a document outlining their concerns regarding education and the family that they intend to present to the government on October 20. “We hope that the proposals reach the table in Havana [where the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC have been taking place] and that we have a representative there,” says Pardo.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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