Evangelicos focus on social justice, education


COSTA MESA, Calif. — Dr. Jesse Miranda is an Assemblies of God pastor, Christian university professor and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Just don't call him an evangelical.

"We use a term in Spanish, evangelico, to differ from the evangelical mainstream because I think there are differences, especially cultural, even if there are doctrinal and theological similarities or common issues," said Miranda, who heads the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University. "The interpretation and application of those theological, doctrinal studies or knowledge are not the same. Don't put us in one big tent by saying evangelical because some of our evangelical brothers and sisters do not have the same feelings we do, do not have the same issues that we do."

Those differences, he said—speaking not with harshness, but out of resolution tempered from his years of studying social ethics—make it difficult for many Hispanic Christians to buy into the ideals and promises of the Republican Party.

"I see some change, but it's light and moving too slow for there to be peace and coordination and for the church, in particular, to be effective and be able to model for the new generation the reality of Scripture," the lifelong educator and social justice proponent said.

"You can make strides, but the tempo of the growth and the depth and the need of a community is what is important. In other words, we can look at quantity, but what about the quality and the investment? Issues of education are salient and very important to the Hispanic community."

He said surveys of Hispanics show that their top concerns are education and unemployment, with immigration coming in third or fourth, while the trend among Republicans is unemployment and immigration.

"Education is not there," he said.

As another example, he cites the civil rights movement, which rolled back discrimination laws limiting access to water fountains, eating establishments, buses and schools. While the law changes behavior, it can't, Miranda said, change the heart.

"I think it was Henri Nouwen, a Catholic theologian, who said regarding civil rights that it was good. It changed laws. It changed behavior but (not) the animosity, the underlining feelings," the professor said. "I think the pathos goes beyond just the ethos and the logos, the knowledge and the laws."

Law vs. compassion
The same application, Miranda said, can be made to various Republican policies—immigration, and reforms for welfare and social security—which he and others believe embrace compassion from the head, but not necessarily the heart. Although moderates in the party and some conservatives, such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have championed some softening of the nation's border policy, Miranda still sees a fissure between law and compassion.

While they debate their approach to social justice issues, churches across the country, in keeping with their philosophy of smaller government, have responded by stepping up their involvement with community enhancement projects and have tackled such social issues as human trafficking and creation care.

"It did not go deep enough that it would be rooted in the solitude of the heart where there is the Good Samaritan ethos, the feeling of helping others," he said. "When only our minds and our hearts work together, we quickly become dependant on the result of our actions and we tend to give up when they don't materialize, and that's what happening. It's not materializing, so we are giving up hope. We turn our back on the poor and the needy.

"I don't know what other message is more prevalent in Scriptures than the theme of the poor. Why aren't evangelicals, per se, in general, not heeding to the Word?"

Emotion and passion
Miranda's worldview and those of his constituents, he said, is heavily steeped in their cultural tradition of deep and abiding commitment to the concept of loving and serving your neighbor, which is lived out through helping the poor, promoting education and advocating for the suffering. To many evangelicos, their evangelical peers are much more stoic in their approach to God and country and neighbor.

"As Hispanics we come with one of the characteristics or traits of passion, emotion," said Miranda, who has also taught at Azusa Pacific University. "For the evangelical general population, emotion is probably for football and soccer but not within loving people or in church, (or) emotion in worship, feelings and regards to the poor and the needy.

"I think most of the evangelicals in general are middle class, upper class, and they weren't always there. They started out being the poor and the needy, but it's the ethnics and, in particular, the Hispanics that the majority are suffering in poverty and needs, and our brothers are unaware or unconcerned about it."

Seeking a relationship
True or not, perception many times is the driving force behind politics and often determines which bubble voters will check in the ballot box. While Miranda has been critical of conservative politics, he acknowledges that there has been pandering for Latino votes on both sides of the aisle.

"I think our vote should be considered throughout a president's tenure rather than just a blip on the screen during the election," he said. "Both parties seem to give that. I think it's a little stronger now, the incentive, the awareness, the consciousness, because of numbers. It's the quantity. There is a narrow margin there that now we are told that Hispanics can be the critical difference because of that."

Because of the growth of the Hispanic population, Miranda said, both parties should become more inclined to earnestly listen to the hearts of Christian Hispanics year-round.

"Where is the substance and the prolonged relationship with the community and its needs?" he asked. "We're used to working on the borders between two. We seem to be bilingual, bicultural. That's our modus operandi in a country. So consequently we deal with the parties the same way. To us its not either or, but vote."

Miranda said he is also disappointed in the tone of the nation's policy discussions, saying it reminds him of the passage in the Book of Revelation that discusses the issues facing the church in the last ages.

"The coming of the Lord is very close, very near and the last church, Laodicea, is the one that is lacking love, not knowledge, not discipleship, love," he said. "So it's the invective where the problem is. It is the virulent, vitriol feelings that there are today. We can have the same doctrine and be very apologetic, but if our heart isn't right and there isn't love, then that's the difference.

"There might be different ways of approaching, different strategies, but with the same aim, with the same purpose that we are for the church and for Jesus Christ rather than for culture and a similar lifestyle of the world."