Colombia’s Next President Could Be an Evangelical Woman

Viviane Morales explains why truth and repentance will heal the scarred South American nation more than prison sentences for FARC rebels.

Morales’s second Senate term ended in January when she resigned to switch parties and run for the nation’s presidency. She and her husband Carlos Alonso Lucio, a former guerrilla who became a senator and converted to Christianity, have spearheaded a national campaign to allow only couples in traditional marriages to adopt children.

 

Why does Viviane Morales want to lead one of South America’s most troubled countries?

It’s more than the chance to become the first female president of Colombia. She began her three-decade political career fighting for more rights for Protestants in the Catholic-dominated society. After serving as attorney general and a senator, the 55-year-old now believes the time is ripe for evangelical leaders with family values to help heal society’s struggles throughout Latin America.

The mountainous Andean nation’s next leader will inherit a deeply scarred society with wounds still festering. In 2016, the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) signed peace accords in Havana, Cuba, ending the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running conflict that over a half-century killed 220,000, displaced 6 million, and “forcibly disappeared” tens of thousands. While FARC guerrillas have formally demobilized, their remnants—along with criminal gangs and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas—continue to kidnap and terrorize. Narco-trafficking and illicit crop cultivation have spiked. Poverty and corruption remain endemic. And most recently, desperate Venezuelans fleeing economic and political crises are pouring over Colombia’s eastern border to find food and work.

Morales’s second Senate term ended in January when she resigned to switch parties and run for the nation’s presidency. She and her husband Carlos Alonso Lucio, a former guerrilla who became a senator and converted to Christianity, have spearheaded a national campaign to allow only couples in traditional marriages to adopt children.

After watching most Colombian Christians vote against the FARC peace deal, Morales believes the Colombian Protestant church needs to shift its focus from criminal justice to its real expertise: forgiveness and reconciliation. In February, journalist Deann Alford spoke with Morales in her Bogota campaign office. [This interview has been translated from Spanish.]

What’s been your defining moment in public life?

My political involvement began 30 years ago with evangelicals’ first-time participation in politics: the 1991 assembly to revise the constitution. Colombia didn’t have absolute religious freedom, nor respect for the rights of those of us outside the Roman Catholic majority. I defended and succeeded in getting Congress to pass the religious freedom law. Now after almost 16 years as a representative, senator, and as attorney general, the time has come in my political life where I believe it’s important to present myself as a Christian.

If elected, what will be the role of your faith in making decisions?

As citizens, we evangelical Christians have every right to discuss societal values. The courts have let the [secular] minority impose its will, depriving the majority of its right to decide. We presented 2.3 million signatures regarding the adoption of children only by couples composed of one man and one woman to put the issue to popular vote. But Congress did not approve the measure.

Families took to the streets protesting when even the peace treaty plebiscite included gender theory in public education. This awakened many to defend their values, which startled politicians. Our constitution addresses values and principles. We’re taking action under the rule of law, not trying to end the secular state or stake out religious turf.

Of the woes besetting Colombia, what is most pressing?

Colombia is almost in chaos, in a moral state of emergency, and needs to get its values in order. Justice and authority are beset with major corruption. Last year, scandals involved three Supreme Court justices convicted of bribery. Corruption is woven into the political ruling class between the president, Congress, and high courts. Deep reform is needed. It’s not a matter of a lack of legislation to enforce laws that are already on the books.

I have never operated like the other politicians in this country. Moral leadership is essential. When I became attorney general, people said, “You have so many corruption cases. You won’t be able to touch all these important people involved in them.” In one year, those involved in these cases were jailed.

Many Colombian communities are orphaned, lacking institutional authority—even without judges. Some lack prosecutors. We need new ways to drive economic growth. Colombia has great potential in its rural areas, in agriculture, in tourism, which must be developed. Resources are needed, but Colombia is in a troublesome economic downturn.

In 2015, a Colombian prosecutor charged US missionary Russell Martin Stendal with being a guerrilla leader, basing the case on statements by jailed criminals. The case dragged on until September 2017, when a judge threw it out.

Colombian law establishes that evidential elements must be brought before the judge. Because of weak criminal investigations, here it’s easier to bring people to testify, saying anything, even absent conclusive evidence. The corrupt justice system functions in the prosecutor’s office, buying false witnesses to move cases forward, ruining people in these cases. This is part of what, fortunately, has been exposed. Criminal investigation must be strengthened.

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