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After preaching at an evangelical conference for young Latino/a ministers in Florida some time ago, someone asked me, “Gabriel, how would you define yourself?” This question certainly has a myriad of answers but considering the context of my surroundings I guess I knew what he was asking. The query had to do with how I position myself theologically, socially, and politically. This was a difficult question to answer in light of my embracing what Brian McLaren calls A Generous Orthodoxy. The small biography attached to the programs gave some clues to my theological and social eclecticism. I grew up as a Pentecostal pastor’s kid, serve as a Nazarene pastor, have an M.Div. from a Reformed seminary, and am doing doctoral work at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Often when speaking to a new group of people, many assumptions are made depending on how I am introduced. If they lead with “Pentecostal” or “Nazarene” I’m pegged as a conservative Republican who has made up his mind about most things. If they lead with “Latino” and “Union Ph.D. student,” the assumption is that I am a theological social liberal who has made up his mind about most things. Now I know I’m not the only one who, in searching to be a faithful disciple of Christ, eschews facile definitions too often used to divide and alienate. There are an increasing number of Latino/a, black, white, and Asian evangelicals (just to name a few groups) who in their search to be faithful to the gospel draw from a plethora of sources. Perhaps we are labeled as post-modern believers or anti-traditionalists. The truth is we are part of a long history of Christians struggling to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ.
So, who am I? I am just one of a growing group of Latino progressive evangelicals. In the words of John the Baptist, from the Latin Vulgate, “Ego vox clamantis en deserto.” I am Latino, because I was born in New Jersey of Puerto Rican parents and learned both español and Ingles. I am evangelical because I believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ and the gospel for the individual and the larger social structures. I am progressive because I hold to the prophetic stream in Christian tradition that says we must do better to live more in line with Christian moral imperatives.
What does this mean to the larger Christian church in the United States, independent of nomenclature? Progressive Latino/a evangelicals are a growing group that says, “Hear us. We have something to say to the larger church.” We do not say “amen” to everything just because someone claims to speak from the evangelical perspective. Neither do we nod in affirmation for all who claim to speak from a Latino/a progressive perspective. We understand our paradox quite well. We are usually pro-family and pro-comprehensive immigration reform that gives dignity to the undocumented. The war in Iraq is of deep concern, particularly in light of the loss of life not just of Iraqi non-combatants but also of too many poor whites, Latinos/as, and blacks. We think that poverty, economic inequality, and the environment are just as important moral issues as abortion, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage.
Some years ago I began meeting with Latino/a evangelical colleagues who were working on articulating together who we were. The Latino Leadership Circle is just one manifestation of people living fully and authentically in ways that some call paradox.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a board member for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.