While digging around the ELCA website for financial statistics, I finally came to terms that in at least one category, I am part of the world-famous 1%. I am a hispanic worshipping in the ELCA and there were only 41,000 of us in 2010. That’s fantastic. FINALLY – a claim to the big time! ONE POINT FOUR PERCENTER RIGHT HERE! Aren’t you glad you know me?
Now, of course, I don’t fit the typical “hispanic/mexican” mold. My family has been on this side of the border for quite awhile so I’m part of the first generation to not learn Spanish (though I keep telling people that I’ll pick it up some day). In other ways, I probably fit the stereotype. I’m stocky, I like mexican food, I enjoy the World Cup, etc. Actually, it’s silly to label myself as a stereotype but when it comes to statistics, I’m an oddity. I’m hispanic but not spanish-language oriented. I’m in a strange place where I’m a minority but I’m not at the same time. I’m part privileged, part not. And I would think, based on the Lutheran Church’s history with the assimilation of immigrant groups in the US, that people in my category would be an easy draw for the ELCA. Built into the very history of the ELCA is the struggle with assimilation and entire generations were born into the place I am at now. You’d think that the atmosphere and flavor of the church should reflect that struggle of assimilation. But I rarely see it and I wonder if the church makes a mistake is misidentifying the wrong characteristics that define the Hispanics as “the other”. The Lutheran church has a long history of dealing with the problem of language and it seems that dealing with language is the first step in reaching out to our current society’s others. However, that doesn’t solve it. Hispanics aren’t a cultural bloc even though their Spanish (in their various dialects) unite them. Mexicans are not Dominicans and Argentineans are not El Salvadorans. A century ago, the differences between the Norwegians and the Swedes were not solved by the Norwegians starting a Swedish language ministry.
The question, I think, is not language based but culture based. Opening the communication doors is a good first step but I wonder if the ELCA – the whole ELCA culture rather than just its leadership – is willing to allow Hispanics into their churches with the expectation that they wouldn’t just become Lutherans but that they will also engage, like the Finns, Germans, and Swedes before them, in the cultural development of what it means to be a Lutheran in the United States. And I’m not sure if that’s really the case – though whether that’s a conscience choice of the ELCA or just a part of the reality that our polity focuses on individual congregations that will mostly be risk-adverse. One of the main power bases of the ELCA is its 95.6% Caucasian population. The question is if they want folks like me at the table. The fact that I’m on the ordination track makes me think they do – but whether they want me to be the exception rather than a norm is something that I sometimes wonder about.