The Gospel and Social Justice in Brazil: An Interview with Mauricio Cunha
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Brazil with LifeWay Research. We are partnering with Cidade Viva to conduct some research for Transformational Church Brazil. You can read more about our entire trip to Brazil here.
One of the highlights for me was interviewing Mauricio Cunha, leader of the Brazilian Ministry, CADI. CADI, which when translated means Center of Integrated Assistance and Development, seeks to serve poor communities in Brazil in different areas of society. I especially appreciated the way they maintain an emphasis both on sharing the Gospel and addressing practical social justice concerns. In fact, LifeWay Research has some new research coming soon on social justice. Here are some excerpts from my time with Mauricio.
Mauricio, give us some background on yourself. How did you get to be the Executive Director of CADI?
When I completed my university schooling in Brazil, I had degrees in Agricultural Engineering and Business Administration. I later added a Masters in Social Anthropology. I felt a clear call by God, however, to enter the mission field.
I completed a course called Community Development, through Mercy Ship's classes, expecting that it would discuss practical issues and tools like building latrines to serve poor communities. I had the desire to serve the poor communities of Brazil, as I could not stand to see poverty in this country with such a strong church doing almost nothing about it. This course, however, focused more on establishing a strong, biblical foundation for this call. It was the first time that I had heard about the importance of a worldview, and specifically, a Christian worldview.
At the end of this season, I knew that I wanted to be this kind of missionary: a missionary that not only saves souls for heaven, but a missionary that changes lives on earth. That's when I decided to come back to Brazil and start a ministry in a poor community outside of my city.
So, that's when you started CADI. Can you give us a better picture of the purpose of CADI?
CADI exists to serve poor communities in Brazil through seven different community centers in the country. Areas on which we focus include education, health, professional courses, arts, and sports. In addition, we also plant churches and have partnerships with local churches to carry out the same mission.
I noticed as you listed those various areas of society, that you are very Kuyperian in your focus. It might surprise people that there is a Kuyperian, Calvinist influence here in Brazil. Can you talk to us about the influence of Kuyper on what you're doing here?
It's interesting because we first decided to serve the communities of Brazil as a response of the love of God towards the people. As we became more established, however, we found that we needed to have a theory behind our mission. We went to the Bible, of course, but also looked for other scholarly offerings about social reformation.
It was wonderful for us to discover Kuyper's writings. It emphasized that Christianity is a complete, total system of faith and thought. It's more than a personal experience, but it's also a base for fortifications of nations and transformation of societies.
I remember when we visited our friend's home, Pastor Sergio Queiroz, you had a PowerPoint presentation of your ministry and included one of the most famous Kuyper quotes of all time, although you changed the wording to say "centimeter" instead of "inch." I guess the rest of the world just doesn't get that "inches" thing, huh?
Ha! Inches are long gone here. The meaning behind the quote is not lost in translation, however. "There is not a square inch [or centimeter] in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
We learned that we should apply Biblical truth in these different areas of society at the community level. We learned that it's much deeper than just using external needs as a platform for proclaiming salvation. It's about practically asking, "What does it mean to be a Christian and demonstrate God's love in the field of education or politics or the arts?" Kuyper and other Reformed authors provide us with answers to these questions and the Biblical and theoretical foundation behind them.
People in America are discovering Kuyper more and more. That quote in particular is a wonderfully powerful quote. There seems to be this tendency in America, however, to view proclaiming the Gospel and doing deeds of social justice as mutually exclusive. In Brazil, this seems to be a more natural outflow of the Brazilian church. Why do you think Brazil is more naturally able to hold both of these tensions: sharing the love of Christ and showing the love of Christ?
The dichotomy exists here, too, but there's a new generation of believers that understand that a biblical faith is holistic. This dualism is something that's in our minds—it's not Biblical.
If it's at all easier here, maybe it's because it's so much easier to see such abject poverty. You see violence everywhere you go. I cannot go to a favela [a slum] and just say, "God loves you!" and then go back to my house. I have to provide ways for this person to eat, to find a job, to fight against the violence that surrounds them, and to think about the structural problems of society that put these people in that condition.
Yeah, it certainly is tricky. It's more than just loving God and telling our neighbors about Jesus. We actually have to get involved in politics and the arts and education. This makes a lot of Christians nervous, because historically speaking, when we've done this, we've lost the Gospel message. What would you say to a Christian of any nationality who thinks it's better to just preach the Gospel and not worry about those things?
I would point them to the example of Jesus. I don't think God speaks to souls. He speaks to people, real people in their various contexts. I think God is interested in all aspects of life that He's created. If we believe God is the creator of every aspect of life, then we need to apply God's revelation to all areas of society and creation.
I don't see the fall only affecting our human souls. It's clear in the Bible that it affected all of creation. If we believe that the fall has affected everything and everyone, then we also need to see that redemption is also applicable to everything.
This leads to the idea about eschatology. We're talking about engaging spheres of society and some Christians would say it's because you're trying to usher in the Kingdom of God. What would you say to people who have a different view of the millennium than Kuyper and yourself, and believe that therefore, they don't need to do this?
Well, I think Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom of God is for now, but not yet. So, even though the complete manifestation of the kingdom is yet to come at the end of all things, our responsibility as Christians is to be a sign of this kingdom right now. I see that, for example, in Luke 19. The disciples were waiting for the Kingdom to be manifested when they got to Jerusalem, and it was in this mindset that Jesus told the Parable of the Minas. Jesus presents a message to occupy until He comes.
That's good. How can people learn more about your ministry and support you?
Our website presently is in Portuguese, but we should have an English part soon. We receive donations from individuals and companies that would like to not only help the poor in Brazil, but also multiply our vision throughout the country. What's more, we'd love to expand the ministry to other countries, such as Angola and Mozambique. So, if people are interested in being a part of that, they can contact us through our website.
Sounds great. Thanks a lot, Mauricio.