VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/10/21)—“Rejecting Eurocentric Christianity” was the topic on Friday when the Rev. Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre, professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colo., presented to approximately 50 attendees during the American Baptist Home Mission Societies 2021-2022 Intercultural Leadership Institute. Held at the Leadership and Mission Building in King of Prussia, Pa., the three-day event was the first meeting of the institute’s second cohort, which included participants from 18 states and Puerto Rico.
“The Intercultural Leadership Institute promotes cultural competency to embrace all cultures, while also confronting systemic issues like racism, sexism, classism and white privilege, among others,” said Director of Intercultural Ministries the Rev. F. Salvador Orellana. “Dr. Miguel De La Torre did that on Friday.”
Providing context for his talk, De La Torre began by addressing how Eurocentric Christianity has been detrimental to communities of color world-wide. He explained, “White nationalist Christianity has nothing to do with the gospel but was created to spiritually justify oppression.” Encouraging participants to wrestle with identity and the pervasiveness of white supremacy through the lens of ministry and self-awareness, De La Torre pointed out that people of color have learned how to see themselves and their theology though white eyes. “The first act of liberation is the decolonization of our minds,” he added.
Attendee Scotty Robertson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Middletown, Ohio, and a former ABHMS board member, said he was encouraged by De La Torre’s words. “It’s important that we come together to understand theology and praxis from traditions and communities that are not our own,” Robertson said. “This group that is gathered is almost a perfect mirror of not only what the body of Christ is but what we, as American Baptists, should continue to be.”
While De La Torre was the institute’s keynote speaker, participants also benefited from opportunities to connect with one another. An icebreaker on Thursday invited them to move to various parts of the meeting room based on their answers to such questions as “Who would like to work in immigration ministries?” and “Who has experienced racism?”
On Saturday, they were grouped geographically and shared opportunities and concerns relevant to their localities and regions. They also discussed ways to maintain their newly formed connections. Later, participants were grouped according to their interests and passions. One table, for example, was for those passionate about the LGBTQ community. They answered such questions as “What do you like about this passion ministry?” and “Where do you find your resources, strength and allies?”
Attendee Laura Ayala, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rio Piedras and a member of ABHMS’ board of directors, said she hesitated to apply to the Intercultural Leadership Institute “because, as a Puerto Rican living on the island, we tend to think about ourselves as one culture. I applied because I have friends in the states, and I wanted to better understand their experiences. However, this event has made me aware that intercultural ministry is everywhere, including Puerto Rico.”
About the Intercultural Leadership Institute
The Intercultural Leadership Institute is a yearlong cohort experience that teaches intercultural competency skills. It is intended to create brave spaces where learners can share openly from their own experiences, becoming a strong network of culturally competent leaders who promote justice for all people and who cultivate communities of respect and humility.
Members of the cohort learn to:
- Interpret biblical text from a cross-cultural perspective;
- Discover and value both commonalities and differences among cohort members; and
- Integrate experiential learning in leadership contexts.
This three-day residency will be followed by two online gatherings in 2022 before a final residency in Nov. 2022.
Those interested in applying for the third cohort of the International Leadership Institute should check ABHMS’ website in March 2022.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.