In keeping with the Christmas spirit — because everyone knows the holiday doesn’t end on December 25 — I’ll share a religious news story with you. It’s from the Huffington Post “Faith Shift” series, which the site describes as discussing “how changes in demographics, culture, politics and theology are transforming religion in America.”
The story is about how historically Latino churches that traditionally provide services in Spanish are having to include English — or at least consider including English — to attract second- and third-generation Latinos who use English as their native tongue.
I definitely fall into this category of Latinos, the “new Latino,” as do many of my friends and family members — well, the family members of my generation. And this story from HuffPo hits the nail on the head in terms of explaining the importance of English-language services for Latino American congregants.
It’s what 20-year-old Vanessa Pardo of South Florida says about Spanish-language misa which is especially poignant: “It was never a faith of my own, it was ‘oh, my parents’ religion’ or ‘my family faith’ and I never saw the personal connection between me and God.”
As many of the readers know, I’m an atheist. But I’m something of a Christian atheist in that while I don’t believe in a spiritual ruler of the universe or the divinity of Christ, I do believe in much of the moral principles taught by the man known today as “Jesus” — his real name was most likely Joshua, but that’s neither here nor there.
As Miss Pardo articulates so brilliantly, I would’ve been more receptive to the gospel had the services I attended as a boy been given in English. Sure, I understood Spanish perfectly well, but it’s not my language, or at least not my language of choice. Spanish is the language my mother and grandmother, brought from the mountains of Honduras; so Catholicism — because it was presented to me in that same remote language — seemed to me like something carried over from the old country, something I should properly respect because it’s important to my mother because it’s important to her mother. One’s heritage, at the very least, demands lip service.
In 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14, the Apostle Paul supports the idea of preaching the gospel in a way that maximizes understanding, when he comments on the practice of speaking tongues:
“Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? … So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning,but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.”
Of course the Christian Bible has always been translated to suit followers of different languages, initially the Hebrews and the Greeks, but later the Romans, the Germans, the English and so on. Receiving the gospel in their own language allowed worshipers to take ownership of the Lord’s teaching. Christianity, after all, is a deeply personal religion, centering on one’s own relationship with the celestial dictator perpetuo.
So, in the meantime, Latino churches will have to work double to ensure that the Word is offered to their congregants in their language of preference, whether English or Spanish. “God is no respecter of persons,” and if he does exist, surely he’s multilingual.
Heck, even Old St. Nick speaks Dutch.