Justice as Electoral Praxis: A Hope for Florida, Latina Evangélicas and Election 2020

By Elizabeth D. Rios, EdD, DMin.

The Latino/a growing population continues to increase in North America and their importance to elections has increased as well. While some parties are doing a far better job of reaching out to this community, the reality is we are not the same and we certainly do not think the same. We are not a monolith and it would be erroneous to assume as much. Due to this reality, election 2020 will prove to be just as much a nail-biting spectacle as was the 2016 election or most any election in Florida for that matter. The expectation that Latinos are going to deliver major votes to a particular candidate is already being circulated in media.

The Problem with Florida

Florida has a population of 21.99 million residents and about 20.5% of that group are Latino/as. 70% of the total population in Florida identify as practicing a Christian-based faith. Latino/as make up 1 in 4 Floridians making them the largest minority group in Florida and 22% of them identify as Evangelical Protestant with other categories making up the 71% of religious Latinos in Florida. The fastest growing county in Florida is where I live, Broward County.

I have wanted to move during election time. You see, if you are in the U.S. you already know that Florida is a huge battleground state that always seems to get on the news for some fiasco. Perhaps you remember the hanging chands in 2000, or the 3,000 disappearing voters in Palm Beach County and other problems during the 2018 mid-term elections for governor. No matter how you look at it, Florida has had a very rocky road during elections, mostly due to voter suppression and election integrity. I doubt it will be any different this time around. But I do have hope, not in a system but in a people. Just like the politicians, I have hope in some Latinos/as. It is wise to consider this group of people as they are not only the fastest-growing minority group in the nation but also in Florida.  What would be unwise is to assume how they will vote, especially those who identify as evangelicals. We’re complicated.

Latino Evangelicals

Since the late 1970s, evangelical Protestants have been a potent influence in American politics. They have played a key role in shaping the conservative movement’s public agenda and have served as the backbone of the Republican Party’s voting bloc. They are now hoping to win over the majority of Latino evangelicals who are the ultimate swing voters. The tug of war with Latino evangelicals especially in this Trump era has been their belief that the Republican party is the party of God due to their stance on abortion and marriage since the 1970s. These two major issues keep people stuck while a plethora of other issues are ignored.

As a Progressive Pentecostal, defined by Miller and Yamamori[1] as “Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in their community,” that troubles me. I am most concerned and troubled with how many Latino/as are not simply overlooking the character of the President but also the policies and practices that have come to define the current administration. Policies and practices that hurt not only our people but most people who are not white, rich or business owners. However, I believe there is a myriad of reasons for Latino evangelical support of the current administration (that they themselves may not even be aware of) that goes further than the abortion and biblical marriage issue.

We Have an Identity Problem

The reason I believe Latino/as are blindly following pastors and preachers who guide them to essentially vote against themselves and policies that would help the other in their midst is because they do not know who they are. For instance, a Pew Research study presented that Latinos/as do not see themselves as sharing a common culture. We also suffer from colorism in our community thus many prefer to enjoy the benefits of Latino white privilege. Scholar Juan Francisco Martinez also shares that in our community there are levels of identification with varying levels of acculturation and assimilation.

This is important because if common ground cannot be found in Latino culture then religion, as research suggests, will be what shapes these groups’ political attitudes and behavior.  While Latino Catholics post-1960s tended to align themselves with the Democratic party, Latino Protestants were less likely to do so. Although, it has been difficult to unite generations and sub-cultures of the Latino population, in some ways, a antipathy for the current administration has united some. One thing is clear though, the millennial and Gen Z generations who are living hybridity, who look at religion and expectations of those who profess a faith very differently than their elders, will be a key force in the 2020 election.

We Have No Intentional Discipleship in a Post-Truth World  

A recent article[2] suggested that church attendance increases political participation for Latinos and that as people who are usually in a lower socio-economic status they need the church to help them understand and get civically engaged. Latinos/as build their social network in the church and it is there where their attitudes about a number of social issues are reinforced or rejected by their pastor and fellow congregants.  With that in mind, what are pastors talking about from the pulpit? What are they teaching during their mid-week services? What conversations are happening over social activities? Supposedly, it is in the church building that the church people learn to be the church. In this age of fake news and alternative facts, the church and its leaders must ask the Pontius Pilate question “What is truth?” (John 18:38) and then truly teach that to their people as discipleship that can lead to effective and informed participation in politics. When the dictionary has to add a word such as “post-truth” truth is needed more than ever, the church should be the place where it comes from, sadly, too many are sharing a post-truth gospel.

My Hope is in Evangélicas

My hope is that my Latino/a community will do their homework and view the evidence as antithetical to what the gospel truly stands for. My prayer is that they cast a vote from a lens that views justice from below, one that cares about “what is best for us, every image bearer of God” and not from capitalistic, consumeristic “what is best for me and mine” lens.

I propose an electoral praxis that considers the struggle of everyday people, which contemplates the starting point for supporting any candidate by how they consider all people, not just some people. I believe the mobilization of Latina Evangélicas can bring about the change we need. Out of the 55% of the Christian women in Florida, 22% are Latinas. Scholars Loida Martell-Otero, Zaida Maldonado Perez and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier remind us in their book[3] that evangélicas are used to dancing with the wild child of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and are used to the reminder to embody the Spirit as they speak, comfort, reveal, touch, strengthen, anoint, encourage, heal and speak life to those around them. Evangélicas know the struggle of daily life for themselves and their families. Evangélicas relate to the jíbaro Jesus that Orlando Costas referred to—a distinctively Puerto Rican term for peasant or country bumpkin—emphasizing Jesus’ location at the periphery. “They recognize that through Jesus, God understands what it means to be wounded and to suffer. Like them, Jesús jíbaro suffered death and abandonment. Like them, he was dehumanized, tratado como un perro (treated like a dog).”[4]  It is because of this familiarity with the wild child of the Trinity and this Jesús jíbaro that evangélicas have been the change we wished to see in the world and can proclaim the true purpose of the church and the message of a liberating gospel to political systems, appointed officials and a confused church buried in nationalism, focused on a man instead of the lamb.

Yes, we are Complicated But I Have Hope

In talking with a friend of mine who is a pastor and very well known in some circles and in talking about how many people are hard-core, t-shirt wearing Trump supporters in his church, he said, “I have to pastor them too.” This is not much different from another pastor I have spoken with who stated “as hard as it is, my church has to co-exist with people who don’t believe like they do, including me.”

Many of our Latino evangelical leaders are kissing the ring of their white evangelical donors, supporters, and sponsors. They stand with them because, without them, they fear they will become irrelevant, no longer having access to the platforms that give them stardom “in their minds.” They are fully engulfed in what my friend and ECC pastor, Dr. Michael Carrion calls “pulpit idolatry” and they are not ready to give that up to truly stand for what Jesus stood for or to “merely” stand for other people’s plight, even if those people are supposed to be “their people.”

But, I have hope.  Evangélicas have always been more mesmerized by God’s power than man’s and although, as a people group, we are certainly complicated, the gospel message understood by these women of God has never stopped them from mobilizing people for a greater cause nor confronting leaders. My hope is in us. The us that are not simply anti-Trump as much as we are Pro-Jesus.

Essentially, I believe evangélicas (along with the younger generation) will have an electoral praxis that will respond to injustice with justice and cast a vote that screams, in my house, Jesus is Lord over all and everyone is invited to join that movement.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

References

[1] D.E. Miller & T. Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian social engagement (Berkeley, LA: University of California Press, 2007), 2.

[2] Sarah Allen Gershon, Adrian D Pantoja, and J Benjamin Taylor. 2016. “God in the Barrio?: The Determinants of Religiosity and Civic Engagement among Latinos in the United States.” Politics and Religion 9 (1): 84–110. Accessed February 15, 2020, doi:10.1017/S175504831600002X.

[3] Loida Martell-Otero, et al, Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins . (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013).  Kindle.

[4] Ibid.

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