As we talk about reaching out to Latinos, it’s important that we not let such outreach lapse into paternalism. (Yes, I’ve written about that before in this same context) We can’t afford to have a “you people” mentality.
Notice that as I’ve addressed this topic so far, I’ve said little about Latinos themselves. Marketers and sociologists have written much about the different perceived needs among Latinos, about how to tailor advertising and political appeals to address those topics. I don’t think that’s how the church crosses ethnic barriers. (please remember that the term Latino does not refer to a specific race, nor even to a homogeneous group of people. It’s an ethnicity.)
As I said last week, it has to be about people. It has to be about relationships.
One of the good things that came out of the church growth movement in the 1980s (along with quite a bit of chaff) was the realization that we have to be intentional about reaching out to people from other social groups. People tend to befriend those most like themselves. If churches aren’t careful, they can get locked into one group, eventually becoming unattractive to those of other groups. (Sadly, the church growth movement chose to exploit that, wanting churches to start new groups within other social groups; that’s far from the biblical picture, in my opinion)
All of this is especially true when there is a history of distrust. That’s true in Texas. Years ago, Latinos were criticized, and at times punished, for speaking Spanish in public situations. One man told me the story of the time when he was a teen and dared speak Spanish to a cafe worker who was a member of the predominantly Anglo church of Christ in town; she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, saying, “Don’t you speak that Spanish to me, boy!” Many Latinos find it hard to speak Spanish to me, even when their English may not be so good, because they’ve been taught that you only speak Spanish to those that look like you. (Funny thing is, same thing happens to my wife, even though Spanish is her first language)
There other stories, as well. Anglos who have been mistreated by Hispanics. Hispanics raised in the States who have been ridiculed by immigrants. Immigrants who have been taken advantage of by U.S.-born Latinos.
Christ came to tear down walls, to eliminate the hostilities between people. His church is to be a model of people coming together.
None of this began with Martin Luther King, Jr., though we do well to remember the struggle he was a part of. Because of the example of our Lord, Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to unite and heal, to reconcile those who society has driven apart.
Reaching out to those unlike us is a beautiful way to do that.