by Daniel Cubias
Just a short drive from my apartment in Los Angeles stands a monument to religious excess.
It is the Crystal Cathedral, built back in the 1970s when an evangelical preacher named Robert H. Schuller had a great idea to rake in the parishioners. All he had to do was spend millions on an architectural marvel that undermined everything the Bible says about modesty and humility.
It worked, and the Crystal Cathedral really boomed in the 1980s and 1990s. However, things aren’t so rosy today, as the LA Times reports that Schuller’s empire “long known for its lavish spending and now caught short by plummeting revenues” is near bankruptcy and owes “creditors more than $50 million.”
But wait — there is a savior. The church’s Spanish-language services are packed, with “people singing, clapping, and praying.” The full house for Spanish speakers clashes with the “button-down mainline Protestant world” of the English-language services, which have so few participants “that cameramen have trouble finding crowd shots” for the church’s television program.
Yes, if the Crystal Cathedral is to survive, it will be because Latinos keep it alive.
This is fascinating for a number of reasons.
First, the fate of the Crystal Cathedral reinforces the fact that Latino population growth is vital to America’s cultural life. We already knew that Hispanics can be the difference in presidential elections. We’ve also learned that Latinos are the main reason that America continues to grow. And it’s become clear that Hispanics are crucial to bringing the economy back. But now we discover that we are “leading a Latino-based revival of Christianity in America.” There is apparently no aspect of this nation’s existence that doesn’t depend on Hispanic participation.
In addition, the Crystal Cathedral’s newest parishioners are symbols of the fading grasp that Catholicism has on Hispanic culture. Indeed, for several years now, Latinos have been shedding their traditional reliance on the Catholic Church by converting to Protestantism, Islam, atheism, or any number of belief systems that don’t answer to the pope. One of the most common, even cliché, aspects of Latino culture has long been the rosary-clutching mamacita who crosses herself nonstop and prays daily to her homemade shrine of various saints. That image is simply not as true as it once was.
However, the Crystal Cathedral’s burgeoning Hispanic congregation is a powerful reminder of how religion continues to be a strong component of Latino life. One could argue — and indeed, I have done so frequently — that the Hispanic dependence on religion is one reason Latinos so often lag behind in terms of economic power and educational achievement.
Regardless of what it all means, however, it will remain “hard to imagine a contrast more striking than the one between the English and Spanish services at Crystal Cathedral.” Perhaps that is the final metaphor that this story provides. Here we have two groups of people who worship the same deity…and yet they simply don’t talk to each other.
To learn more about Daniel, visit Hispanic Fanatic.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.