This week I am teaching an intensive course called Identity and Difference: Theological Reflection on Race/Ethnicity; Gender/Sexuality; Class/Political Economy or Theological Reflection on Intersectionality. Our purpose is to critically investigate the concept of identity by reading primary sources on the categories of race, gender, sexuality and class, and our goal is to explore the ways that the scholars we read and we ourselves address contemporary challenges of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism/homophobia. Part of the job of being a leader in a Public Church is to develop alternative models for the transformation of religious institutions for witness in the world, and by doing so push religious communities towards becoming spaces of greater inclusion and welcome.
As a compliment to this class, today we will be featuring a marvelous blog post by recent LSTC graduate Abel Arroyo Traverso. A reflection upon his life as a Latino, as well as his time in seminary, he gives us a good look at what it means to deal with intersectionality, whiteness, and what it means to self-affirm. Read comment and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
While at LSTC, as a Latino has been one of the phrases that I’ve learned to say almost compulsively. As a Latino has become a kind of mantra, a battle cry, as well as gospel and a grounding phrase. Living and serving in Chicago, I learned that the only things that are acknowledged by others are those that are said bluntly and loudly, and as a Latino is the start of my journey into that practice of self-affirmation.
Timely affirming one or more of my identities – such as man, cisgender, queer, Latino, and beloved child of God, to name a few – became a need for the first time in class, when I learned in an Old Testament class, that the professor wouldn’t grade one of my papers because “it was too culturally biased” to which I replied “well, yes, they all are.” I got a passing grade. That was good enough.
And this was when I learned, vividly, that as much as academia tries to break the elements of my identity down – my gender, my sexuality, my ethnic back-ground, immigration and economic status – in order to quantify and qualify who I am, they can’t. All of these over-lap, in classic intersectionality, creating a web of privilege and marginalization that will be a permanent part of my life (for example, I am an immigrant and suffer because of racism, but as an immigrant who is now a naturalized citizen of the United States I have unquestionable advantages over someone who was where I was one year ago, or who has no documents at all). But acknowledging was, sometimes, too hard for the people in school.
From then on, I learned that in academia the default was white, the normal was US upper middle class. I wasn’t any of those things, so by reclaiming my own labels, I embarked in a journey of creation and reinvention.
As a Latino, I learned to claim my roots as not only welcomed in the ELCA, but to recognize them as necessary for its survival. This also means that as a Christian, I bring particular gifts to the body of Christ, and as a person looking to be ordained in the ELCA as a minister of Word and Sacrament, I bring into the conversation a gift of bridging cultures.
As a Latino, I learned that talking about how down one is with the idea of community doesn’t mean that a person is actually willing to be in community. I learned that it’s easier for people to interact with my multitude of identities through an academic filter rather than acknowledging that as a person, I have specific needs as real as my need for air and water, and just as necessary for my survival.
As a future pastor, and as someone who is expected to do competent theological reflection, I learned that I will always need to educate people about my cultural understanding of community, accompaniment, who Christ and Jesus are, and why those labels carry a deep significance for me and my community.
As a Latino, I learned that it is my responsibility to remind students, professors, pastors, and authorities that Latinx, Liberation, Mujerista and Queer, are no longer terms, theories, and theologies to be examined and approached as a distant other, but rather, they are just as valid and should be considered just as seriously in a classroom, parish, and synod as any – or could I perhaps dare to dream, over- exclusively white theology.
As a Latino I’m not only Latino, and as much as I AM Latino, I am any and all of my intersecting identities as well. Fully and unashamedly.
I learned that as a Latino the church needs my experience, my knowledge and my whole self to survive. I am willing to give it my all for my call, a call that is God given. What I won’t let happen is let myself become a vehicle for the dominant culture to perpetuate the discounting of the Latinx experience of God, and the multitude of gifts the Latinx community bring.
As a Latino, I learned that my theology is formed in community, that it’s multidisciplinary, that my theology is one grounded in liberation and the cross, and as a pastor my strength is the strength that comes from my community, and the Holy Spirit that works through it.
I learned that I can navigate spirituality not as a trend to shop for the spiritual practice of the month, but as a reality that connects me to my ancestors, a reality that allows me to access the wisdom of those who came before me, to know that listening to the songs of creation is not pagan but it’s recognizing God’s voice ringing through the fullness of the cosmos.
I learned that embracing ambiguity is not only good because Lutheranism and Luther embrace ambiguity, but also because that’s what the spirit inspires in me, to look for the ambiguities. I am called to be a witness where some people think that it’s a waste of time to witness. I learned to know God not only as creator and father but as God of many and all things, journeys, and times.
God of everything good and delicious.
God of every pain and indulgence.
God of every breath.
I believe in the sacredness of my skin and my accent, in the holiness of my shortcomings, I believe that God prefers me, as one of the poor, and that I should never be ashamed of that.
As a Latino I believe in engaging my feelings. I administer my time in a different way and prioritize relationship to punctuality. I believe in ranking my priorities in a different way than my white colleagues, and that’s okay. I believe in standing up for myself, but I will always be more willing and ready to stand up for someone else, which is why I need to trust that my community has my back.
In my time at LSTC, as a Latino I’ve experienced a number of realities, a multitude of spaces, people, classes, services, parties, meals, hugs, tears, laughs, and tea. As I prepare to move on from this part of my education, I believe that the God who brought me here will never ever abandon me.
As a Latino, I believe this. I can do no other.
Abel Arroyo is a graduate from The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Originally from Perú, his journey has taken him to explore almost all of Central and North America (no love for Canada yet). He has spent parts of his journey in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico as well as living in Washington state, Arizona, and California. A bona fide wanderer who struggles with linear time as an absolute, he is currently in Phoenix, Arizona where he journeys with the Queer, Latino and Homeless communities of Central Phoenix – as well as the occasional suburbanite. All are welcome.