This past Saturday, our nation was rocked by the horrific and racist events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia. For the first time in their lives, our children saw with their own eyes the ugly ghosts of America’s checkered racial past: the red and black of Nazi symbolism, the racist chants of white supremacists and the anti-Semitic slurs of white nationalists.
In times like these, we are left to wonder what we can do to solve America’s “race problem.”
As a pastor, I believe hate is a matter of the human heart, and it can only be truly addressed through God’s transformative grace and perfect justice. I also believe the church is designed to be God’s response to the hurt, suffering and brokenness we experience. This is why, when I see the parallel trajectories of racial tensions in America and the explosive growth of the Latino faith community, I’m convinced that the Latino church could be the answer.
It’s no secret that the Latino community in the U.S. has become a formidable economic, social and political force. From the national GDP to presidential elections, we’ve become both an essential and coveted asset in America. Yet for as much attention that is given to such issues as immigration or our voting inclinations, much of the media has missed the enormous faith component that’s spreading like wildfire.
In the U.S., Latino Evangelicals are the fastest-growing religious group. Latino churches are springing to life across America, revitalizing a country which over time has slowly slid toward religious disaffiliation. And this phenomenon isn’t isolated to the U.S. — across Central and South America, the Latino Evangelical church is also catching fire. In fact, I recently saw it firsthand as I traveled through Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua.
In Guatemala City, Guatemala, I had the privilege of speaking at the largest church in Central America and one of the largest congregations in the world, Casa de Dios (or House of God). Started in a living room in 1994, today more than 20,000 people go to Casa de Dios on Sundays for worship, fellowship and to listen to the teachings of Pastor Cash Luna.
In Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Roselló invited me to keynote his inaugural prayer breakfast. More than 60 religious leaders and government functionaries, including the president of Puerto Rico’s house of representatives, senators and house representatives, were present at the breakfast. They all came together to seek counsel and prayer as the new government rebuilds Puerto Rico from amidst their well-documented debt crisis.
And just two weeks ago, in Nicaragua, as part of the 1Nation1Day movement, I stood before 1,500 government leaders and officials — including parliamentary leaders and supreme court justices — and spoke about the value of having a government established on the biblical principles of righteousness and justice.
Every faith leader I met with echoed the same sentiment: faith is exploding in the Latino world. This year, on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, is the time for the “Latino Reformation.” And, believe it or not, ground zero is the U.S.
According to the Census Bureau, by 2044 more than half of the U.S. population will belong to a minority group, with Hispanics forming the largest segment. By 2060, roughly 1-in-3 people living in America will be Hispanic.
As these demographic changes take place, especially should the trajectory and growth of the HIspanic Church continue to accelerate, the Latino church is uniquely positioned to step into a role of peacemaker. As Latino Evangelicals, we have a prophetic calling to stand for justice and finally reconcile the righteousness of Billy Graham with the justice of Martin Luther King Jr. Whether it be immigration or race, our community has a growing mantle of responsibility to make our churches a multiethnic and multigenerational representation of God’s Kingdom.
We are the nexus of diverse and growing communities that stretch from North to South America, and we have the influence, manpower and passion to bring faith-filled change into our culture. It’s now time for Latinos to step up and become part of the solution to America’s race problem.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement.”