Latino Evangelicals Trending: A Closer Look and What’s Next?
Rev. Gabriel Salguero – Huffington Post
President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
By now many people have read Time magazine’s, “Latino Reformation,” a cover story on the growth of Latino Evangelicals in America. Elizabeth Dias chronicles the growth of Hispanic Evangelicals including both store-front congregations to Latino mega-churches. As a Hispanic Evangelical leader my question of course is, “Why are Latino evangelicals trending?” If PEW forum is right, the approximately 7.8 million Hispanic evangelicals are a force to be reckoned with both in local communities and national policy. Hispanic evangelicals, like featured mega-church pastor Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus, are making a difference in a myriad of ways. Moreover, hundreds of small churches impact their communities from establishing drug-rehab centers, to integrating immigrants, to advocating against human-trafficking and gun violence. Moreover, Latino Evangelicals have been at the forefront of much media attention particularly around immigration reform. To be clear, Catholicism is still the dominant group among Hispanics. Then, why are we trending? Simply put, because we’re growing and we are increasingly politically active.
Let’s just take a look at the last decade of coverage and interest. During the 2012 presidential elections, Latino evangelicals led prayers both at the DNC and RNC conventions. In addition, The Huffington Postfeatured a story of the seven most influential Latino faith leaders — five of them were evangelical (this includes a married couple). This year my wife and I had the privilege to lead prayers at the Presidential inaugural and the Easter Prayer Service. Rev. Luis Cortés of Esperanza led a prayer at the Congressional Presidential Breakfast. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez prayed at the RNC convention and the Rev. Noel Castellanos of CCDA served on the White House Faith Based Council. In addition, every sitting U.S. president has attended the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast since its inception. The Evangelical Immigration Table has leadership from every one of the major Hispanic Evangelical organizations in the country. In short, these voices are in high demand. Besides immigration reform, however, I suspect that another reason stands behind this demand. Many believe that despite Latinos voting 71 percent for Obama that Latino Evangelicals are still the quintessential swing vote. This may be true. While President Obama won the Latino Evangelical vote both in 2008 and 2012 it was by a much slimmer majority than the overall Latino vote. The political measurement is that Hispanic evangelicals are social conservatives and politically progressive. So, the full-court press is on. With this in mind I’m sharing some possible future foci while the Hispanic evangelicals’ national profile continues to rise.
First, our concern for those Jesus called the “least of these” should always be at the forefront of the policies and legislations we affirm. After immigration reform happens we should not forget the poor, the hungry, the child, the widow and the orphan. Latino evangelicals should always be vigilant for policies, at home and abroad, that disproportionately impact poor and hungry people. We should always remember that Matthew 25 teaches us that nations are judged by how they treat the most vulnerable. The temptation to be co-opted or commodified for political interests will be strong but our primary allegiance should always be to the Gospel. Our advocacy and education should always spring from a Gospel-commitment that engenders justice and mercy.
Second, we need to continue to broaden our leadership, particularly among women. While there are three major Latino evangelical organizations that get most of the attention — Esperanza, NHCLC and theNational Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) — we need more leaders, not less. The 7.8 million Hispanic evangelicals cannot and should not have a single voice that speaks for us all. Our strength comes from having multiple strong voices that raise our interests. When possible we should work together but there’s just too much work and too many issues for one leader, or even a handful, to address. This leadership ought to reflect the diversity of Latinidad and include voices from Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Latinas and Latinos are ethnically diverse. We are, among other things, Afro-Caribbeans, Asian-Latinos, black, brown and white. This diversity is not a weakness but a strength. In addition, Latino evangelicals desperately need to highlight more national female leadership. In the main-line churches voices like Bishop Minerva Carcaño have been underscored and scores of Latina evangelicals can make equally strong contributions. Recently, more attention has been give to people like Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Dr. Elizabeth Rios, and Rev. Jeanette Salguero. Still, more needs to be done.
Third, Latino evangelicals should not be pigeon-holed to certain “Hispanic” issues. After immigration reform we still have work to do. Immigration reform is not the only issue we are passionate about. We have much to say about environmentalism, human trafficking, issues of life, prison reform, educational equity, urban and rural development, arms trade, U.S. foreign aid and the list goes on. The media, government and NGOs would do well in not ghettoizing us to a one-issue constituency. We have so much more to offer.
The strength of Hispanic evangelical leadership is that it works both locally and nationally. We should never abandon our work in the local level with families, at-risk children, community-development programs, local missions, etc. Simultaneously, the rise of national and international advocacy organizations should continue. We need voices that advocate for the common good and better laws. It’s not either/or but both/and. The Latino evangelical churches should continue doing both pastoral and prophetic work as we continue to grow.