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Felipe Hinojosa is assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
I was born in this church. In fact, compared to some of you Yoders and Millers, I play the Mennonite game better. I have no qualms about that. But let me be clear, I don’t call myself a Mennonite because I have some sort of belief system or theological perspective or because I’m anchored to the Confession of Faith.
I’m a Mennonite because that’s the church that taught me about community, and where I grew up going to church with the Solís, Hernández, and López families. It’s where I learned how to fight (literally, after church, my best friend David and I would fight with Elias and Ezekiel—a.k.a “Che-que”—Torres on the grass, under the cross that hung outside on the front wall of the church). Yeah that’s right, while my parents were saludando y platicando con los hermanos, we were thumping each other’s heads into the ground a few feet away.
While my parents never attended any of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings or socialized much outside of the church family, they were involved en los asuntos de la iglesia. Y ¿sabes qué?, this did not include knocking on doors to “save” people or standing on street corners handing out tracts that read, “Jesus Saves.” Al contrario, el trabajo de la iglesia era estar con la gente, caminar con el pueblo, comidas, pláticas, coritos, prayers that sometimes went on for an eternity, and an eclectic worship style that switched from electric guitar and drums to a piano and an acoustic guitar. If you ever visited my church in the 1980’s or 1990’s, you would be hard pressed to tag us as Pentecostal, evangelical, or Mennonite because we were all of that. Eramos la iglesia que en las luchas y en las pruebas sigue caminando, como dice el corito.
Por eso se me quebranta el corazón cuando oigo que la mayoría de los lideres de Iglesia Menonita Hispana están considerando salirse de Mennonite Church USA. Latinas and Latinos have been struggling for a place in this denomination for more than 80 years. Y es una lucha que sigue as many current Latina/o leaders continue to be ignored, ridiculed and marginalized in the Mennonite church. The church, and society at large, views Latinos as a threat even as they laud our “work ethic.” White society praises our “family values” even as they call us “rapists and murderers.” We are viewed as “taking American jobs” even as we are blasted for having “anchor babies” that suck on the welfare system in this country.
I make these points to underscore that it’s possible that an underlying motivation to leave the denomination might also be wrapped up in years of a church that on the one hand “celebrates” our culture, wears our “ethnic” clothing, and speaks Spanish even as it ignores our political struggles (it’s not all about immigration), ridicules us, doesn’t take our theology seriously and refuses to honor our way of being the church. Do a quick scan of the literature on Anabaptist theology: how many books that presume to do comparative theological work actually engage Latina/o theology?
But that’s not the complete story. We, como comunidad Latina, have much work to do. Nosotros en la iglesia evangélica tenemos que empezar a enfrentar francamente el silencio y la ignorancia que existe sobre la comunidad gay. Hermanos y hermanas, líderes de la Iglesia Hispana, saliéndonos de MC USA no solucionará nada. Cuando se junten en noviembre, la esperanza mía es que consideren la historia de nuestra gente dentro de la Iglesia Menonita. Hemos luchado como un pueblo unido para ser parte de esta iglesia. Yo entiendo que ha sido difícil y yo sé que ustedes han sufrido mucho por esta iglesia. Es por eso que les suplico que sigan caminando con la denominación. Yo quiero que consideren la comunidad histórica que hemos fundado en esta iglesia, the covenant we have formed with each other and the church, y que estemos dispuestos a discutir temas difíciles, aprender nuevas perspectivas, y luchar por formar una iglesia que sirva las necesidades de toda la humanidad en el siglo XXI. That’s our challenge.
Leaving a church or even a denomination can be good and sometimes it is necessary. But not in this case. We can’t leave a church that is struggling to find its place and is—although quite clumsily—moving in a direction that is more reflective of God’s kin-dom. Hermanos y hermanas, en las luchas y en las pruebas, la iglesia sigue caminando. Así dice el corito y yo lo creo. Van a ver pruebas, pero debemos seguir caminando juntos como hermanos y hermanas. Dejemos que el amor nos guíe, let’s let love guide us as we, como una comunidad de fe, seek to follow God more faithfully each and every day. Que Dios los bendiga.
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