Beloved Community in Multicultural Contexts: The Lived Theology of Pastor Miguel Balderas

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Figueroa-Ray, Kelly, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Marsh, Charles, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Ochs, Vanessa, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Ochs, Peter, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Mason, John, Department of History, University of Virginia

This study is a hermeneutical ethnography focused on the lived theology of Pastor Miguel Balderas, a Latino Elder in the United Methodist Church, whose Maryland congregation is endeavoring to become multicultural. This research combines ethnographic methods with a set of hermeneutical tools, traditionally used to analyze ancient scriptural commentary, to examine enacted theological expression, specifically preaching, liturgical choices, and leadership models. The study demonstrates that through particular hermeneutical acts Pastor Miguel is attempting to rewrite cultural habits of the majority-white, English-speaking congregation. He does this by using scripture to develop multicultural habits and potentialities that are not governed by modes of assimilation, a process the author terms the “entextualization of Beloved Community.” Through this process Pastor Miguel attempts to replace culturally ingrained values with those drawn from concepts of the Kingdom of God.

This study also offers an intimate glimpse into the culture of a mainline church, the membership of which is declining. The author provides a theological, hermeneutical, and ethnographic analysis of the types of logics, habits, and practices that impede multicultural community development, and which continue to reify the “narrative of decline.” The narrative of decline is a term used within mainline Protestant discourse to indicate how leaders have described and responded to the sharp and continuous decrease in church membership on both the national and local level. This study demonstrates how this narrative shapes national church policy and in turn generates a form of multiculturalism that acts as a strategy to stave off or reverse the decline. This form of multiculturalism engenders an assimilationist approach to outreach—an approach whose telos is church growth through an increase in minority membership without a concomitant change in church culture—found in the field site and is what Pastor Miguel attempts to transform through his scripture-shaped multicultural training program.

This research contributes to the growing body of literature on multiracial congregations by offering a unique ethnographic perspective missing from the scholarship—an in-depth examination of a non-multicultural congregation’s approach to developing multicultural ministries. Hermeneutical ethnography as it is applied in this study also offers a new method for Christian ethnographers, anthropologists, and other scholars interested in how scripture and Christian tradition function in contemporary religious communities, a method that takes seriously the role of texts within the process of lived theological expression.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Rev. Dr. Miguel Balderas, hermeneutical ethnography, lived theology, United Methodist Church, Beloved Community, multiculturalism, Mainline Protestantism, narrative of decline, multiracial congregations, scripture
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