Will (white) evangelicals veer left? Who cares?

There has been continued interest in the political behavior of evangelicals over the past few weeks. This discussion assumes that everyone who carries that mantle is white, and conservative, and that they read blogs about themselves, you would not know that there are any other demographic groups that comprise American evangelicalism other than whites if you cared to read the prognostications–and increasingly–I don’t care. Simultaneously, a discussion on the politics of Latino/a evangelicals and Pentecostals seems to have drawn some interest on the internet. Two things are off base about these two discussions. First, the discussion, held at the blog called Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/the-new-evangelicals/,  about whether white evangelicals are marching towards liberalism–has, (aside from a brief comment I left on the blog, sorry I just had to say something!),  failed to discuss the fact that evangelicalism in U.S. is multicultural–therefore to discuss what is up with white evangelicals, as if it is the dominant discussion that we all ought to be having is just strange. One of the things I do, as a matter of record as an academic and as one of a small number of Latina Pentecostal scholars of religion in the academy is I try not to engage those conversations because I refuse to keep the narrative of evangelical meaning white alive–it is time for that narrative to die–and I am trying to do what I can to exhaust whatever oxygen is left in that storyline-but like Hollywood, some storylines refuse to die. Considering one of this past elections’ major themes–that the demographic future of the U.S. is diverse–and for Latinos/as at least, they are more Democratic than their parents, I am surprised that so many scholars, religion journalists, and interested parties are still looking at evangelicalism–as if it was ever white–clearly any look at the history of the black church, of the native American church makes such narratives useless–except that for some reason, they have not been rendered obsolete.

Which brings me to the next problem whenever I read or hear about the endless handicapping of Latino evangelical political behavior–can anyone turn them to the Religious Right? Is there any hope for that? Or are Latino/a evangelicals a diverse group as well?  I am amazed at the monolithic nature of the questions as much as I am amused by the continued insistence that any one group or person represents us? Despite the rather dubious claims of self-appointed religious leaders like Samuel Rodriguez, whose claims of representing 40,000 Latino/a evangelical churches would be true–if someone could direct me to the 800 Latino churches I missed on my way through South Dakota? Mark Silk, in his particularly adept piece around election time last November pretty much debunked those numbers and the even more dubious claim Rodriguez makes of being politically neutral. http://archives.religionnews.com/blogs/mark-silk/latino-evangelicals-will-not-solve-the-gops-problem

 A glance at the NHCLC website and Rodriguez’ own speaking engagements signals to anyone who follows Religious Right politics that Rev. Rodriguez is anything but neutral. http://www.nhclc.org/en I tend to view claims of neutrality and objectivity with suspicion because we all have perspectives we bring to everything we do, we don’t do anything without some overt or subtle desire to maintain power (thank you Michel Foucault). So no, I don’t think any one speaks for all Latino/a evangelicals–and I am pretty sure most of the people I have met in my travels and church visits are very glad that I do not proclaim myself as their spokesperson. I also don’t believe any one person or movement can gather us all like sheep and lead us to any one political party. That idea presumes a monolithic political ideology and a monolithic religious faith among a population as diverse as Latinos/as.

 When it comes to politics, I do not behave like a white evangelical, and I don’t resonate with what I would term traditionalist Latino/a evangelicals. This demographic tends to be first generation or immigrant, animated by literalist readings of the Bible, and more apt to be motivated by social issues. Neither am I a moderate, who are 2nd or 3rd generation Latinos/as who seek a more gradualist approach–not completely buying the whole culture war rhetoric of the Religious Right, but unwilling to break completely with those influences in their churches. I suppose I am a Reformer, as I have written in Jesus in the Hispanic Community (Westminster 2010). I find myself more comfortable with progressives–Pentecostal or otherwise, that is my spiritual and political home. I find my home outside of the confines of denominations who do not respond to progressive calls for action, and outside the confines of churches that do not reflect the multicultural reality of the global church–not to mention my own multicultural family. Reformers increasingly find their faith compartmentalized because they don’t see their political, social and cultural lives reflected in their churches–therefore they make use of parachurch organizations and loose networks of like minded brethren to make sense of their whole selves–not just a faith that is often divorced from their political lives. There are alot of us–I don’t speak for them aside from telling you that we exist, I only speak for myself here when I say that I find the slavish devotion to Religious Right politics among my evangelical brethren unnecessary and offering only the most superficial solutions to the anxiety of what many evangelicals must be feeling today. Playing on anxiety will not make this false attachment to a golden age fallacy a reality–and as for my traditionalist Latino/a brethren–a bit of self-reflection may be good. As much as I understand the desire to see one’s faith as the prism through which all good in society should be reflected–it is simply impossible to fashion a society like that unless you are willing to coerce, incarcerate, and police a society as diverse, as tolerant, and as devoted to the securing of comfort and profit as this one–lo siento! It ain’t gonna happen.

So, perhaps the next time I am asked to write something on Latino/a religion and politics, I’ll do it, maybe I’ll accept those invites to blog, to comment, and I’ll tell my conservative hermanos/as that I think as long as we can be civil–hey, can I by you a cerveza? we will be okay-we share a historical memory and we should consider that before pledging allegiance to the political fortunes of parties and politicians who have not had our best interests in mind-but were and are willing to exploit our faith lives for the temporal security offered by feckless opportunism.

About Arlene Sánchez-Walsh

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