Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Dancing in Brazil

Written by: on April 4, 2013




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Dancing in Brazil

The year was 1989 and I was in a small church in rural Brazil – and was having the time of my life!  I had been brought up strict Southern Baptist, which meant I had never – not even once – danced.  But here in this rural area, the children, youth and adults were all engaged in something similar to a square dance.  I joined in!  It was so much fun, inhibited, exuberant and innocent. This was our “social imaginary” – the set of values, traditions, rules, and symbols common to a particular society or in this case, church group – the integration of theory and practice as the means of initiating and sustaining social change.

Later I found this to be the tradition after Sunday night services in many of the rural churches – until, a pastor from a large city in south Brazil, educated in a seminary run by Southern Baptist missionaries, arrived to pastor one of our large churches.  The integration of theory and practice as the means of initiating and sustaining social change had begun.

With his wisdom and learning, he also brought legalistic baggage imported from Baptist traditions in America, i.e., it’s a sin to dance.  Initially no one gave much credence to his tirades and messages.  But slowly, a form of what Charles Taylor in Modern Social Imaginaries describes as the “public sphere,” began encroaching on the simple beliefs of those small rural churches. 

(In Taylor’s book, he argues about an elusive set of criteria in which actually influences our behaviors because of common expectations within western modernity, rather than a “moral order” decreed to us from others, helping us to arrange our social orientation.  But in this case the “moral order,” influenced by the “public sphere,” began to exert its strength.)

Dancing, the common matter of interest began to be discussed face-to-face.  Then it was an article in a newsletter and others began using other media forms to place the debate within common spaces, or, the public sphere.  As Taylor says, after an idea is utilized within the public sphere, a common mind emerges.  In our scenario, it was the general assembly held each year in which the pastors of the state gathered together.  Enough doubt had been cast on the activity that it became taboo.  For me it was sad to see how a specific idea, thrust onto people, could result in a change from an innocent activity to an evil form of sin.

In this case, order, or as Taylor says “our pursuits of our life plans must harmonize” didn’t happen.  True harmony he writes can only come when “my love of myself coincides with my desire to fulfill the legitimate goals of my co-agents” or others on this road of faith.  I feel that my friend from the urban south failed to understand this concept.

The moral order of mutual benefit, once seen as “God-created” had vanished in arrogant legalism.  How many times does religion seem to use the public-sphere for selfish advantage and forget the inference of its moral mutual benefit for harmony? 

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