The greatest mosaic in all existence is the kingdom of God. Diversity isn't an attempt to incorporate politically correct ideas into the church but a manifestation of God's love toward all His children. The church formed as its early leaders were empowered with diverse languages, prompting successful outreaches to various communities. Pentecost was a multiethnic, multilingual experience.
Today many white, Latino and African-American congregations incorporate nativist threads within Sunday morning liturgy. Still, we remain at a crossroads between preserving our own cultures and building God's kingdom. Will the next generation's DNA include a multiethnic component? As a pastor friend in Ohio once declared, we need a multiethnic church with one culture—the kingdom culture—not necessarily a multicultural church. Sadly, pastors who dare address multiethnicity often find backlash not only in white-dominated congregations, but also in ethnic ones.
The Latino church is no exception, as many leaders see the exodus of second- and third-generation Hispanic Christians (particularly those who leave Hispanic churches for non-Latino congregations) as egregious behavior. One minister recently voiced this concern before hundreds of Latino Pentecostal pastors: "We must take whatever steps necessary to stop the exodus of our young leaders to Anglo churches," he stated boldly. "It is wrong, and we must address this issue." Ergo, are some in the Latino church harboring a segregationist spirit that focuses more on preserving our culture than building God's kingdom?
Steve Perea believes so. An Assemblies of God (AG) ordained Hispanic American pastor from Manteca, Calif., he has planted churches nationwide. Perea's own congregation of approximately 2,500 worshipers reflects the mosaic of diversity he wholeheartedly believes in, but it has cost him.
"I've been ostracized and looked down upon because I ventured to plant churches beyond the Hispanic community," he says. "I have been called a traitor to our people only because I wanted to see churches planted that gathered all races, backgrounds and tongues in one place to know God and make Him known. The only reason I facilitate a Spanish service is because of the language barrier." Indeed, segregating congregations for anything other than language, Perea says, is against the very heart of the gospel.
Other key evangelical leaders feel forcing second- and third-generation Hispanic Christians to stay within the confines of the Latino church is detrimental to keeping a kingdom mind-set. "We must present a global perspective of the gospel rather than an ethno-exclusive version," says Sergio Navarrette, an AG district superintendent. "This is why we are encouraging our pastors to begin English services and cater not only to Latino who are learning English, but all in the community who speak the language."
Latino leaders need not fear when our young people venture into congregations where Hillsong choruses fill the sanctuary rather than "En la Cruz." At the end of the day, we may be sending ambassadors who won't abandon their Hispanic heritage but rather expose it in full, rich color to add to the mosaic of this great collective we call the kingdom of God.
Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Hispanic NAE, serving 15 million Latino born-again Christians and 18,000 churches.