Over the past few months, I have simply tried to listen.
I have come to understand that one of the greatest ways we have failed one another in the church and on the road to racial reconciliation is that we, non-Black people, do not always listen well. As a Hispanic woman, I have had my own experiences of marginalization and discrimination, and although struggles find their intersections with one another, there is a place for me to listen to my Black sisters and brothers. I have much to learn from them, because our experiences are not the same in this world.
I am naturally an external processor and my natural inclination is often to listen so that I can reply. When we can take the time to listen because we desire to understand someone else’s experiences and perspectives, rather than needing to always offer our input, then we can begin moving forward towards racial reconciliation. This allows those of us in privileged positions of society to understand that we will eventually need to come to a place of confession and repentance from racial injustice.
When we listen well, and in humility because we want to understand and enter into someone else’s pain, then it can lead us into prayerfully asking Jesus what are the necessary questions that we need to dialogue about within our own community.
The troubling fact here is that within the Latino church many of us seem to be terribly unaware of how the past few months of heightened racial tensions in our country are connected to our faith in Jesus, to our own ethnic identity and experiences as also being minorities here. Many of us seem to have no idea that racial reconciliation is an important part of our discipleship and that it is deeply close to the heart of the God we worship.
However, perhaps many of us are troubled, but we feel we have no space to respond in our churches. Space has not been made to ask tough questions and to feel anger. I know there are Latino Christians who have mourned over the Ferguson decision and over the countless unjust murders of unarmed Black men.
Where are our voices, though? Where is our Latino leadership in the church, calling us to repent from the racism many Latinos have allowed to be embedded deep within us?
Why do Latinos outside of the church seem more concerned with racial injustice and police brutality than Latinos within the church? I am glad that there are Latinos who are troubled by this, either way, who are courageous enough to engage in this tension. It does not make sense, though, when Christians are the ones called to be set apart in this world.
When we stay silent, apathetic and oblivious to injustices being committed over and over again to our Black sisters and brothers, what are we saying to the world about Jesus, whom we claim to follow?
The reason many of us are not responding is because there are not leaders challenging us to respond. The leader we ultimately need to look to first is Jesus. Mi gente (my people), I want to give us a challenge to respond and submit to Jesus in this area of our lives, just as we would with our sexuality, our money, our career and family decisions.
There are several ways that can be helpful to us in responding to racial injustice:
1. Explore what Scripture has to say about racial injustice. There are countless examples in the Bible of God’s concerns for people part of ethnically marginalized groups in society. Check out Exodus for the story of how God called Moses to be part of responding to his concern for the injustice Israelites were facing. John 4 tells the powerful story of Jesus’s decision to engage in conversation with a “half-breed” Samaritan woman who faced oppression both because of her mixed race status and her gender, yet He chose her to be the one to bring the message of salvation to her people.
2. Explore your own ethnic identity as a Latino/a and how ethnicity connects to our faith. This is a loaded statement. This is a journey. It is one well worth taking. Reflect on questions such as “What does it mean to be Latino/a?” “What has my experience been as a Latino/a in the US?” and “How do I see and experience Jesus through my Latino culture?” The more we begin to understand who we are as Latinos and the depth of our experiences here in the US, the more we will be able to understand God’s purposes in creating Latinos. A book that has been very helpful to me in this journey is Being Latino in Christ: Finding Wholeness in Your Ethnic Identity by Orlando Crespo (InterVarsity Press, 2003).
3. Explore our own struggle. The Latino experience is unique. We are a blend of indigenous, Spaniard and African roots. Some of us have more, some have all three, some of us two. Some of us do not want to admit we have parts of these blends in our heritage because of deeply rooted racism that we have been taught and accepted. Being Latino is beautiful and I believe that even though we have a painful history as a people, God is bigger than the sins of our past and He can somehow redeem it all. That sounds too simple for something so complex and there is much more that needs to be said about this than the space provided here. However, the more we understand of our own history, of how we have both the oppressed and the oppressor in us, the more we can understand our voice in this journey towards racial reconciliation. Many of us know what discrimination and exclusion feel like firsthand because of being foreigners in a new land. Many of us have experienced racism because of having dark skin. Many of us have been the ones to be racist towards other Latinos darker than us. Ask God where you need to repent and confess. Find other Latinos to talk with about the struggle. All of this needs to be said because it is the only way we can move forward.
Mi gente, I urge you, respond. Pray. Search. What is Jesus saying to you as a Latino Christian today in regard to the road towards racial reconciliation?