Tag Archives: hispanic

Still Evangelical?

I am the son of two immigrants, my father was Polish and my mother is Guatemalan. I grew up in small Latino churches. I am evangelical. I was on staff at an evangelical megachurch. I am a PhD student at a historically significant evangelical institution. I am also a registered Republican.  It should go without saying that the entire Trump “event,” from his nomination to his presidency today, has been rather complicated for me.

This is not least because so much of what his presidency has brought to light, both in America and the American church, embodies values which are so contrary to me as an evangelical Christian formed by non-Western influences. So, when I saw various 4537evangelicals, like Mark Labberton, wondered aloud whether the term “Evangelical” is still useful or whether the tribe that identifies with that will be left intact I had mixed feelings: “evangelical” is what I am, yet the term has become tainted. Some of these mixed feelings are very well articulated by numerous authors in Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning. There is a lot I resonate with in this book.

Robert Chao Romero, in his essay, “Immigration and the Latina/o Community” describes the experiences of Latino/a Christians in the US in light of the “Latino Threat Narrative.” Basically, this is the idea that Latinos are unwilling to integrate into “American” culture and that they are bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs. Because many have imbibed this false narrative, many evangelicals voted for a president who espouses this same view. Many Latino evangelicals were left confused as to why their Christian brothers and sisters would think so poorly of them and put nation before Kingdom. [This, I should note, is not a universal experience, I know from conversations that numerous Latino evangelicals were ardent Trump supporters.]

Jim Daly, who leads one of the most significant evangelical organizations, Focus on the Family, writes about the importance of “listening” in this period. He embodies a more conciliatory approach: “Rather than assuming what ‘those people’ are like, we should get to know them.” (180) This practice of listening goes both ways. Evangelicals who can’t fathom why other evangelicals would support Trump inspired political movements and evangelicals who think that those who refused to fall in line with American Evangelicalism both need to speak to and listen to one another. In an age of “yelling” through social media, this call to be slow speak and quick to listen almost seems biblical…

Despite the inclusion of numerous well written chapters, the one that resonated the most with me was InterVarsity President Tom Lin’s chapter. He makes the fantastic point:

Any evaluation of the world evangelical or evangelicalism must be done in the context of the global church. The decision of some American evangelicals to abandon the term is insensitive to our overseas sisters and brothers; it reflects the worst impulses of American exceptionalism and self-absorption. (186)

In my opinion, this global perspective changes everything. I grew up in such a way that my self-understanding of what it means to be an evangelical was more shaped by my Latino and European influences than by institutional Anglo-American evangelicalism. [I didn’t start attending an Anglo-American church until I was 19 years old.] To be an Evangelico was never tied to political parties – it was always tied to evangelical faith and practice. It meant we read and took the Bible seriously, we shared the gospel, we believed in salvation by faith through grace alone, and we believed in the importance of being born again. None of this was tied to a particular political party. Sure, some people in our church were democrats and some were republicans, but that was not what defined you as a “good” or “bad” Christian. Yet, it seems, that in circles just outside the ones I grew up in as a Latino evangelical, one’s political affiliation did define whether one was a “good” or “bad” Christian. Because of my social context, that word, “Evangelical” didn’t carry the same meaning as it does for many of my other Christian brothers and sisters. To me, Evangelical, was never a sociological moniker, it was a theological identity. All this to say, I understand why some evangelicals want to abandon the term, but I simply can’t. To be an evangelical, at least from a Latino perspective, just means that I am a Christ follower. And that is an identification I would never want to abandon.

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Welcome To Shelbyville – A “Political” Review

Welcome to Shelbyville is a documentary recounting the story of the town of Shelbyville, Tennessee during the 2008 presidential election; it recounts the reactions to his election by various different groups: Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Somali Refugees. In addition to this, it also recounts the various groups’ reactions to a new group of Somali refugees. Through this film, we are presented with a microcosm of America; America is rapidly changing, it must figure out how it will react to the religious and cultural changes that are on the horizon. In this brief paper I will highlight some of the cultural differences between the groups and examine how their responses to each other might lead to the various groups becoming more culturally aware.

Welcome to Shelbyville

All four groups represent very different cultural values which are manifested in their views on politics, economics, and religion. In examining the Anglo-Americans values on politics we see that they desire to keep things the way they are. They feel threatened by change. Thus they display an aversion to risk. At one point some Anglo members of the local Rotary club say that “Shelbyville is not Mayberry anymore,” meaning that it is no longer the ideal picture of America that they are used to. This attitude towards political change is illustrated during the election of Barack Obama. At one point, a Presbyterian Pastor says that “the election is historic but troubling…the nation we know and love is changing.” The African American and Hispanic views of politics however is quite different. They see the change as hopeful. Having seen discrimination against minorities they see this new government as possibly bringing about change. In this election alone we see that the Anglos of Shelbyville have a strong uncertainty avoidance. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups views about economics. The Hispanics and Somalis are willing to work difficult, menial jobs in order to provide for their families. In fact, the Hispanic person Miguel Gonzalez is very proud to work for General Motors. He sees the value of hard work. The Anglos in the film however are best characterized by what the ESL teacher says about them, she says that some people wouldn’t work there (Tyson or General Motors) even if they paid them. This is an interesting observation, because at one point we see an Anglo couple complaining about how the immigrants have taken their jobs, however jobs are available, its just that the jobs that are available aren’t the ones the Anglos want. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups’ religious practices. Although we don’t exactly see their spirituality, we are given a view into how their political views impact their church services. Both the Anglo Presbyterians and the African Americans bring in their political views into their sermons. The Hispanics do not even mention their faith. The Somalis seem to be deeply impacted by their faith. We are told that they pray during designated prayer times, even if they are not at their mosque. We also see that their religious leader acts as a leader in the community, thus their religious life intersects with their daily lives, however they do not refer to politics in their meetings. Finally, the Anglo Baptists are also shaped by their religious views. They too do not allow their politics to intersect with their religious practices, but they do allow it to affect their social life. This is displayed in their decision to have a church put on community outreach for the Somalis.

In addition to the differences between these groups that are seen in their politics, economics, and religion we also see differences in their reaction to the Somali refugees. The Anglo Americans have the most hostile reaction to them. For instance, the former Mayor says that the Somali’s “have diseases,” the “Muslims are here to kill us,” the “Somalis don’t like us.” On one radio show we hear an Anglo complain about being forced to comply with the Somali culture. Another Anglo says that “they are more aggressive,” he complains that they try to bargain and haggle at the store, he sees them as being rough and impolite. These attitudes are only one type of reaction typical of the Anglos. The Presbyterian pastor Stephen Caine, displays a more mild manner aversion to them. He points out that the Anglos are now the minority, and their ways are being threatened but he also realizes that if the churches are going to survive then need to learn to adapt. The African Americans take a more neutral stance towards the Somalis. They find them strange, they have strange food and wear strange clothing. One man at a barbershop complains that he can’t communicate with them. He doesn’t see them as a problem, however he finds that situations get awkward when the Somalis are around. The Hispanics display the most positive attitude towards the Somalis. The ESL teacher that is helping them become culturally oriented is Hispanic. The same ESL teacher also helps them address the problems they face with the news reporter, Brian Mosley. In addition to this it is also the Hispanic community that initiates the “welcoming initiative.” Being immigrants themselves they understand the problems the Somalis face. The greatest difference between the groups lies in their reaction to the Somalis. The anglos react negatively, whereas the Hispanics and African Americans take a more positive stance towards them. The African Americans are in favor of reaching out to them, but they are not willing to take an active role in doing so. The Hispanics lead the charge in this area.

Welcome to Shelbyville Somali

The differences between the reactions towards the Somali’s are rooted in struggles for power. The Anglos are losing power. They are becoming a minority, they are “losing jobs,” and they are being forced to change the ways of life that they were accustomed to living. The African Americans are also being forced to change, but since they do not possess as much power as the Anglo’s they do not feel as threatened thus they are not as averse to the changes that are required of them. Finally, the Hispanics, which possess the least amount of power in Shelbyville, are the ones who have the least conflict with the Somalis. This is likely because they are in a similar position as them. Both are relatively new to Shelbyville and the Southern States. Both work “menial” jobs and both struggle with the language. Thus their similarities bring them together.

Another reason for cultural conflict lies in what the groups believe that America should be like. The Anglos believe that it should stay the way it is, the other groups are open to change and are even hopeful that it will happen. This is seen in their responses to Barack Obama’s election. The Presbyterian church finds the election historic but troubling. The African American church sees hope in Obama’s election. They believe it will bring financial, physical, and spiritual well being to the country. The Hispanics believe it displays what they love most about this country, namely that anyone can make it if they work hard enough. The Somalis have little to no reaction to the election.

Different conceptions of what America should be like are also seen in how the groups respond to the cultural differences in the Somalis. The some want them to leave, others want them to conform to their ways, and some are willing to assimilate them as long as they leave behind their cultural values and adopt American values. The African Americans play a small role in welcoming the Somalis helping the become acculturated. They are willing to help them feel welcome, but they do not take an initiating role in welcoming them. This fact is seen in the scene involving the meal between the various groups. The African American ladies are friendly towards the Somali’s, they even try to understand what Somalia is like, however they display cultural insensitivity when it comes to their style of dress and the topic of terrorism. It is the Hispanics that initiate the most beneficial cross-cultural initiatives. By teaching the ESL class, organizing the meeting with the Newspaper, and initiating the meal between the Somalis, African Americans, and Hispanics all groups begin to move towards being culturally aware people. These initiatives are helpful because they help break down language barriers and help remove misconceptions that exist between the groups. Both of these tasks, the breaking down of language barriers and the correction of misconceptions help the groups identify with each other. As the groups begin to identify with one another they learn that they have nothing to fear when it comes to the changes that are happening around them.