For many Christians in the United States, there has not been much of a change in the way of thinking or anything that has come as a surprise to us when it comes to faith. Many people grow up in one church, with one version of the Bible, and sometimes surrounded by only one race. As a citizen of the United States of America, it is easy to have grown up not thinking about other countries having a strong Christian presence, or even being Christians at all. Growing up I would always hear about missionaries going over to other countries and thinking that they were going out into uncharted territories. I thought they would be telling people about this guy named Jesus as if it were revolutionary and never-before-heard information. I almost felt like I was raised to believe that God showed favor to the United States and that it was our responsibility to go out and evangelize to these other “lost” countries as if they would be hopeless without us. As I have grown up and matured in my faith, I have realized the total fallacy of this way of thinking. Not only have I been able to experience Christianity outside of the country that I call home, but I have also been able to discover facets of faith that I had not known before. I’ve been able to see glimpses of it from perspectives that I previously had not been able to due to where I lived, the government that my country had, and my ethnicity.
For the first two weeks of the year 2020, I was able to spend time in the beautiful country of Spain. When many people think of Spain and religion, their minds may jump back to their high school history classes about the Spanish Inquisition and how Spain is a predominately Roman Catholic country. This was true up until only a short time ago. Over the last 40 years, Spain seems to have been losing their faith. In 1978, the Spanish government removed Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the country, and the number of people who consider themselves to be atheist or agnostic is growing at a steady rate. Faith is just not as important to them anymore. Some people even think that in the next 20 years the USA will be in the same situation as Spain is now. Many of the pre-existing churches have been converted into places like markets or even been torn down completely. However, this does not mean that faith there is dead entirely.
The particular place where we stayed on this trip was in Rivas-Vaciamadrid. The town is a suburb of about 86,000 people and is about 15-20 minutes from downtown Madrid. According to our tour guide Dr. Jose Hernandez, there are only 6 churches left in Rivas. Many of the churches are very small by U.S. standards. The smaller churches have as few as 20 members, while the biggest churches still only have about 100 members. The church that Dr. Hernandez and his wife attend would probably be in the category of a smaller to medium-sized church. When you look at the numbers, 6 churches for 86,000 people with maybe 400 members combined make practicing Christians a minority. Although this is a shocking statistic, I think that there is also beauty in it. When it comes to sharing their faith, Christians in Rivas have to come up with clever and indirect ways to spark interest and start conversations about their faith. Dr. Hernandez told us about a man that they know who saw someone with a tattoo of a whale on their body. He then went up to the person and asked them if they were familiar with the story of Jonah. When they said that they were unfamiliar with the story, the man had the person google it and they were able to strike up a conversation about the story.
Hearing about the way that they live out their faith considering the situation of their surroundings, it has helped me to read the New Testament with a new perspective. I can imagine being in a similar circumstance where it is not as easy to be a Christian; where it takes true courage. I am starting to now see how that would affect the way that I read a certain passage. I have been able to recognize the people in the margins. During this class, the assigned reading was a book titled Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes by Justo L. Gonzalez. This is a book that helps give insight into what it is like to read and understand the Bible through the lens of someone who is of Hispanic descent. Gonzalez talked about five paradigms that need to be understood in order to be able to read the Bible through Hispanic eyes. Marginality, Poverty, Mestizaje and Mulatez, Exiles and Aliens, and Solidarity. If you have not already figured it out by now, the one that stuck out to me the most was marginality. No human wishes to be in the minority. However, there are also downsides to being in the majority. Gonzalez says, “Marginality also helps us to understand why those in the center have so much difficulty being truly evangelistic.” Those in the center are not able to truly relate and connect to those on the sides. This can be detrimental to Christian unity in diversity. We must bring the marginalized to the center. God’s love is not just for the majority. Gonzalez says it best when he says at the end of the chapter, “A reading from the perspective and experience of marginality tells the church that bringing the marginalized to the very center of God’s love and God’s community is an essential part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In a society and a world in which so many are marginalized, is it legitimate for a church to call itself at the same time both “mainline” and Christian? If you really want Christian unity in diversity and if you truly want to show God’s love, look to the margins.
Media by Christian Fuentes.