Why African-American and Hispanic churches must work together for urban renewal.
American cities are a paradox. Urban centers reverberate with the sound of thriving ministries and churches while simultaneously reverberating with the sounds of violence, gang warfare, decrepit schools, dysfunctional families and hopelessness.
The elephant in the urban "room" is the lack of cooperation between the African-American and Hispanic churches. When the black and Latino churches deliberately set aside their individual agendas and work together, America's cities will experience widespread renewal.
"The reason we have not worked together is very simple: black church leaders perceive themselves as a mission field and the black community as being the primary recipient of assistance," says Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church and president of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.
"We never considered that another community would need the same, or more, help," he continues. "We have had an image of ourselves as a home-mission center, and most large black churches have community-outreach programs exclusively to blacks. They have not seen this as an opportunity—which I believe it is—to minister to other communities."
Jackson, a nationally recognized leader, sees the Latino/African-American partnership as an opportunity with the potential to dramatically change the urban landscape. Although the black church is flourishing, partnerships and cooperation with other ethnic churches would revitalize the whole community and provide a larger opportunity to share the gospel.
"Blacks have moved out of certain neighborhoods, and Hispanics have moved in, and still a line of demarcation exists. We must erase that line," he says.
Jackson suggested that African-American churches utilize the vast array of community-development resources currently at their disposal to reach out to the immigrant community by providing English acquisition courses and other social services.
Evangelical church planter Steve Perea sees racism as the root cause for the lack of cooperation between Latinos and African-Americans.
"There is as much racism between blacks and Hispanics as there is between whites and blacks," Perea says. "There is as much prejudice amongst the minority groups as there is between the whites and the minority groups."
The challenge is to get churches of all backgrounds to work together to accomplish those goals. Sam Huddleston, Assemblies of God assistant superintendent in Northern California, believes the solution is found in leadership.
"It will never happen until we come to the realization it's His church," Huddleston says.
The denominational leader adds that the lack of partnerships within the minority communities is because of "perceived power." According to Huddleston, leaders need to facilitate dialogue without agendas and with the commitment to actively listen.
The prophetic significance of such a partnership cannot be ignored. According to Jesse Miranda, Latino evangelical scholar and researcher, Hispanics and blacks must begin by respecting each other's history and identifying common elements in their narratives.
"Latinos are isolated and insulated when they first arrive, but the second and third generation of Latino evangelicals can build viable relationships with other communities," Miranda says.
He adds that one of the major obstacles to this necessary partnership stems from the fact that blacks are concerned about integration while Hispanics tend to be more for isolation. While African-Americans identify themselves with the civil rights movement, the Latino-Christian community adheres to more of a social rights, moral rights and political rights movement. The union of these movements, according to Miranda, will change the spiritual landscape of America.
The Gospel of Luke in the 10th chapter reveals God's strategy for the cities: partnerships. He sends the disciples out two by two. This prophetic model can transform the cities of our nation as the African-American and Latino churches incorporate the role of the "Sons of Thunder" and facilitate revival.
One day, New Orleans, Orlando, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, Phoenix, Camden and Boston will not be known for crime, violence, gang activity, the ghettos and the barrios. At the end of the day, these cities will be recognized as "cities on a hill," whose lights will never be quenched.
Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference which is the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals, serving approximately 15 million Hispanic believers in issues of leadership, fellowship, networking, partnerships and public policy.