THE BLOG
10/28/2015 06:34 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2016

Are Progressive/Liberal Theological Institutions Ready for Latina/o Christianity?

Interfaith dialogue is getting people excited in progressive/liberal seminaries throughout the nation. Some view it as a revolution in theological studies, others as a new reformation. I believe that theological education is finally catching up to what millions of people of faith have been dealing with: interfaith dialogue and practices that have been occurring among many couples whose backgrounds are religiously diverse, as well as among the millions of Latina/o Christians who have multiple religious affiliations. I ask myself, "Will the nascent discipline of interfaith-dialogue include the ability to engage the rising Christianity from the South? Will theological schools be prepared to deal with "intra-faith" dialogue?"

Recent studies on the church in the United States show that the "only" growing church sector is the Latina/o church. We can assume then that a great number of future theological students will come from Latina/o churches. They will come with their progressive political and cultural views. How will theological institutions respond when they encounter LGBTQI Latina/o students who are liberal, social-political activists, but who also adhere to spirit-based Christian traditions? In these religious traditions the world of the spirits is prominent; the practice of speaking in tongues is considered a normative and acceptable spiritual practice, as opposed to the widely held belief that it reflects unsophisticated, irrational spiritual activity reserved only for the disenfranchised.

Whereas current mainstream theological institutions have grown accustomed to congregants with dual belonging between the "major" religions, such as between Christianity and Buddhism, how will dual belonging be received when it occurs between "major" religious affiliation and African based religious traditions? Will the many non-textual traditions of the African diaspora such as Vodou, Lucumi, Candomble, Espiritismo, Obeah, etc... be brought into the dialogue and curriculums of mainstream theological institutions? Will Latina/o Christianities be engaged? Can inter-faith dialogue move from the abstract world of Euro-American theological ideas to the more concrete embodied practices of Afro-diasporic traditions? Interreligious dialogue pertaining to any study of Latina/o religious traditions must include understanding the interplays of race, class, gender, sexuality and power dynamics.

It remains to be seen whether theological schools will suffer the same fate as mainline protestant Christian churches and institutions, where steady decline has been the norm for the last four decades. By the time the leaders of these institutions recognize the immorality of ignoring, and thereby de-valuing, the belief systems of those among and around them, will it be too late for these institutions to have any chance of surviving?