illustration of a man on a ladder

The Latino/a/x Space in the North American Seminary: Forming In-Between

In an interview about one of my books on an Australian podcast, the host opened his program by saying:

You write, “In truth, every theology bears the marks of a narrative of its theologian, who is the teller.” As a way of helping us wade into this conversation, can you talk to us a little about yourself: your path from the “Chiquita banana kid” to “diasporic US Latinx activist scholar,” and how this autobiography shapes both the style and hopes for the book?1

I will apply the host’s question about influential, shaping factors to the theological formation space of the North American seminary. Let me begin with a summary of my experience in such a context, during my formational stage as a scholar and teacher:

Originally, I came to seminary because of a Latinx and ministry question. But this question gradually morphed into a different set of questions subsumed under a more universal, significant, and overarching body of knowledge, which arguably is to give an account of the classical questions of Christianity, the church, and the Christian witness. That is to say, the premise for this epistemic transformation (from the “particular” to the “universal”) is that by addressing the perennial questions of Western Christianity I could give answers to the temporary questions of Latinx Christianity. This subalternization of my particular quest for knowledge made me realize that I had become indeed an impostor to my own self and my own people: my teaching, preaching, evangelizing, counseling, healing gifts were all conduits by which my students were also barbarically civilized, by virtue of my own mimicking of the subversion I was exposed to during my educational process. I had become an expert on civilizing my own people, with a doctoral degree to prove it. Put bluntly, I was pedagogically handicapped. I was not able to teach my students. I could only teach them the subject of Western theology and its applicability to their context, however translated into their “barbaric” environments. Borrowing from Homi K. Bhabha, I had been participating in the barbaric transmission of culture with the rhetoric of civilization. I had been an impostor. I needed to migrate. I needed exodus in the midst of exile.2

The Australian podcaster, who had carefully read my book, was intrigued by the transformation of character and metaphor in my autobiography: from a place of colonial privilege to a place of decolonial vocation. I told him that it was not my own choosing. In real life, in contrast to theological monographs, one rarely chooses a whole trajectory or even the orienting categories that come to define one’s intellectual agenda. One discovers it along the way by choosing one’s own steps, mindful of the epistemic horizons surrounding oneself.

In an exilic/diasporic human condition, space is more determinative than time, geography is more compelling than history. That is, the where comes to be more insightful than the when because it gives shape to the who and the what of one’s life and living in a fundamental way. Thus, the paradox I use to represent this conundrum is “exodus in the midst of exile.” The former points to a journey of faith that seeks self-identity and relative stability after slavery and oppression. The latter points to displacement, “a place for losing identity and social stability . . . where one learns to live in interstitial angst after one has been deprived”3 of one’s true home and one’s true self. But let us make no mistake here, for exilic/diasporic self-consciousness and embodiment render not merely “ambiguity and disorientation but also imaginaries and decolonial tropes with the potential to reframe world captivities that are not usually available to those living at the center of wealth, intellectual privilege, and racial hegemony.”4

The Global Educational Business Model

In this article, I will suggest that the lack of attraction and equitable inclusion of Latinos/as/xs in the academic space of the North American seminary is the result of a global educational business model rooted in monocultural, soteriological, and geopolitical designs—built since the 16th century and naturalized in the present by white normative colonizing policies and Christian practices. That said, this article will not only articulate a problem but will also look at the root causes and the effects on the Latinx colonized communities to imagine a response to the question: What would it take for a North American seminary to become a Latinx space, given the violent itinerary of Christianity in the Americas?

This is clearly not a new question. In the 1970s, Fuller Theological Seminary established two pioneering theological initiatives (the Center for Hispanic Church and Community and the Center for African American Church Studies) to cope with the demand of the North American church to form Latino/a/x and African American ministers in the US. During this period, the notable Latino missiologist and evangelist Orlando Costas critiqued the westernized academic model of education: “With few exceptions the missiological literature of the North is still oriented to the questions before the church ‘there’ [North] rather than ‘here’ [South].”5

Costas was addressing the structural web system—including missiological education, financial support, academic-social status, and church leadership—that significantly contributed to the peripherization of Latin America and its subaltern participation in the theological and missiological process, which Costas labeled a “late and slow start.” Costas’s participation in both the North American and Latin American seminary context enabled him to explore how it is that Christianity in Latin America has had a much longer history than “its Anglo-Saxon counterpart” and yet Latin America “has produced so very few theologians and has contributed so little to the mission of the universal church.”6

A reader who has been historically misinformed and is reading from a place of white normativity and US evangelical nationalism may feel a bit put off by Costas’s affirmation of the seniority of Latin American Christian history over its North American counterpart. However, when one does due diligence and corroborates Costas’s accuracy and audacity in this question—that is, that Latin American Christianity precedes North American Christianity on at least two religious fronts, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism (and Pentecostalism if we dare to include the charismatic revivals recorded in Chile as early as 1904)—the reader may now proceed to feel good for a different reason: We (North Americans) have achieved so much in a shorter time. But then, that pride is consistent not only with the Christian religion but also with politics, economics, the military, culture, sports, science, and technology.7

If not careful, the reader may miss in Costas’s question his subtle criticism of the westernized (US) mission and ecclesial web system that have come to dominate and “gate” the possibilities of the Latin Americans and US Latinos/as for self-missioning, self-theologizing, and autonomously achieving sociocultural emancipation. In the 1980s, Costas would make more explicit his critical instincts in his memorable book Christ Outside the Gate. The “gate” Costas had in mind was tainted by a “puritanical value system, the shameless defense and justification of racism . . . and the [Anglo-Saxon] triumphalistic belief in the divine (manifest) destiny of the United States.”8

Furthermore, when Costas alludes to a “longer history,” a reader may also miss his audacity to put together in one historical perspective the four colonizing processes that have given shape to the social imaginations of the North American theological and mission enterprise when influencing the sociohistorical conditions of the peoples of the American Global South (Latin Americans, Caribbeans, North American Latinxs). I have elaborated on these processes extensively elsewhere; I will only name them here to fill in what Costas has left unsaid:9

  • Salvation by colonial economy and civilizing Christianization (1500s–1800s)
  • Salvation by US Americanism (1900s)
  • Salvation by the doctrine of development (1930s–1960s)
  • Salvation by market capitalism (1970s–2000s)

Hopefully by now, a reader situated in the westernized academic space—who has inherited and enjoyed (perhaps unmindfully) white normativity as a monocultural horizon of being and doing construed by a set of identities, privileges, and opportunities not available to the Latino/a/x cultural other—may understand more clearly why it is difficult to feel attracted to and included in the westernized North American seminary when one is a self-conscious Latino/a/x. In other words, our Latino(a)ness has deep and long-standing epistemic and geopolitical roots affecting the very humanitas (human nature and identity) and societas (the place of emancipation) in cultural representation. That is, the “diseased social imagination” of the North (Willie Jennings) is coupled with the “colonial wound” of the South (Walter Mignolo).10 Together, if not undone, they normalize subalternity for the Latino/a/x other while normalizing whiteness for all in the North American seminary space.

If not careful, a North American seminary may fall into one of two trajectories, both resulting in Latinocide in the Christian academy—the extermination of cultural worth and distinctive Latino/a/x contributions for the sake of a common seminary culture and mission. One path is to unapologetically assume a monocultural educational business model where governance, faculty, curricula, student scholarships, staff and student services, and academic as well as professional programs are built and marketed on the basis of a “racial (White), ethnic (Euro-American), gendered (male), geopolitical (Northern), economic (market capitalist), religious (Western Christian) mode of framing human value and designing global power and privilege.”11

Nowadays we may call this model a far-right North American seminary approach. But there is always its alternative, which assumes a “multicultural” rhetorical model, except that such multiculturality is indeed a sort of “liberal multiculturalism.” The idea behind it is a pluralistic model that promotes freedom, equality, and justice and includes all those subjects typically excluded in the monocultural model. This sounds good in principle, except that in real time and space the core of power and privilege has only shifted ideologically but not racially, ethnically, gender-wise, geopolitically, and epistemically. We still see White, male, North Atlantic, market-driven, Western Christians in places of power and privilege, but this time speaking from seemingly multicultural spaces and inviting everyone to join them in their utopian educational project. These “multi-
cultural” North American seminaries do hire scholars of color, diversify their curricula, and provide room for autonomous ethno-racial expressions—except that money, power, and privilege are restricted to a white social order.

The Underrepresentation of Latinos/as/xs in the North American Seminary

“Hispanics” as an ethnic category registered the lowest number of enrolled students in ATS (The Association of Theological Schools) member schools (6–7 percent) in previous years (2015–2019), as opposed to White, Black, Asian, and international visa students, only above Native American students.12 If we put this into perspective, noting that Latinos/as/xs make up about 19 percent of all US evangelical Protestants and 48 percent of US Roman Catholics, the picture gets more real, suggesting a recruitment and retention problem in the educational business model of the North American seminary (conservative or progressive).

And we have not yet addressed the problem of Latino/a/x faculty recruitment, retention, development, and tenure. “The numbers speak for themselves,” declares Frank R. Tellez in his study of underrepresentation of Hispanics as tenured or tenure-track professors.13 In 2011, of 761,619 tenured or tenure-track faculty in institutions of higher education, only 31,331, or 4.11 percent, described themselves as Hispanic.14 This data speaks more directly to the factors affecting the attraction and inclusion of Latinos/as/xs in the academic space of North American higher education. “Hispanics must battle the forces of institutional racism, fierce competition among qualified aspirants of all races and genders, and a dwindling number of available full-time positions if they are to climb the steps to the ivory tower,” says Tellez.15

Anne-Marie Nuñez and Elizabeth Murakami-Ramalho further document that the percentage drops even more—to 3 percent—for Latina full professors. This 3 percent is a painful number for, as Nuñez and Murakami-Ramalho put it:

[Latina] women often face institutionalized sexism and are expected to take on additional professional responsibilities, such as uncompensated university service, that impede their ability to advance from the junior to the senior faculty ranks. Because of their dual status as women and as members of an underrepresented group, Latinas are more likely to encounter racism, stereotyping, lack of mentoring, tokenism, uneven promotion, and inequitable salaries when entering the academy. Research has documented the stereotypes that Latina faculty often encounter: some are told by colleagues that they are particularly articulate, or that they speak English well, implying that this is atypical, while others have described instances where students, other faculty members, or staff members have assumed that they are service workers or anything but professors.16

This is bad enough, but then we see the report from the ATS on Latino/a/x faculty. Of the 1,299 full professors reported in 2019 in ATS member schools, 42 are Hispanic and only 7 are Latinas. It is a disastrous figure for Latinx faculty (3 percent) and an intolerably painful number for Latina faculty (0.5 percent).17

I hope it is clear by now that current Latino/a/x statistics only provide evidence that our five-century-old colonial wound and long history of sociocultural displacement is anything but a thing of the past. It is a life lived with our intellect and bodies in the academic space of higher education and the North American seminary.

Imagining a North American Seminary as a Latinx Space

If we were to keep this conversation in-house, within Fuller Theological Seminary, we would say that the strategy for our next era as an institution represents a journey out of a past history and educational business model that has proven to be too clever for us to escape from easily. We have been part and, indeed, codesigners of an educational business model of evangelical formation determined by white normativity and trapped in Occidentalism when it comes to governance, curriculum, faculty hiring and development, funding research, and marketing scholarly programs. What would it take for a North American seminary to become a Latinx space given the violent itinerary of Christianity in the Americas, and the fact that the Christian formation spaces in the US represent a painful place devoid of the proper conditions for embracing and developing Latino/a/x bodies and what they bring to the institution? To try doing seminary another way, we need:

To be realistic and consequential with our current and future demographics against the forces that hope to alter reality with funding, research production, and restorationist views of white evangelicalism. As Fuller President Mark Labberton has said, “It is unthinkable to imagine a future for our institution without a strong Latino/a/x community in our midst.” What would it take for a North American seminary to be consequential with this statement?

To embrace brown bodies and all they bring with them against the forces that hope to finance education based on income, traditional theological and ministry training, racial hegemony (beyond Black and White), monolingualism/monoculturalism, individualism, and US nationalism.

To welcome those Latino/a/x voices already within or connected to the seminary campus and, especially, welcome their strong criticism and witnessing against structural and cultural racism; see them as an asset, instead of a threat, to the institution; see them as agents of transformation rather than deformation; see them as a gift from the Spirit of God in the form of institutional self-criticism, a criticism that is essential for the remaking of the seminary as an organization of the future and, to quote Peter Drucker, an organization whose single purpose is to make “the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant;”18 and see them as both deconstruction and reconstruction workers.

To decolonize the curricula and structural identity of the institution on the basis of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cognitive justice against the forces of “a common culture and mission” that makes the celebration of cultural, racial, ethnic, gender, political, or doctrinal differences impossible. This experiment is only possible with suitable ethnic partners from within and beyond the institution, sharing power and decision-making in the becoming of a global campus at the service and in partnership with the global church.

To celebrate epistemic difference and pluriversality in scholarly production and Christian formation against a westernized educational business model that acts as a monocultural lord or multicultural savior.

Let us imagine for a moment a seminary campus where we can go to unlearn! Where we (faculty/scholars) are forming students and being formed by students in between, at the borders of disciplines, pedagogies, cultures, identity politics, religious and academic traditions, scholarly and pastoral guilds, and so on. Yes, let us imagine that the “one-mission ecology” of the seminary is to help us all unlearn whiteness, monoculturalism, Occidentalism, religious nationalism, patriarchy, cultural imperialism, and more. Let’s call this indispensable Christian formation because by being involved with the unlearning process we (the faculty and the student) develop Christ-like competencies discernible in practice, not just in theory. And these practices are rooted in the Evangel, which means that the competencies find a resemblance in Jesus of Nazareth’s own practices, however contextualized. Let’s imagine that the Spirit of Jesus leads us in the practice of undoing whiteness at the erasures of coloniality and patriarchy, which are lived out at all levels in the institution (governance, faculty, staff, student body, administration, curricula, the footprint in the public space).

Do we not see it? A gospel witness only too indispensable and pertinent to our time and place not to be our duty, our Christopraxis.

Written By

Oscar García-Johnson is academic dean for Centro Latino, the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He is also associate professor of theology and Latino/a studies. Born in Honduras, Dr. García-Johnson teaches in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. He is the author or coauthor of many books,  including Spirit Outside the Gate: Decolonial Pneumatologies of the American Global South and Theology without Borders: Introduction to Global Conversations, with William Dyrness. In addition to teaching courses at Fuller, he is a social activist involved in faith-rooted holistic justice with Matthew 25 of Southern California, La RED, and CCDA. He is a member of the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana, the American Academy of Religion, and La Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana.

In an interview about one of my books on an Australian podcast, the host opened his program by saying:

You write, “In truth, every theology bears the marks of a narrative of its theologian, who is the teller.” As a way of helping us wade into this conversation, can you talk to us a little about yourself: your path from the “Chiquita banana kid” to “diasporic US Latinx activist scholar,” and how this autobiography shapes both the style and hopes for the book?1

I will apply the host’s question about influential, shaping factors to the theological formation space of the North American seminary. Let me begin with a summary of my experience in such a context, during my formational stage as a scholar and teacher:

Originally, I came to seminary because of a Latinx and ministry question. But this question gradually morphed into a different set of questions subsumed under a more universal, significant, and overarching body of knowledge, which arguably is to give an account of the classical questions of Christianity, the church, and the Christian witness. That is to say, the premise for this epistemic transformation (from the “particular” to the “universal”) is that by addressing the perennial questions of Western Christianity I could give answers to the temporary questions of Latinx Christianity. This subalternization of my particular quest for knowledge made me realize that I had become indeed an impostor to my own self and my own people: my teaching, preaching, evangelizing, counseling, healing gifts were all conduits by which my students were also barbarically civilized, by virtue of my own mimicking of the subversion I was exposed to during my educational process. I had become an expert on civilizing my own people, with a doctoral degree to prove it. Put bluntly, I was pedagogically handicapped. I was not able to teach my students. I could only teach them the subject of Western theology and its applicability to their context, however translated into their “barbaric” environments. Borrowing from Homi K. Bhabha, I had been participating in the barbaric transmission of culture with the rhetoric of civilization. I had been an impostor. I needed to migrate. I needed exodus in the midst of exile.2

The Australian podcaster, who had carefully read my book, was intrigued by the transformation of character and metaphor in my autobiography: from a place of colonial privilege to a place of decolonial vocation. I told him that it was not my own choosing. In real life, in contrast to theological monographs, one rarely chooses a whole trajectory or even the orienting categories that come to define one’s intellectual agenda. One discovers it along the way by choosing one’s own steps, mindful of the epistemic horizons surrounding oneself.

In an exilic/diasporic human condition, space is more determinative than time, geography is more compelling than history. That is, the where comes to be more insightful than the when because it gives shape to the who and the what of one’s life and living in a fundamental way. Thus, the paradox I use to represent this conundrum is “exodus in the midst of exile.” The former points to a journey of faith that seeks self-identity and relative stability after slavery and oppression. The latter points to displacement, “a place for losing identity and social stability . . . where one learns to live in interstitial angst after one has been deprived”3 of one’s true home and one’s true self. But let us make no mistake here, for exilic/diasporic self-consciousness and embodiment render not merely “ambiguity and disorientation but also imaginaries and decolonial tropes with the potential to reframe world captivities that are not usually available to those living at the center of wealth, intellectual privilege, and racial hegemony.”4

The Global Educational Business Model

In this article, I will suggest that the lack of attraction and equitable inclusion of Latinos/as/xs in the academic space of the North American seminary is the result of a global educational business model rooted in monocultural, soteriological, and geopolitical designs—built since the 16th century and naturalized in the present by white normative colonizing policies and Christian practices. That said, this article will not only articulate a problem but will also look at the root causes and the effects on the Latinx colonized communities to imagine a response to the question: What would it take for a North American seminary to become a Latinx space, given the violent itinerary of Christianity in the Americas?

This is clearly not a new question. In the 1970s, Fuller Theological Seminary established two pioneering theological initiatives (the Center for Hispanic Church and Community and the Center for African American Church Studies) to cope with the demand of the North American church to form Latino/a/x and African American ministers in the US. During this period, the notable Latino missiologist and evangelist Orlando Costas critiqued the westernized academic model of education: “With few exceptions the missiological literature of the North is still oriented to the questions before the church ‘there’ [North] rather than ‘here’ [South].”5

Costas was addressing the structural web system—including missiological education, financial support, academic-social status, and church leadership—that significantly contributed to the peripherization of Latin America and its subaltern participation in the theological and missiological process, which Costas labeled a “late and slow start.” Costas’s participation in both the North American and Latin American seminary context enabled him to explore how it is that Christianity in Latin America has had a much longer history than “its Anglo-Saxon counterpart” and yet Latin America “has produced so very few theologians and has contributed so little to the mission of the universal church.”6

A reader who has been historically misinformed and is reading from a place of white normativity and US evangelical nationalism may feel a bit put off by Costas’s affirmation of the seniority of Latin American Christian history over its North American counterpart. However, when one does due diligence and corroborates Costas’s accuracy and audacity in this question—that is, that Latin American Christianity precedes North American Christianity on at least two religious fronts, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism (and Pentecostalism if we dare to include the charismatic revivals recorded in Chile as early as 1904)—the reader may now proceed to feel good for a different reason: We (North Americans) have achieved so much in a shorter time. But then, that pride is consistent not only with the Christian religion but also with politics, economics, the military, culture, sports, science, and technology.7

If not careful, the reader may miss in Costas’s question his subtle criticism of the westernized (US) mission and ecclesial web system that have come to dominate and “gate” the possibilities of the Latin Americans and US Latinos/as for self-missioning, self-theologizing, and autonomously achieving sociocultural emancipation. In the 1980s, Costas would make more explicit his critical instincts in his memorable book Christ Outside the Gate. The “gate” Costas had in mind was tainted by a “puritanical value system, the shameless defense and justification of racism . . . and the [Anglo-Saxon] triumphalistic belief in the divine (manifest) destiny of the United States.”8

Furthermore, when Costas alludes to a “longer history,” a reader may also miss his audacity to put together in one historical perspective the four colonizing processes that have given shape to the social imaginations of the North American theological and mission enterprise when influencing the sociohistorical conditions of the peoples of the American Global South (Latin Americans, Caribbeans, North American Latinxs). I have elaborated on these processes extensively elsewhere; I will only name them here to fill in what Costas has left unsaid:9

  • Salvation by colonial economy and civilizing Christianization (1500s–1800s)
  • Salvation by US Americanism (1900s)
  • Salvation by the doctrine of development (1930s–1960s)
  • Salvation by market capitalism (1970s–2000s)

Hopefully by now, a reader situated in the westernized academic space—who has inherited and enjoyed (perhaps unmindfully) white normativity as a monocultural horizon of being and doing construed by a set of identities, privileges, and opportunities not available to the Latino/a/x cultural other—may understand more clearly why it is difficult to feel attracted to and included in the westernized North American seminary when one is a self-conscious Latino/a/x. In other words, our Latino(a)ness has deep and long-standing epistemic and geopolitical roots affecting the very humanitas (human nature and identity) and societas (the place of emancipation) in cultural representation. That is, the “diseased social imagination” of the North (Willie Jennings) is coupled with the “colonial wound” of the South (Walter Mignolo).10 Together, if not undone, they normalize subalternity for the Latino/a/x other while normalizing whiteness for all in the North American seminary space.

If not careful, a North American seminary may fall into one of two trajectories, both resulting in Latinocide in the Christian academy—the extermination of cultural worth and distinctive Latino/a/x contributions for the sake of a common seminary culture and mission. One path is to unapologetically assume a monocultural educational business model where governance, faculty, curricula, student scholarships, staff and student services, and academic as well as professional programs are built and marketed on the basis of a “racial (White), ethnic (Euro-American), gendered (male), geopolitical (Northern), economic (market capitalist), religious (Western Christian) mode of framing human value and designing global power and privilege.”11

Nowadays we may call this model a far-right North American seminary approach. But there is always its alternative, which assumes a “multicultural” rhetorical model, except that such multiculturality is indeed a sort of “liberal multiculturalism.” The idea behind it is a pluralistic model that promotes freedom, equality, and justice and includes all those subjects typically excluded in the monocultural model. This sounds good in principle, except that in real time and space the core of power and privilege has only shifted ideologically but not racially, ethnically, gender-wise, geopolitically, and epistemically. We still see White, male, North Atlantic, market-driven, Western Christians in places of power and privilege, but this time speaking from seemingly multicultural spaces and inviting everyone to join them in their utopian educational project. These “multi-
cultural” North American seminaries do hire scholars of color, diversify their curricula, and provide room for autonomous ethno-racial expressions—except that money, power, and privilege are restricted to a white social order.

The Underrepresentation of Latinos/as/xs in the North American Seminary

“Hispanics” as an ethnic category registered the lowest number of enrolled students in ATS (The Association of Theological Schools) member schools (6–7 percent) in previous years (2015–2019), as opposed to White, Black, Asian, and international visa students, only above Native American students.12 If we put this into perspective, noting that Latinos/as/xs make up about 19 percent of all US evangelical Protestants and 48 percent of US Roman Catholics, the picture gets more real, suggesting a recruitment and retention problem in the educational business model of the North American seminary (conservative or progressive).

And we have not yet addressed the problem of Latino/a/x faculty recruitment, retention, development, and tenure. “The numbers speak for themselves,” declares Frank R. Tellez in his study of underrepresentation of Hispanics as tenured or tenure-track professors.13 In 2011, of 761,619 tenured or tenure-track faculty in institutions of higher education, only 31,331, or 4.11 percent, described themselves as Hispanic.14 This data speaks more directly to the factors affecting the attraction and inclusion of Latinos/as/xs in the academic space of North American higher education. “Hispanics must battle the forces of institutional racism, fierce competition among qualified aspirants of all races and genders, and a dwindling number of available full-time positions if they are to climb the steps to the ivory tower,” says Tellez.15

Anne-Marie Nuñez and Elizabeth Murakami-Ramalho further document that the percentage drops even more—to 3 percent—for Latina full professors. This 3 percent is a painful number for, as Nuñez and Murakami-Ramalho put it:

[Latina] women often face institutionalized sexism and are expected to take on additional professional responsibilities, such as uncompensated university service, that impede their ability to advance from the junior to the senior faculty ranks. Because of their dual status as women and as members of an underrepresented group, Latinas are more likely to encounter racism, stereotyping, lack of mentoring, tokenism, uneven promotion, and inequitable salaries when entering the academy. Research has documented the stereotypes that Latina faculty often encounter: some are told by colleagues that they are particularly articulate, or that they speak English well, implying that this is atypical, while others have described instances where students, other faculty members, or staff members have assumed that they are service workers or anything but professors.16

This is bad enough, but then we see the report from the ATS on Latino/a/x faculty. Of the 1,299 full professors reported in 2019 in ATS member schools, 42 are Hispanic and only 7 are Latinas. It is a disastrous figure for Latinx faculty (3 percent) and an intolerably painful number for Latina faculty (0.5 percent).17

I hope it is clear by now that current Latino/a/x statistics only provide evidence that our five-century-old colonial wound and long history of sociocultural displacement is anything but a thing of the past. It is a life lived with our intellect and bodies in the academic space of higher education and the North American seminary.

Imagining a North American Seminary as a Latinx Space

If we were to keep this conversation in-house, within Fuller Theological Seminary, we would say that the strategy for our next era as an institution represents a journey out of a past history and educational business model that has proven to be too clever for us to escape from easily. We have been part and, indeed, codesigners of an educational business model of evangelical formation determined by white normativity and trapped in Occidentalism when it comes to governance, curriculum, faculty hiring and development, funding research, and marketing scholarly programs. What would it take for a North American seminary to become a Latinx space given the violent itinerary of Christianity in the Americas, and the fact that the Christian formation spaces in the US represent a painful place devoid of the proper conditions for embracing and developing Latino/a/x bodies and what they bring to the institution? To try doing seminary another way, we need:

To be realistic and consequential with our current and future demographics against the forces that hope to alter reality with funding, research production, and restorationist views of white evangelicalism. As Fuller President Mark Labberton has said, “It is unthinkable to imagine a future for our institution without a strong Latino/a/x community in our midst.” What would it take for a North American seminary to be consequential with this statement?

To embrace brown bodies and all they bring with them against the forces that hope to finance education based on income, traditional theological and ministry training, racial hegemony (beyond Black and White), monolingualism/monoculturalism, individualism, and US nationalism.

To welcome those Latino/a/x voices already within or connected to the seminary campus and, especially, welcome their strong criticism and witnessing against structural and cultural racism; see them as an asset, instead of a threat, to the institution; see them as agents of transformation rather than deformation; see them as a gift from the Spirit of God in the form of institutional self-criticism, a criticism that is essential for the remaking of the seminary as an organization of the future and, to quote Peter Drucker, an organization whose single purpose is to make “the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant;”18 and see them as both deconstruction and reconstruction workers.

To decolonize the curricula and structural identity of the institution on the basis of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cognitive justice against the forces of “a common culture and mission” that makes the celebration of cultural, racial, ethnic, gender, political, or doctrinal differences impossible. This experiment is only possible with suitable ethnic partners from within and beyond the institution, sharing power and decision-making in the becoming of a global campus at the service and in partnership with the global church.

To celebrate epistemic difference and pluriversality in scholarly production and Christian formation against a westernized educational business model that acts as a monocultural lord or multicultural savior.

Let us imagine for a moment a seminary campus where we can go to unlearn! Where we (faculty/scholars) are forming students and being formed by students in between, at the borders of disciplines, pedagogies, cultures, identity politics, religious and academic traditions, scholarly and pastoral guilds, and so on. Yes, let us imagine that the “one-mission ecology” of the seminary is to help us all unlearn whiteness, monoculturalism, Occidentalism, religious nationalism, patriarchy, cultural imperialism, and more. Let’s call this indispensable Christian formation because by being involved with the unlearning process we (the faculty and the student) develop Christ-like competencies discernible in practice, not just in theory. And these practices are rooted in the Evangel, which means that the competencies find a resemblance in Jesus of Nazareth’s own practices, however contextualized. Let’s imagine that the Spirit of Jesus leads us in the practice of undoing whiteness at the erasures of coloniality and patriarchy, which are lived out at all levels in the institution (governance, faculty, staff, student body, administration, curricula, the footprint in the public space).

Do we not see it? A gospel witness only too indispensable and pertinent to our time and place not to be our duty, our Christopraxis.

Oscar (headshot)

Oscar García-Johnson is academic dean for Centro Latino, the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He is also associate professor of theology and Latino/a studies. Born in Honduras, Dr. García-Johnson teaches in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. He is the author or coauthor of many books,  including Spirit Outside the Gate: Decolonial Pneumatologies of the American Global South and Theology without Borders: Introduction to Global Conversations, with William Dyrness. In addition to teaching courses at Fuller, he is a social activist involved in faith-rooted holistic justice with Matthew 25 of Southern California, La RED, and CCDA. He is a member of the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana, the American Academy of Religion, and La Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana.

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Alison Wong, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy, writes about the power of intentional listening when serving those in various stages of illness.