Gee, Pastor White, I really appreciate your seeing me like this. I’m sort of stuck in an awkward position, and I can’t quite figure out what to do. What I mean is I’m trying to help a friend of mine, and I just can’t seem to figure out how. I’m hoping you could advise me in some way.
What? No, it’s like I said: a friend of mine.
I’ve got this pal, a buddy named Juan Pablo Montoya. He’s Cuban; well, Cuban-American. His folks are Cuban, but Juan was born here and grew up in South Florida. He’s got the whole Latin family thing going on there. I mean, it’s crazy how many cousins he’s got, and every weekend there’s a baptism, or a christening, or a funeral, or a wedding, or one of those fancy 15th birthday parties they throw for girls, or a baseball game, or just a bunch of people grilling something.
Anyway, Juan’s got this issue: he can’t get a job.
Hmm? Yeah, he’s legal; this isn’t one of those “undocumented transient worker” things. He’s got an education, too. Bachelor’s degree, plus an M.Div., plus most of his D.Min. Speaks English (first language) and Spanish (mastered on the field). Worked as an international missionary, heading up a program to bring SBC churches into partnership arrangements with unreached indigenous groups in South America. His education and experience are not what holds him back.
See, the problem is that Juan Pablo’s name is, in fact, Juan Pablo.
For example, he calls a church and talks with the secretary for a few minutes, then he’s talking to the pastor. Juan always introduces himself up front, but like most people the pastor is still developing a sense for the person on the other end of the line and will not catch the name. It is only after an extensive phone call that the pastor asks, embarrassed, for my pal to repeat his name: Juan Pablo Montoya.
Silence. Every time. Then it comes:
“Well, we don’t really have a large Spanish-speaking congregation, or even a large Hispanic community here. Of course, we’re always looking for a new way to connect with people. Perhaps in time….”
What’s that? Well, I guess being able to fit in with your congregation is important. Juan can do that. He was a floppy-haired rebellious skater-punk in high school. He wears Converse high tops and a baseball cap around town. His wife is whiter than you and I combined, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Midwestern girl named Tracy.
You look surprised. What were you expecting with a name like Juan Pablo Montoya? Big moustache, slicked-back hair, shirts unbuttoned to his navel? Gold medallions peeking out of his luxurious chest hair? Or were you sort of envisioning Desi Arnaz, yelling at Tracy/Lucy about the chicken flying out of the pressure cooker?
Wha…tacos? No, that’s Mexican food. Juan Pablo is Cuban.
Hmm? Well, I guess you’re right. We could make a case that Hispanics will respond to a Latin pastor better than to a non-Latin. And I suppose, like you say, that non-Hispanic churches might interact better with non-Latin pastors.
But Juan and I, we just don’t get it. I mean, on one side is our American society, changing and growing and molding itself into multi-ethnic conglomeration, perhaps the most culturally pluralistic nation on earth. On the other side is our convention, pigeon-holing non-white Christian men and women into serving only other non-whites. And you, Pastor White, you’ve led your church to give an enormous percentage of your offerings to the Cooperative Program, and your Lottie Moon giving is tremendous. How can you give to Lottie Moon and yet deny that Juan has a place to serve in white churches? You don’t see the connection?
Let me spell it out: your church gave tons of money to the IMB, an organization committed to cross-cultural ministry and missions, and yet you think that a well-educated second-generation Cuban male who owns zero cigars can’t minister to non-Hispanics? What…are only white North Americans capable of ministering outside their own cultural milieu?
I know, that sounds like I’m leveling a charge of racism against the pastors you are defending; that’s unfair, and I didn’t mean it that way. Juan and I, we just don’t understand the contradiction, that’s all.
Let me approach it from a different angle: suppose Juan Pablo and his wife visited your church. Would you send him to a Spanish-speaking congregation after only seeing his name? Would you, for a moment, doubt your ability to minister to him, and your congregation’s ability to include the Montoya family in the body? Hmm? You need to speak up; I don’t hear well.
Do you see the contradictions?
You and I both know that we can’t afford to make ourselves relevant in today’s world by altering our theology, but why can’t our convention’s churches reflect the same blurring of ethnic boundaries seen in our culture? Why can’t people see that once racism goes away, the tendency to limit jobs based on racial assumptions still remains? Why can’t our convention’s pastors evaluate Juan’s skills as a minister instead of determining his calling for him based on his name?
Pastor White? Hello?