Let's talk demographics for a moment. Hispanics are the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States. Around a third of American Catholics are Hispanic. And, according to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) website, Hispanic evangelicals are a booming demographic: "Hispanic born-again Christians make up 37 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population and 88% of all U.S. Hispanic Protestants, 43% of all U.S. Hispanic Mainline Protestants, and 26% of all U.S. Hispanic Roman Catholics."
Where are the major media stories on Hispanic Protestants and Catholics? As the writer of this page from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life website comments, the very landscape of American Christianity is being transformed -- and who, outside of ethnic media, is paying heed?
While most predominant among the foreign born and Spanish speakers, Hispanic-oriented worship is also prevalent among native-born and English-speaking Latinos. That strongly suggests that the phenomenon is not simply a product of immigration or language but that it involves a broader and more lasting form of ethnic identification.
These two defining characteristics -- the prevalence of spirit-filled religious expressions and of ethnicoriented worship -- combined with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population leave little doubt that a detailed understanding of religious faith among Latinos is essential to understanding the future of this population as well as the evolving nature of religion in the United States.
It is possible that what's going on is that "Hispanic-oriented worship" (in Spanish, presumably) and the strong charismatic orientation of many Hispanic worship services has been challenging for some reporters. So I was grateful to reader Ben for sending GetReligion a HamptonRoads.com article by Steven Vegh highlighting an anti-machismo message resounding from the pulpits of some southern Virginia Hispanic evangelical churches.
This is not a perfect article, leaving out some context and making a few broad generalizations. It's also possible that some Hispanic clergy and lay people will forcefully argue against making broad statements about Latin culture built on "machismo." But writer Vegh is thorough, providing readers with quotes from a number of different sources, and developing a thesis based on the people he quotes, rather than the other way around.
Though it certainly got me thinking, I do find the lede a bit jarring:
As the new pastor at Vino Nuevo in Virginia Beach, the Rev. Gladys Mejias-Ashmore has been teaching a lot about family, parenting - and the dangers of machismo.
In Latin culture, the macho man looms large as boss of wife and family. But more than a few local Hispanic evangelical pastors are teaching that machismo violates Christian norms for husbands and fathers.
It's a message Mejias-Ashmore said she never heard in church growing up in Honduras. "I used to think the Christian let the man do whatever he wants - even extramarital relationships."
But after being "born again" and studying Bible passages on marriage, Mejias-Ashmore said she challenged her first husband about his drinking and adultery.
While it's not unusual to have women pastors in some charismatic and minority communities (black churches have a long history of women in the clergy), I'm guessing that a number of conservative evangelical Hispanic churches might not allow women in these leadership roles. The fact that Mejias-Ashmore is the lead quote in an article about machismo is suggestive in itself.
One fascinating element in this article is how upfront some clergy and laypeople are in saying: yes, there is an issue here that should be confronted. Here's one powerful quote:
Machistas, or male chauvinists, expect their wives and family females to be chaste, but "the man is free to do whatever - have affairs, have another woman," said Gonzales from the Hispanic ministers association.
I'm not sure whether these evangelical churches fit into conventional left or right categories -- I suspect that they do not. This press release on the NHCL site suggests that Hispanics may not take an approach to either Scripture or social justice issues that looks like either primarily white mainline or conservative churches. The gender role debate may also look different from the egalitarianism versus complementarianism dialogue that often goes on in white conservative evangelical congregations.
Quoting one harsh perspective on the role of the Virgin Mary seems wrong, given her importance as a role model in Hispanic culture and Catholic life in general.
While on the topic -- remember the ladies, as Abigail Adams reputedly said to husband John. With the exception of one clergywoman, the reputed targets of machismo are absent from the story.
A few more caveats -- obviously, not all Latino cultures are overwhemingly macho. Here's where generalizations become dangerous. It would be interesting to know whether American-born Latinos are less "macho" than the immigrant men interviewed for the article, or whether immigrant families have been transformed by different cultural practices in America. And while conceivably someone might have a counterargument, only one point of view is expressed in the article.
But I confess that with all of its holes, I like this story for two main reasons. One, the author takes a look at an ongoing process of cultural transformation by talking to those in the trenches rather than eggheads. Secondly, we're seeing way too few of these stories, and so this one becomes more interesting.