Dollars, doctrine and division inflict more damage on churches than Sandinistas
The division of the Nicaraguan leadership is, in part, a phenomenon imported from the United States.
The principal cause, in my opinion, is the increasing presence of North American churches in the country by means of economic support — specifically in preachers’ salaries. The divisive and divided leaders receive their salaries from churches in the United States.
During the Sandinistas’ reign, donations from U.S. churches were almost zero. The few preachers who received support would share their salaries with other co-laborers as a gesture of admirable solidarity.
But the circumstances and the attitudes have changed. When the Sandinistas lost power, the country opened up to all kinds of organizations in the United States, including churches, offering economic support.
Together with their dollars, the Anglo churches have sent us their historical divisions — old and new — and numerous conflicts and accusations about the control of donations. As a result of all of this, factions of preachers have been formed in Nicaragua in favor or against various doctrinal positions. Churches in the United States reward those who adhere to their beliefs and punish those that differ by denying them funds.
These factions of preachers have organized themselves in a para-church, pyramid-type structure in which decisions are made at the top and handed down to the churches and preachers that are grouped under each faction’s “umbrella.” The pyramid heads receive the donations and decide how — and to whom — to distribute them.
In reality a great majority of the Nicaraguan preachers are not familiar with, nor do they understand, the historical and theological foundation that has caused the divisions of the Churches of Christ in the United States. Many of them did not even go to elementary school.
Profound poverty and unemployment in the country makes these Christians look for a solution to their economic problems. They find these solutions in U.S. churches offering money — along with their respective party-line commitments.
The salaries that the North American churches offer vary from about $300 to $500 per month in most cases. The oldest leaders with the greatest “influence” receive higher salaries. With good connections in the United States, one can receive up to $1,000 a month. But in order to keep their salaries these preachers must defend the doctrinal positions of the supporters and attack those who think differently.
The doctrinal differences vary widely. Some U.S. churches disagree on the baptism of those who have been divorced and want their Nicaraguan missionaries to follow suit. Others oppose church institutions and insist that their Nicaraguan preachers do likewise. Still others argue about the way grape juice should be used during the Lord’s Supper.
Most recently, churches in the U.S. have tried to convince Nicaraguan ministers to adopt their position on the “new hermeneutic.” Everyone seems to have a different opinion on this subject, but no one seems able to explain it with any real precision. Most of the Nicaraguan ministers know only what some North Americans have said — it is very bad and should be attacked.
Brethren in the United States, please allow the leaders of the Nicaraguan churches to resolve their differences in their own cultural context.
Stop exporting your quarrels. Stop putting conditions on your support based on the acceptance of your personal points of view.
Understand that — with very few exceptions — many of the preachers you support only repeat what you want to hear to save their salaries. If one of these men loses his salary and does not find another Church of Christ to support him, it is very likely that he will look for support elsewhere. This has already happened in Nicaragua. This is why there are divisions.
I am convinced that the doctrinal questions are not at the root of the divisions of the Nicaraguan leadership. Instead, the problems are rooted in economic interests and the desire of many church leaders to wield influence on a national level. Many U.S. churches promote this behavior by seeking out Nicaraguan ministers with what they see as the greatest influence to carry out their programs and espouse their views.
If you cannot stop requiring that local preachers reproduce your doctrinal theories, then consider the possibility of completely dropping the salaries that you send to Nicaragua.
Maybe this will help to reestablish the unity of church leaders that I once knew and participated in. Maybe this will help the church to once again flourish in this part of the world.
PABLO SANABRIA grew up in Nicaragua and attended graduate school in the United States. He lives in Managua, Nicaragua, where he works for the newspaper La Prensa. He also helps support a small congregation. Jonathan Hanegan assisted in translating this piece, originally written in Spanish.
Oct. 1, 2006