As an avid Twitter user, I am always delighted to discover the latest viral post making the rounds under the hashtag #RepresentationMatters. Clicking on this phrase links to a treasure trove of tweets centering–and celebrating–marginalized people in spaces where they have typically been excluded. Noteworthy examples include former White House photographer Pete Souza’s iconic photo of a young Black child curiously feeling President Obama’s head after wondering if they shared the same hair texture, or NPR host Arsalan Iftikhar’s friend’s parents’ reenacting Sikh model Waris Ahluwalia’s GAP advertisement in their local mall. While recent films like Black Panther, Coco, and Crazy Rich Asians have been celebrated for their representation, the moments found in this hashtag are not insignificant. Not only do they subvert the collective imagination that deems whiteness, heteronormativity, and ability as “normal,” but they also repudiate the narrative that marginalized people only exist under the crushing weight of their oppression. These messages are powerful and subversive, because they demonstrate what we already know to be true: marginalized people contain multitudes. Just as we experience struggle, we also cultivate creativity, wonder, humor, and joy. More simply put, we exist.
I think about this phenomenon often, especially in the realm of theological education. As someone who was raised Catholic, spent many years as part of a community that fluctuates between its Evangélica roots and the U.S. Evangelicalism that influences it, and was educated in an institution of higher theological education grounded in mainline Protestantism, I am aware that theologies held by white, Western, and cis-straight men from within one’s own tradition are regarded as edifying for the entire body of Christ, while those written by people outside of these parameters are deemed peripheral (at best) or inconsequential (at worst). I internalized this imbalance early on in my seminary career, believing that I had an inordinate amount to learn from my colleagues, but very little worth contributing to their own education.
It was around this time when I first encountered Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins. In its pages, I was amazed to find (as Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernández calls them in her forthcoming essay) “Tía-logians,” who named the theological foundations that empowered and sustained women in my family, my church, and me in the face of unjust and patriarchal systems of oppression. In addition, these scholars addressed their audience with cariño1 situating us within a lineage of women who practiced resistance, resilience and joy, and encouraged us to reclaim our theological agency with coraje.2 Shortly afterwards, I was invited to join a local reading and writing group, led by Rev. Dr. Conde-Frazier and often featuring Rev. Dr. Martell. While its initial purpose was to read and discuss the book together, over the years since then, this group has morphed into a sacred gathering where we are free to share our experiences as women in ministry and in the academy, as well as the theological reflections that arise from these lived experiences.
Nanko-Fernández writes about this communal methodology of theologizing, emphasizing that it is “…done latinamente, …[modeling] a preference for collaboration articulated as the doing of teología en conjunto with a product that is of the communal effort or de conjunto.” Like the other essayists in this symposium, she models this process by incorporating insights from other Latin@́ theologians, as well as interlocutors, such as popular music and dance, in order to engage with the authors’ description of the Holy Spirit (or as they call her, “the ‘wild child’ of the Trinity”).
In her essay, the Rev. Jennifer Gillan explores the authors’ emphases on communal theological formation and pneumatology, taking comfort in the Holy Spirit’s role as comforter who is presente in the face of the compounding oppressions that her community faces. She notes that she, “…witnessed weary, sometimes defeated, undocumented immigrant women find meaning, purpose, and their fundamental worthiness in the close presence of God…” Although there are significant differences between her mostly Central and South American church’s eschatology and that of the Puerto Rican co-authors, she affirms that the commonalities that empower both evangélica communities are the same.
Daniel José Camacho’s essay reflects on his experience finding solidarity with other Latinx seminarians because of their matriarchs’ shared evangélica faith. He refutes shallow dismissals of this faith as “escapist,” taking solace in its eschatological hope and its emphases on justice, particularly against colonialism. In light of the United States’ ongoing malfeasance after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico just under a year ago, this point seems especially poignant. Many Latina evangélicas, including those in my own community, have, once again, had to rely on this hope in the face of our deep grief about the traumas our people have faced.
While both Camacho and fellow essayist, Dr. Efraín Agosto, affirm the ways that Latina evangélica theologies challenge and empower marginalized people, including themselves, they question whether they can realistically serve as an alternative to the overwhelming confluence of oppressions in our society. In addition, they recognize how deeply rooted patriarchy and white supremacy run in both Latinx and evangelical spaces. This is a cause for lament and a call to action. As Dr. Agosto muses, in a post-Trump world, “…perhaps it is best to let it go, and for all of us to become evangélica.”
All of the panelists and I come from slightly different backgrounds, yet the breadth of engagement with the books proves that Latina Evangélicas does not merely serve as a reader, but also as a marker. It powerfully captures the multitudes from which we respond to oppression, and from which we also draw our strength, creativity, wonder, humor, and joy. It demonstrates that we do exist, and have much to contribute to the task of téologîa en conjunto in our day and age. For all of us, Latina Evangélicas is a testimony of reclaiming theological authority when others have denied it, a celebration of our existence, and an invitation for others to do the same.