The current immigration debate succeeded in removing the grave clothes from one of America's best-kept secrets, the Hispanic evangelical church. According to one of the top Hispanic evangelical scholars, Dr. Gaston Espinosa, 37 percent of the U.S. Latino population (14.2 million) self-identifies as "born-again" or evangelical. This figure includes Catholic charismatic's, who constitute 22 percent of U.S. Latino Catholics.
The Latino church is the fastest growing segment of the United States church. If the current migratory and birth rate trends stay constant, by the middle of this century, the majority of born again Christians in America will be of Hispanic descent.
As a result, it is of the utmost importance for the entire church to understand the Hispanic evangelical ethos and analyze the trends within such body. The emerging trends in the Hispanic Church have the potential of transforming not only the Latino community but the entire American born-again family. The three trends to consider are: the women-driven mega church movement, the Hispanic missional movement and the Latino seeker, and the rise of a global Hispanic Christian social agenda.
First, I believe the next Joel Osteens, Rick Warrens and T.D. Jakes of the church will have last names Garcia, Gonzalez, Rivera, Maldonado and Velez. The Hispanic church already has mega churches throughout the nation.
From Miami, Fla., Guillermo Maldonado pastors an 8,000-member thriving congregation. Gilbert Velez, Steve Perea, Danny DeLeon and others lead churches with thousands of adherents. Yet, what makes the Latino church unique in its mega church phenomena is that the culture universally known for its machismo is ironically producing pastors with names such as Lucy Saavedra, Maria Torres and Wanda Rolon.
In other words, the mega church phenomenon in the Latino community is being co-driven by women. Undoubtedly, the question arises, how can a culture known to restrict the role of women in the cultural context reconcile with women as the senior leaders of thriving congregations?
"Hispanic Christians value one thing over the cultural dynamics and stereotypes of the people. We value the anointing. We value the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. More important than gender is the testimony of God. Our people will follow whoever is carrying the mantle regardless of gender," stated Sergio Navarrette, superintendent of the southern Pacific Latin district of the Assemblies of God.
In the state of Nevada, one of the largest Hispanic churches is lead by Lucy Saavedra. Pastor Lucy just finished the successful purchase of a multi-million dollar complex. In a recent meeting in Las Vegas, Lucy stated that one of her goals is to see Hispanic women pastor mega churches in every major urban center in America. Accordingly, Lucy was appointed by the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals to spearhead the National Hispanic Christian Women's Task Force. "Our goal is to remove the final vestiges of bias against women leadership while simultaneously providing networking relationships and resources to equip top tier female Christian leadership", stated Rev. Saavedra in the March Board Meeting of the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals.
While many in the non-ethnic evangelical community still debate the role of women in ministry, the Latino church is leading the way in a progressive facilitation of female pastors. Hitherto, the evangelical debate continues to demonstrate a bias against the facilitation of female executive leadership, be it as Senior Pastors or supervisors in ecclesiastical oversight. However, the Latino born again Christian narrative is beginning to include the matriarchal elements embedded in the cultural context of the Diaspora.
"From the onset of the Hispanic Evangelical church women were never viewed in a secondary role but rather as significant foundational pillars of the early church. From Aimee McPherson, Sunshine Ball and Dolores Espinoza, early leaders of the Evangelical Church in America, particularly in the Pentecostal setting, were women who paved the way for today's Lucy Saavedra and others like her", explained Dr. David Espinoza, Senior Pastor of La Trinidad Church in San Fernando, Ca.
Hispanic women will not tolerate tokenism and limited roles within the great equalizer called the church. In the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Wanda Rolon leads a mega church in the thousands while simultaneously providing oversight to Pastors and churches in different parts of the Caribbean and the states. Undoubtedly, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have been more receptive of women in executive leadership than many of the main line or traditional evangelical denominations. This very fact could very well be a central catalyst in explaining why more Hispanics are embracing Pentecostalism and the Charismatic stream of evangelicalism than the others. Denominations, fellowships and churches that exhibit the great equilibrium of Galatians as it pertains to equality before Christ will be the magnet of Hispanic families towards their ministries. Women like Sylvia Samayoa an Investment Broker from California demonstrate the need to connect successful Hispanic women to ministries where women can develop their full potential. Hispanic women are looking for role models not only in the political and business spectrum but in the church.
"Hispanic denominations and fellowships are more open to female executive leadership than many of our non ethnic brothers and sisters," stated Felix Posos, chairman of the Latin American Theological Seminary. "I predict we will see female leadership of our denominations before others do", added Posos.
How will all this change the face of the church? At the end of day, the evangelical church in America may well see women in all roles and positions in the church including denominational leadership and the senior oracles of biblical orthodoxy and renewal thanks in good part to the Hispanic church looking beyond "machismo" and embracing biblical equality. In the 21st Century church many spiritual sons and daughters will be grateful to Hispanic Christian Women who removed the grave clothes of bias and limitation while exposing the Glory of God.
Galatians 4:31: So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. NASB