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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Carlos Rene Padilla (CN 361 T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
. . . Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
. . . . Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription, made by Nathan Hollenbeck and Paul Ericksen, was completed in July 2000.
Collection 361, T3. Interview of C. Rene Padilla by Paul A. Ericksen on March 12, 1987.
ERICKSEN: I'd like to move on. How did you become involved in the Lausanne Congress [International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 15-25, 1974, involving approximately four thousand participants, observers, news media, and guests]?
PADILLA: I was invited to be one of the main speakers. I suppose that some of my friends who were on the committee suggested my name. There were people there like Paul [pauses]...(Paul what?) Paul Little and Samuel Escobar, who knew me, so they invited me to present a paper.
ERICKSEN: What kind of reactions did you get to the pre-distributed paper [Padilla chuckles] that you sent out?
PADILLA: All kinds of reactions: some very, very positive, some very, very negative. Some... some people said it was too intellectual, too high power for a meeting like that. Others said "Heresy! You're introducing works as a means of salvation!" Had all kinds of reactions. But, I guess, the exciting thing was when, during the Congress itself, I found that unwittingly I had been voicing something that an awful lot of Third World people wanted to say themselves. I was surprised at the number of Asians and Africans and Latin Americans who felt represented by what I said.
ERICKSEN: Where did the...the criticisms come from? Did they tend to be geographically...?
PADILLA: Very much so.
ERICKSEN: I was going to say confined, but [laughs]....
PADILLA: Very much so. The criticism came mainly from US people who felt attacked, I suppose mainly because of my own critique of American Christianity. In fact, some of them would not want to talk with me afterwards. They turned their face away from me. They were so mad. And sadly, I knew of people that were talking against me, really lying. I know of one case in which the person was saying that I was bitter against Americans because I married an American woman with whom I could not get along, and I was just reacting. That person didn't know me, didn't know anything about my family life. But a staff worker of the IFES...with the IFES heard him say that at a table. Very sad.
ERICKSEN: [pauses] How did...I don't know exactly what it was called, but the response to the [Lausanne] Covenant [a statement intended to define the necessity, responsibilities and goals
of spreading the gospel] develop? The alternative covenant or whatever it....
PADILLA: "A Call to Radical Discipleship," it was called. [sound of train in background] Well, there was quite a number of people at the Lausanne Congress who felt that the Lausanne Covenant did not go far enough, that when it came to relating the gospel to social issues, it was still trying to negotiate with people who felt that, "Well, the main task of the church is preaching the gospel." That congress was attended by quite a number of people who had already been thinking along the same lines that we had been thinking in Latin America. Some of them from the US, very few, but among them, John Howard Yoder, [Ron] Sider. Then there were people from England, who had become very socially aware, a few from Australia, and then a lot of people from the Third World. I can't remember the exact day, but it was a day when we were free to do whatever we wanted to, sort of a rest. I think it was a Sunday afternoon. People wanted to go to Geneva or Lucern or somewhere to do a bit of tourism, but three or four of us invited people to come to a meeting to discuss these issues of social justice and so on, and we were amazed at the response. We had a meeting with about five, six hundred people, even though it was improvised and called at the last minute. So that...that is where the response to Lausanne was thought of, and there a l...a small committee appointed there to write down what had come out of the discussion.
ERICKSEN: Who comprised the committee? Do you remember?
PADILLA: I'm afraid I don't. I had some input and I was not on the committee. I think, but I...I...I am not sure, I think Sider was included. I really can't remember exactly who all....
ERICKSEN: Where did this meeting happen in relation to your...your presentation of your remarks and Samuel Escobar's?
PADILLA: Well, it was around the themes that we had raised.
ERICKSEN: So you had already made your presentation.
PADILLA: Oh, yes, yes, yes. It was really that... that was the starting point, because we had brought up these issues publicly. But, you know, I very much feel that [chuckles] I suppose you could interpret this theologically and say that God had prepared the precise moment for this to take place and we were just there. [chuckles] I don't in any sense feel that it was anything we brought into the Congress. We were speaking the mind of many, many people.
ERICKSEN: Once the response had been written, what...what happened then?
PADILLA: There was a backlash immediately. People who reacted, as I say, even at the Congress itself. I felt the hostility of many Americans. Very much so. And afterwards, of course, many people were very critical of what we had said, and of the radical discipleship group, and of John Stott, who had given us his support, publicly. He had said, "I agree with the response to Lausanne, and I have signed the response." I feel that out of Lausanne came a serious reflection which is represented by a number of...of meetings, which were held afterwards.
ERICKSEN: Such as?
PADILLA: Such as Gospel and Culture [Consultation] in...in Willowbank [in the Bermuda in 1978], the discussion on the homogeneous unit principle at Fuller, the whole debate on the relationship between gospel and social responsibility, which culminated in the consultation held in Grand Rapids , and so on. I guess I feel that, at the same time, those who had a given position in Lausanne, who reacted against an attempt to think through contemporary issues from a Christian point of view and to see that the gospel has relevance to social issues, have not changed. They remain untouched. And so you have the same kind of thrust that they wanted to have at that time still there [chuckles], unmoved. [pauses] I guess the history of Evan...Evangelical debate after Lausanne shows precisely that. The way things were planned for the Thailand Consultation [Consultation on World Evangelization or COWE in Pattaya, Thailand, in 1980]: so tight and so organized that nothing could happen that had not been planned. But I still believe the Spirit has His surprises, and so what could not take place at the plenary sessions because it was impossible for anything to take place that had not been planned, took place in the little groups that met, and some of the results of that conference were very good, because they represented the work that came out of those groups.
ERICKSEN: For instance?
PADILLA: Oh, the...the group that worked on urban evangelism, evangelism among the poor, Marxism, the Christian witness to Marxists, and so on, in which the whole question of social justice and responsibility was taken up.
ERICKSEN: How has the [pauses]...how ha...I guess, the Lausanne movement as a whole responded to those surprises, for example at the Thailand [COWE in 1980] meeting?
PADILLA: No, the...the Lausanne movement, on the whole, because of the tremendous influence of people who would specialize in evangelism and in a certain type of evangelism which majors on numbers, has really remained unaffected [chuckles] by the emphases that some of us brought into discussion. But that is fine, I mean, you know, institutionally the movement may continue to have certain emphases, but the fact is that people at the grass roots level, especially in the Third World, are thinking otherwise. [chuckles] As I say, I really felt at Lausanne that I was speaking for quite a large segment of the church, and I had many, many, many people saying that to me: "You have said what I would have liked to say. I just haven't...haven't had the chance to." And I'm sure that there is all over the world this concern, not simply to be relevant [chuckles], but to be faithful to the gospel, to be able to take a stand in relation to injustice and exploitation and so on as a Christian, as an Evangelical Christian. Because it's not a question of importing an ideological package into the church. It's a question of being faithful to the gospel, which is the gospel of the kingdom. And the kingdom has to do with the totality of life [pauses] on the personal level and on a social level.
ERICKSEN: Have you found...I know that you're part of WEF's [World Evangelical Fellowship] Unit on Personal and Social Ethics. Is that what it's...or you were. Still are?
PADILLA: I am a member of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship, and also the [pauses] Evangelism and Social Responsibility Unit. I think it's Evangelism...Evangelism and Social Ethics Unit, which is the unit that has produced quite a number of books, such as the one on simple lifestyle development and so on.
ERICKSEN: Is there more openness on the WEF side, or...?
PADILLA: At least in the Theological Commission there is, yes. We have been able to discuss quite a number of these issues in the context of the Theological Commission of the WEF.
ERICKSEN: Well, we have to keep moving. I'd like to find out about a couple of the things that you've been involved in Buenos Aires. Could you talk about the Faith and Life group?
PADILLA: Well, I can hardly talk about that group without talking about my church in Buenos Aires. I...I am a pastor...a member of a pastoral team in a suburban Baptist church. About ten years ago that church was, I would say, a traditional Baptist church with a very limited concept of the mission of the church and of ministry. But things have changed radically. On the one hand there has been a lot of expository preaching. We have tried to teach the whole counsel of God, and we have done it also at the level of small group discussions and so on. But...but another factor that really made a tremendous difference to the life of our church was what I have referred to as an invasion of drug addicts about ten years ago. There must have been about twenty of them who came into the church. They were brought by one fellow who had been a drug addict but had met the Lord. He wanted his friends to hear the gospel and started inviting them. Well, that presence of the drug addicts forced us to think of the meaning of mission. It forced us to examine our priorities, our concept of the church. You know, it's a wonderful thing to discover that the church is for sinners, (that should be taken for granted, but it's not always taken for granted), to see how God can transform lives that are totally destroyed, to see that you cannot just preach [chuckles]. There's much more to it. You have to become concerned about the totality of life of the person, the person who is destroyed. What about the family? If the person recovers, what about work? Housing and so on. And that really transformed our church, our contact with that kind of people. It forced us to examine our basis, our priorities, our program. Well, out of that grew a number of ministries. The...the church started to see to it that we responded to needs in society which were there. So that group you mentioned, Faith and Life, is one of the expressions of concern for people. It's a ministry that has developed in a very poor area of Buenos Aires, San Fernando. Again, it started without our planning it. It was not a question of sitting down and saying, you know, "Now we're going to start work with the drug addicts and then we are going to move into work in the slum." Not at all. It was a response to challenges that came to us, first by one man who brought a lot of drug addicts who were his friends, looking for help. And then, a contact that one of the members of the church had with a teacher of music who was teaching music in a very poor school, an Evangelical school in that area of the city, San Fernando. And she said, "Well, we could...we could use some help. You could come and have some kind of Bible study or [pauses] stories, Bible stories for children on Saturdays." So, the young people said, "Fine, we'll do that," and started visiting that school every Saturday. But out of that grew a whole ministry. First, we appointed a teacher who had specialized in helping kids with problems at school, what you would call remedial teaching. She was appointed by the church and supported by the church for one year. And we also rented a little place where she could meet with kids every day for a couple of hours and help them with there homework and so on. But that brought us into contact with reality in that slum: people without work, mothers who had been left with their kids (left by their husbands, I mean), alcoholism, all the problems of the slum. Well, little and little we became more and more involved. Now there are two couples from our church living there and ministering to people. There's a day care center, which is really a means to serve and to make all kinds of contact with people there, especially with mothers. It's not much, what we've been able to do. They're just [chuckles] little steps. We have big dreams, but many limitations also. There we have put into practice what we believe, that is, there is no need to make a dichotomy between the proclamation of the gospel and social concern, social responsibility. I mean, there is no question there that the two things are totally fused, you know. We name the name of Jesus Christ as we serve, and we serving His name. And there are people who come to know Him, and there are people who don't, but are served still, who are helped. So, our own desire is to be a presence which is meaningful to people there. Everybody knows that we are Evangelical Christians, but it's not a requirement to be a believer before you receive some kind of help if there is the possibility of helping you. But that is our la...laboratory in some ways. And it has been thrilling to work there. I'm a member of the pastoral team in the church, but I'm closely connected to that ministry in the slum, and my wife and I go there every Sunday, sometimes during the week also...weekdays.
ERICKSEN: What kind of response do you get to this kind of ministry from other churches?
PADILLA: Well, generally speaking, the only churches that work in the slums are the Pentecostal churches. And usually their aim...their only aim is to get people converted. There's very little concept of service. Although sometimes they do get involved in questions that do have to do with poverty and so on. Some churches think that we are losing the battle, that we should be more concerned about church growth, meaning numerical church growth. But we are very thankful for what has happened in terms of changing the values of people in our church, middle class people, professional students, students...university students. [chuckles] Our church combines uneducated and educated, professional people and professio...people without no profession and no trade of any kind, maids, families who are healthy and single people who are torn apart, who come from a...the drug addict world, who have...who cooperated in the formation actually. I should say we started a ministry with drug addicts, a rehabilitation center that grew...that grew up, Program Andres. As time went on we saw that the ministry with drug addicts needed the cooperation of other churches also. It's too big a task for us. So it became an independent ministry which is still going on. Unfortunately in the last year or so it has become rather secularized. You know, we don't have only success stories [chuckles], but we thank God for the number of people who came out of the drug addict world, and are totally recuperated, and members of the church. We have families that have come from that background, and now we are starting another ministry with drug addicts with one of the ex-drug addicts, and there is a little commission formed by professionals who are seeking to help that ministry.
ERICKSEN: Well, I just have several questions to wrap things us. [pauses] What...what would you say you've learned in the course of your work that you wish you had known when you started?
PADILLA: One basic principle that has helped me and our church in general that I wish I had realized as a basic principle for Christian work right from the start is that every human need is an opportunity for service, every human need, be it physical, material, psychological, spiritual. These are doors that the Lord provides to enter into people's lives. We have learned that. I don't think I had a clear understanding of what that meant when I started. Then, also I guess in the last few years we have seen the tremendous importance of the church, the local church as such. I suspect that if I thought...I had thought of the church the way I think of it now, because of my experience with my own church, perhaps I would not have worked with a...an interdenominational parachurch movement. Perhaps. I don't know. I find that sometimes the relationship between paraecclesiastical movements and the local church is not that healthy, but I don't have an answer. I think it's necessary to have interdenominational efforts to accomplish things that cannot be accomplished by the local church.
ERICKSEN: Just injecting a question: You're currently on the staff LAM [Latin America Mission] still.
PADILLA: Well, what the LAM does is channel support for me. But I'm very thankful for the freedom I have been given. I'm on loan to the Latin American Theological Fraternity, but much of my responsibility has to do with the local church, and with the...the encouragement of theological reflection that is related to the church, because that is one thing that I have seen very clearly, that if the theological reflection is not vitally connected to the life of the church and its mission, it has no meaning. It has no reason for existing.
ERICKSEN: Last question. I'm curious to know what kind of questions North American theological students are asking you. You're teaching at Northern Baptist [Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb] right now. You visited here at Wheaton [College].
ERICKSEN: What kind of response are you getting to the things that you're saying?
PADILLA: It's not the first time I teach a course on mission in the US. So now I, more days, know what expect. At first, some of the students get very disgusted at me. They think that what I am saying is just too radical. I'm questioning the isolation of most white American churches from reality in the world. Many, many, many of the members of those churches seem to think that the world ends up in suburbia, and that everybody more or less has the same kind of ideals and life standards and lifestyles, and so on. And they seem to ignore the fact that a large majority of people really are not worrying...not worried about how to have three cars or four, how to have a bigger home, a more beautiful church sanctuary, and so on. They are much more concerned about day to day life, how to survive. [chuckles] And so I bring this question up...these questions up in class, and as I say, some of them react very negatively. I'm questioning middle class white church values and assumptions and ideals and lifestyle. And so, the reaction is negative. But then the question comes when they realize that, well, at least...at least some of the things I'm saying are true. [chuckles] Then the question is, "Well, what should we do? What can we do when this system seems so powerful and overwhelming, when the establishment seems to be [pauses] there, and there is no way to change anything." So the question is, "Well, what can we do? What can we do?" The assumption sometimes is made that a young minister either adapts to this system and becomes caught up in the upper mobility syndrome, or you become a [pauses] dropout, and there's no choice. I have seen things happen in our own situation. Perhaps the system is not as powerful in conditioning others, conditioning people, but there have been radical changes in values and in lifestyle. So I am hopeful and I speak out of my own experience, and encourage people to continue to be faithful, but to begin by examining their own lifestyle, their own assumptions, their way of doing theology. I mean, theology can be an ideological [pauses] formulation that helps you to continue to live the way everybody else lives, with the same type of assumptions. Or it can be something that really helps you to be more faithful to the gospel. And so what I'm trying to do is encourage students to do...to think theologically in order to be faithful to Jesus Christ, but also relevant to this society in which so many things are totally opposite.
ERICKSEN: Do you see any change in students doing that?
PADILLA: Yes, very much so. It's amazing how many of them after the course will write and tell me of steps they are taking. You see, I don't...I'm not an academician. I'm not interested in becoming a professor at an institution. I am a servant of the Lord who wants to see changes in the church and in the world. And I believe that the gospel provides enough dynamite to produce personal change and also social change. Change in communities, and change in churches and so on, in the direction of the kingdom. I'm not going to establish the kingdom of God on earth, but situations can be radically improved. [pauses] So....
ERICKSEN: Seems like a good place to end. Thank you very much.
PADILLA: [laughs] Thank you very much.
ERICKSEN: You're welcome and thank you for inviting me.
END OF TAPE