A Stand for Diversity

In this second issue on Hispanic American bible reading, undergrad Twila McAdams looks at potential shifts in empathy regarding LGBTQ persons by evangelicals after the 2016 Orlando shooting. Her piece has us wonder how firm social boundaries are in light of trauma. See other pieces in the series here.

A recent report from NBC news discussed the response of a New York neighborhood to the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub.[1] The shootings resulted in the deaths of 49 people. This neighborhood, in Queens, NY, has a sizable Hispanic population (nearly half) and offers many social opportunities for the LGBTQ community. These social opportunities include places such as bars, lounges, taverns, and churches. When hearing about the Orlando shootings, residents of this New York neighborhood decided to pay their respects and make a statement against hate crimes. By holding several marches to offer support and bring awareness to the oppressed LGBTQ community, many Hispanic New Yorkers found meaning and a sense of empowerment.[2]

James Earl Massey brings to light a concept he called the community-situated approach; this focuses heavily on a population’s social location. He explains that people largely interpret the Bible based off their own experiences and that specific people groups also recount their social histories in their own interpretations.[3] This is critical to take into consideration when looking at any culture or ethnicity and how groups interpret an event or topic of significance; social location can be applied to more than just the Bible. Christian Hispanic Americans in Queens, NY approach the Orlando shooting from their own social location, which uses their view of Jesus as a peaceful social activist bringing together diverse peoples, and their focus and strength in community bonds, especially in the church. By using these methods they come to the conclusion of reaching out and defending the oppressed LGBTQ community and taking a stand for LGBTQ rights and well-being.

An important part of Hispanic Americans’ social location is their view of Jesus in the Bible. Fernando Segovia explains that many Mexican Americans use a mestizaje theology, which looks at Jesus as a Galilean, with a specific focus on the Synoptic Gospels and what that means for today. Being a Galilean meant oppression and marginalization for being a mix of race or culture.[4] The Hispanic American population can relate to both of these. Unfortunately, oppression and marginalization are a part of life in America; differing cultures are pushed to assimilate to “White, American” norms and culture, and forsake or hide aspects of their culture that deviate from the American norm. The tug-of-war between Hispanic culture and American culture is a constant struggle for those who identify with both sides. Jesus is a very relatable character for Hispanic Americans.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith proposes a process he calls “scripturalizing,” in which people take sacred texts or scriptures and use and interpret them to assist in the transcendence of their problems.[5] In applying this scripturalizing technique to Hispanic Americans today, one sees how they look at the Bible, but specifically focused on the Synoptic Gospels and Jesus’s role in them. Viewing Jesus as a social activist and as a representation of the importance and God’s love for the lowly and oppressed creates a model for Hispanic Americans. To be Christ-like is to be meeting the needs of others and to be accepting of diversity and inclusion of all peoples; Jesus himself did these things and was a diverse human being. The Christian Hispanic Americans in Queens, NY, modeled Jesus Christ’s inclusion and love for all people by being friendly towards and supportive of an oppressed people group, the LGBTQ community. Being Christ-like through their own interpretation of scripture is how they transcended the social discomfort created by the Orlando shootings.

Another important aspect of Hispanic Americans’ social location is their community connections. Juan Martinez argues that Hispanic Protestants consider the church community a strong social connection that furthers the growth of their faith. He says, “They tend to understand their faith as linked to a concrete community of people. The local church is also the primary social network for many.”[6] Being a part of a church community not only keeps the conversation going about faith, but also presents modern-day challenges and makes possible discovering a new way to live life together, which all make the church community valuable and important. Reverend Fabian Arias, pastor of a local Lutheran church in Queens, NY, believes that God creates people with diverse sexual orientations on purpose, and they should express themselves as they are because that is what is most pleasing to God.[7] The pastor is the head of the church and helps bring together and foster the beliefs and doctrines the community upholds; the pastor is also largely responsible for teaching the church about the Bible and God.

That being said, Hispanics involved in any given church are going to trust in their pastor as the head to their invaluable community. The President of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Samuel Rodriguez, talks about the Hispanic population being responsive to a community that takes care of members’ needs; this bond often comes through practical means of helping others in the community.[8]

This is important in understanding that the Hispanic community finds the most meaning through kind helpfulness and creates deeper bonds when members’ needs of food, clothing, safety, friendship, etc. are met first.

Christian Hispanics also see the value of community through the words of Jesus when he said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[9] Being instructed to love one’s neighbor implies explicit worth of that relationship between the reader and his or her neighbor. Hispanic Americans’ high value of community leads them to offering support to those in their community and trying to live by what is socially acceptable according to the leaders and individuals in their church. In the case of the neighborhood in Queens, NY, this meant supporting their community members who were of the LGBTQ community to help meet their need for safety, and even furthering that support to the victims of the hate crime in Orlando, FL.

By interpreting and reacting to the Orlando hate crime, Hispanic Americans from Queens, NY, have added to the conversation and, in a sense, created new texts or new scripture through their response out of their social location. Michel de Certeau talks about bodies as blank pages, which are written upon by all sorts of texts and society’s invisible forces.[10] In using his metaphor, Hispanic Americans’ response in Queens, NY, was a way of moving past a longstanding socialization of heterosexuality being the norm and standing with the marginalized group because of their value of community and their striving to be Christ-like through loving and serving all people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Taking a look at Hispanic Americans’ social locations, how might they approach other controversial issues?
  2. How might White American’s social locations differ from a Hispanic American’s?
  3. How might different communities of Hispanic Americans differ on controversial topics? And why is this?

Footnotes:

[1] Arturo Conde, “This Latino-Heavy, And Gay Friendly, NYC Neighborhood Remembers Orlando,” (NBC News.  June 16, 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016) http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/latino-heavy-gay-friendly-nyc-neighborhood-remembers-orlando-n593651.

[2] American Anthropological Association, “Response to OMB Directive 15,” (September 1997, Accessed October 20, 2016), http://www.aaanet.org/gvt/ombdraft.htm.This post will use “Hispanic American” as a blanket term to encompass citizens of the U.S. who identify as Hispanic and/or Latino, while being aware that race and ethnicity are continuing complex dialogues. The American Anthropological Association points out that the U.S. Census uses Hispanic or not Hispanic as its only two ethnicity choices, which although limiting gives a blanket term that can be used to talk about the diverse group of people whom this post intends to focus on.

[3] James Earl Massey, introduction to The New interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) 150-151.

[4] Fernando F. Segovia. “Reading the Bible as Hispanic Americans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, (ed. Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 168-169.

[5] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, introduction to What is Scripture?: A Comparative Approach, ed. Wilfred C. Smith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 1-20.

[6] Juan Martínez,  “Varieties of Latino Pentecostals, and other Protestants, in Los Angeles,” USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, (August 15, 2012.  Accessed October 11th, 2016) https://crcc.usc.edu/report/the-latino-church-next/varieties-of-latino-pentecostals-and-other-protestants-in-los-angeles/.

[7] Arturo Conde, “NYC Neighborhood Remembers Orlando,” 2016.

[8] “The State of the Hispanic Evangelical Church,” YouTube video, 7:43, posted by “ERLC,” July 22, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3fDt2U-dic.

[9] HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible –Student Edition: Fully Revised & Updated, ed. Harold W. Attridge. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006, 22: 39.

[10] Michel de Certeau, “The Scriptural Economy,” in The Practice of Everyday Life. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 140-141.

rsz_newto-twila-editTwila McAdams is a Social Work major and Religious Studies minor at Elizabethtown College ’18.

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