God, Justice and the Latino Church

August 12, 2021

      The U.S. Census Bureau shows that in the state of Florida there are about 6 million people who describe themselves as Hispanic or Latino, or 27% of the total population of the state, of which 52% are born in the United States and 48% were born in other countries.

      According to a Pew Forum study 71% of Latinos residing in Florida consider themselves Christians, the majority 37% are practicing or nominal Catholics, 22% identify themselves as Evangelicals and 8% as Protestants belonging to historic churches such as Presbyterian, Lutheran or Methodist and 2% are affiliated with African American Protestant churches. This indicates that 32% of Latinos in our state are Evangelical or Protestant and that they are a very important sector of society in general. Regarding the political and ideological tendencies of the Latino community, the same study indicates that 30% are conservative, 30% liberal and 27% moderate.

      The Pew Forum also indicates that 33% of Latinos in general believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be interpreted literally, 24% believe that it is the word of God but that not everything in it should be interpreted literally and 30% do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. In other words, for 57% of Hispanics the Bible is important.

      Since the word of God is relevant in our Hispanic community, we would like to briefly reflect on the theme of justice in the scriptures. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, justice is the first requirement of love, the recognition of the basic rights of all people, not only as human beings similar to us, but primarily as neighbors and brothers.  The prophet Micah tells us clearly what God expects of us in terms of justice:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”. (Micah 6:6-8. NRSV).

      It is interesting that the prophet does not tell us that we must practice mercy and love justice, but that God calls us to practice justice and love mercy. Practicing justice is what the Lord demands of us, in addition to loving mercy and walking in humility with God.  In the Holy Scriptures we are shown that God is a God of Justice, and that he shows great concern for the poor and afflicted. In the Bible very often reference is made to widows, orphans and strangers, i.e. people who had no support system. Israel as a nation was instructed by God to care for the least favored in society, and in part their neglect to comply with God’s instruction was one of the reasons for the judgment and expulsion from the Promised Land. 

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

Who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19. NRSV).

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 our Lord Jesus Christ mentions that the judgment of the nations will be based on the sin of omission of not taking care of: 

“these my least brethren”.

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”. (Matthew 25: 42-45. NRSV).

      In divine justice it is clear that society has a moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable. One of the consequences of individual sin and institutional sin is the proliferation of orphans, widows, the poor, prisoners and strangers in society. And that is why in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments we find God’s instructions to care for the most vulnerable in our midst.

      Jesus himself showed us this sense of Divine Justice, when he instructed the disciples in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. However, it is no secret that in the evangelical preaching, because of its emphasis on individual conversion, the social responsibility of the church was neglected for many decades, we preach much about individual sin, but little denounce the institutional sin that allows so much poverty and exclusion in our society, for example in the U.S. the challenge of migration and the massive incarceration of young African Americans and Latinos.

      Latin American migration to the U.S. is mainly caused by poverty and economic inequality in our continent. An example of this if we take into account the poverty line income of 3, 3 dollars per day established by the United Nations, are countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that in 2020 experienced a poverty rate of 50%, 33% and 22% respectively. It is not surprising that precisely from these countries come the largest number of people arriving in caravans to the southern border of the United States with Mexico.

      Covid19 further affected the economies of these nations as they lacked a social protection system or fiscal reserves to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that during 2020 in El Salvador there was an increase of 9.8% in extreme poverty, in Honduras of 5.5% and in Guatemala of 2.1%, evidently in these countries called the Northern Triangle the pandemic has generated more poverty and homelessness.

      In our country the issue of mass incarceration is a scandal that can no longer be hidden, approximately 93% of those who are convicted and go to prison for drug related offenses are African American and Latino youth, while Anglo Saxon youth who use drugs in the same or even higher proportion are sent to community service or are granted parole under supervision for similar non-violent offenses in most cases. It is clear that the institutional racism of the justice system plays a determining role in the mass incarceration of our youth.

      These two briefly mentioned issues and other important ones such as: racism, the Covid19 pandemic, health coverage challenges, college student debt, poverty and food insecurity will be considered in a series of subsequent articles as we at Mission Talk are committed to mobilize, organize and educate our youth and evangelical leaders towards a more prophetic dimension that allows the institutions of our state to be more just towards the most vulnerable people in our society, whom the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to make participants of justice.

Mission Talk Editorial Team.