Arlene Sánchez Walsh, our newest contributing editor, provides us with a glimpse of her work on Latino Pentecostals from Sojourners. Sánchez Walsh is an associate professor of Latino/a church studies and church history at Azusa Pacific University. She is the author of Latino Pentecostal Identity, which won the 2005 Hispanic Theological Initiative Book Award. She is working on a project for the Louisville Institute on race, ethnicity and American Pentecostalism and writing a textbook Pentecostalism in America (Columbia University Press). When she is not writing, she is kept very busy with an inquisitive five year old, and a not-so-sleepy 7 month old. Welcome aboard, Arlene!
A History of Separation
Arlene Sánchez Walsh
The article begins with a scene gleaned from a goldmine of resources for anyone interested in American Pentecostalism, especially the interaction between missionaries and Mexicans on the borderlands, Puerto Rico, and on the East Coast. Henry C. Ball is one of the more interesting missionaries, not because of any unique cultural/racial sensitivity (no doubt, Henry Ball was a missionary boss, racist, anti-Catholic, triumphalistic) but as a major figure in the Assemblies of God missions strategy of seeking Mexican converts on the borderlands, Ball needs to be reckoned with as a deeper figure than the pages of the Pentecostal Evangel would allow.
If we take Ball at his word, he was an eyewitness to many of the indignities that Mexican workers were subjected to throughout the early part of the 20th century: fumigation, unfair and unsafe work conditions, theft of wages, subtle racism and overt segregation. Ball's sympathies for his charges are intertwined with his disdain for their supposed sloth and hatred for their residual Catholicism. Ball never seeks to reconcile this cognitive dissonance, (not too different from most of us), with the earnest desire he claims to want to "save" Mexicans and partake in their new life as Pentecostals, one would assume that such magnanimous attitudes would dull the distrust, dislike, and out and out hatred Ball writes about throughout his career as an AG missionary (1912-70). Curiously, it does not. Content with denigrating Mexicans as he is trying to "save" them, Ball, like many early Pentecostal leaders (one might extend that to many of today's Pentecostal leaders), simply did not have the theological tools to develop a social conscience beyond coarse proselytism.
The Sojourners article takes the story of Latino/a Pentecostals in a different direction, it seemed proper though to note that one could make a major contribution to American religious history mining through places like the Flower Heritage Center at the Assemblies of God headquarters in
Springfield, Missouri. One could really begin to examine issues of race, ethnicity and power that fed into the rise of American Pentecostalism. Finally, if an enterprising scholar wanted to, they could move us all beyond the black/white dichotomy of American Pentecostal history and start writing a history of American Pentecostalism that begins on the borderlands and ends in a storefront in Newark, or a cemetery in East Los Angeles (don't get me started, I have too much to do already).