Conversation: Jesse Miranda
Living out faith in culture
For decades, Jesse Miranda Jr. has been a mover and shaker
not only in Assemblies of God circles but also among U.S. Hispanic Protestants.
Saluted as “the granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism” by Christianity Today,
Miranda is the founding president of the multidenominational Alianza de
Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales (AMEN), chief executive officer of the
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an AG executive presbyter,
founder of the Latino American Theological Seminary, distinguished professor
and director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard
University, and past chairman of the AG Commission on Ethnicity. He received
his bachelor’s degree from Vanguard, master’s degrees from Biola and Fullerton
universities, and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Miranda, 71, grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., the son of a
Mexican lumber mill worker and Spanish-descent mother with a third-grade
education. With his irenic spirit, Miranda is widely regarded as the driving
force behind uniting disparate U.S. Hispanic evangelicals on issues such as
theological education, social ethics and racial reconciliation. He recently sat
down for an interview with TPE News Editor John W. Kennedy.
tpe: According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public
Life, the Assemblies of God has the highest percentage of Latinos (19 percent)
among Protestant groups. Why?
MIRANDA: Hispanics have a long history of established
relationships and trust. The first AG Hispanic church dates to 1916, two years
after the Fellowship started. The second and third generations have been
consistent and continue to grow. Immigration has a lot to do with this,
bringing a ripe harvest of souls and believers with the Pentecostal fire from
tpe: Why do some people feel threatened by immigration?
MIRANDA: I don’t know for sure. This is a sensitive and
complex issue. Employers continue to recruit immigrants, while citizens suffer
from historical amnesia and difficulty dealing with the stranger. We forget we
are all immigrants, except for Native Americans.
I’m leery when the feelings of Christians come from a
nationalistic, political and legal slant rather than from the Bible. God told
the people of Israel, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers
in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV). The Deuteronomy covenant
(Deuteronomy 24:17-22, Isaiah 56) is still in force. Jesus summarizes the Ten
Commandments as loving God and loving neighbors.
tpe: Hispanics are seen by many as a monolith. But you’ve
found a wide range of agendas, worship styles and theological emphases among
different strands of Hispanics.
MIRANDA: Diversity among Hispanics is a reality. I became
aware of it during an airport delay in the 1970s. A woman spoke to me with a
Spanish accent. She happened to be Cuban. She had come to the U.S. 10 years
earlier. I asked, “What do you love about the United States?” She gave a long
list. “What don’t you like?” I asked. She said, “I do not like to be called
At the time, AG pastors on the West Coast would routinely
say, “We Mexicans” when referring to Hispanics. I told our pastors we needed to
change our vocabulary.
Most Hispanics want to be identified by where they’re from:
“I’m Colombian.” “I’m Salvadoran.” “I’m Cuban.” There are 24 Hispanic
nationalities. We come in all colors, yet we’re able to function together in
tpe: What is the biggest need among U.S. Hispanic AG
MIRANDA: Leadership development and theological education.
As Hispanics are growing in number, I’m concerned that quantity doesn’t always
translate into quality. There is a great need right now for discipleship and
leadership to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
tpe: Why is education vital for the growth of the church?
MIRANDA: Knowledge is power, power to grow the church.
Pentecostals should not turn away from critical analysis and study. Nor should
we solely focus on experience and emotion.
I grew up Pentecostal and have strived to maintain a
balance. When I was 8 years old my mother got up from praying at the altar
after a service. She said, “Son, I want you to be an educated man when you grow
up.” Only one person in our church had more than a high school education
— and he was sprawled on the floor before the Lord. I learned that a
complete person should have a combination of a heart ablaze and a mind on fire.
Education needs to be integrated into our spirituality.
Perhaps we, as Pentecostals, have focused too much on initial evidence of being
filled with the Holy Spirit rather than substantive evidence. I believe it’s
not either/or but both. I’m excited that we’re in a time when Hispanics have a
great challenge to live up to the type of leadership — spiritual and
academic — that General Superintendent George O. Wood is providing for
tpe: You’re seen as a bridge builder among various ethnic,
generational, denominational and political entities. Why do Christians have
such a tough time getting along?
MIRANDA: Because we don’t understand our own human nature.
We look for differences in others rather than what we have in common. We need
to go beyond nationality, color and income. Our culture of individualism feeds
into selfishness. Jesus called us to die to ourselves.
tpe: What is the biggest overall need for the growth of the
MIRANDA: The biggest need is to recapture our missional
identity as a church, to become an alternative society in a tenuous and
dangerous period in our history. To be the conscience of our economic and
political systems according to Scripture. We need to redefine what it means to
be a Pentecostal today. As Christians, we need to reform our uncivil image,
real or perceived. We are perceived as antagonistic and judgmental.
Many believers are trying to make heaven here on earth
— by finding a comfort level they never knew before. Like the Early
Church, we need to be counterculture. The church should be what it wants
society to become: a people ready for His return, ready to live under the reign
of Christ and of the kingdom of God.
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