LGBTQ issues and women’s ordination are front-burner topics for Baptists these days, including those gathered in Atlanta for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly.
But for many Hispanics, there are other burning issues, a Cuban-born CBF leader said.
“Immigration is the issue for us, right now,” said Ruben Ortiz, coordinator of the CBF Latino Network, called La Familia. “That’s a hot topic and we want to concentrate on that.”
Ortiz is a Florida pastor and the senior CBF staff member directing the fellowship’s Latino outreach efforts.
He spoke with Baptist News Global Thursday morning during the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.
The Latino network has more members in attendance this year, at 40, than the 12 years before. Ortiz said it was slow going for more than a decade, but Hispanic interest in CBF is growing as CBF opens its networks to Latino Baptists and churches, he said.
“The goal is not to have Hispanics as side group, with Spanish worship,” he said. “The goal is to permeate every single space of the [fellowship].”
Many are drawn to the adherence to Baptist principles and freedoms, from which they feel they can pursue issues such as evangelism, church growth, spiritual formation and worship, Ortiz said.
“There is the freedom to be neither right nor left — there is the freedom to be moderate,” he said.
And for some the draw is much more practical, said Jesus Garcia, pastor of the only CBF congregation in Puerto Rico.
“For me, it’s been about working along side [Fellowship] groups and churches from the U.S.,” he said. “For me, it’s about missions.”
Puerto Rico has been devastated by a long-term economic crisis that has sent many of the people and agencies capable of helping the poor either out of the territory or out of business. Team visits coordinated through CBF Florida have boosted the capacity of Garcia’s church to help individuals, schools and other institutions in need.
Garcia said he has recently been appointed to the CBF Missions Council. For him, it’s an opportunity to build unity between his church and the wider world of Baptists.
“This unites us” in the work to “provide justice for people and to build God’s kingdom,” he said.
Ortiz said some are engaged in CBF’s Illumination Project, a process it launched in 2016 to re-examine its controversial ban on hiring LGBTQ people.
The leader of the ad hoc committee leading that project was to report on its progress during the General Assembly business meeting Thursday morning.
“We are working with them in that discernment process,” Ortiz said.
But there are other issues for them as well, including President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, deteriorating relations with Mexico and the arrests and deportations of immigrants — many from their own communities, Ortiz said.
“We are worried about the rampant racism that is now supported by the highest spheres of politics,” Ortiz said.
Hispanic congregations and clergy seek between the left-wing and right-wing forces that are dividing the U.S.
“We are looking for some balance in these contexts in the U.S. because it is so divided,” he said.