Recently, all staff in the United Church of Christ’s national offices participated in a diversity training session. Part of the training included a “Diversity Quiz,” and one of the questions asked for our best guess regarding the percentage of Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S.
The answer, not surprisingly, was 16.9% as of 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, the projection for Latinos/Hispanics living in the U.S. will be 29% of the total population. As stated by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project:
– Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations were: Tennessee (up 163%), South Carolina (161%), Alabama (157%), Kentucky (135%) and South
– The five states where Hispanics made up the biggest share of the population in 2012 were: New Mexico (47%), California (38%), Texas (38%), Arizona (30%) and Nevada (27%).
As you can see, Latinos still remain the fastest-growing population in the United States, despite the fact that Hispanic immigration to the U.S. has stalled. So, how do these numbers compare with Latinos/Hispanics in the United Church of Christ?
Overall, congregations that identified predominantly as Hispanic/Latino constituted roughly 0.4% of all UCC churches, according to the Fall 2013 Statistical Profile. This is a 0.5% decline from 2002 when Latino congregations constituted 0.9% of all UCC churches. Translation: Out of the 5,154 total active congregations within the UCC at the end of 2012, only about 20 of them were Latino/Hispanic. In addition, 68 (1.0%) of all active, authorized ministers in the UCC identified as Hispanic in 2012.
The United Church of Christ has a unique opportunity to take a sober look at these figures and to prayerfully/prophetically consider how we might live more faithfully into our core values of extravagant welcome and radical inclusion in this regard. The latest report about U.S. Hispanics/Latinos from the Pew Research Center focused on the shifting religious identities of this population; and the statistics seem promising for denominations such as the United Church of Christ.
– Nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics. Catholic Hispanics have declined by 12 percentage points in just the last four years, from 67% to 55%.
– 18% of Latinos are religiously unaffiliated.
The report further articulates, “Hispanics leaving Catholicism have tended to move in two directions. Some have become born-again or evangelical Protestants, a group that exhibits very high levels of religious commitment. On average, Hispanic evangelicals – many of whom also identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants – not only report higher rates of church attendance than Hispanic Catholics but also tend to be more engaged in other religious activities, including Scripture reading, Bible study groups and sharing their faith. At the same time, other Hispanics have become religiously unaffiliated – that is, they describe themselves as having no particular religion or say they are atheist or agnostic. This group exhibits much lower levels of religious observance and involvement than Hispanic Catholics. In this respect, unaffiliated Hispanics roughly resemble the religiously unaffiliated segment of the general public.”
Where are mainline Protestants represented in this spectrum? Are we passing by an immense opportunity here in not placing significant energies and dollars toward outreach and relationship building with these communities (knowing that there is a great diversity of groups lumped into the “Hispanic/Latino” category)? As larger segments of U.S. Latino population growth are attributed to native-born individuals, will second and third generation Latinos just become a larger share of the religiously unaffiliated, similar to their peers in other racial groups?
As an individual who identifies as a bi-racial Latina (my father was Puerto Rican), as well as having been raised in a part of the U.S. where Latinos were the majority population (Southern Colorado/ Northern New Mexico), I care very deeply about this issue. My own father was raised Catholic, then converted to Pentecostalism/ evangelicalism shortly after I was born (at a Nicky Cruz revival). Pentecostalism provided a way for him to fully express his passion for God and for sharing faith with others, although in many ways, he remained socially and politically liberal. His story is not unlike many other Latinos in the United States, and I wonder whether the social and political progressiveness of the UCC might be a draw for individuals who are leaving the Catholic faith. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether the decline of the Catholic church has actually slowed since Pope Francis arrived at the Vatican.
Only time will tell…but in the meantime, will we stand by or will we act? And, more importantly, are we willing to be transformed in the same ways that our broader culture has been transformed demographically?