The Liberating Spirit

9780802807281[1]The Liberating Spirit is an analytical examination of the Pentecostal movement in the Latino community. Pentecostalism is presented as a social transformation factor. The research is written for a scholarly audience, though it is understandable by the common believer as well. It argues for a “pneumatic” social ethic, and urges Pentecostals to move beyond selective preaching of salvation and to address such systemic issues as human rights, social injustice, racism, etc.

The study follows a well developed structure which integrates Pentecostalism and social transformation within the context of a Hispanic American culture. Chapters one and two of the study deal with the Hispanic American culture through focusing on the Hispanic immigration in North America. Chapter three is an overview of the Hispanic Pentecostal reality to identify the Pentecostal church as a center for liberation from oppression in the context of Pentecostal eschatology. Chapter four provides Scriptural proof for the presented ideas, and chapter five concludes the research with a presentation of social ethic for the Hispanic American Pentecostals.

Pentecostal churches are presented as traditionally unlearned in their majority, but always open to the needs of the poor among them. Villafane even speaks of “menesteroso” (the oppressed) as a main focus of concern of the Pentecostal churches. Since its beginning the movement has emphasized the inclusiveness of the Christian community existing in the context of Christ’s love for all with special emphasis on the poor, suffering, sick and oppressed.

Being concern with all of these, Pentecostalism has viewed the pneumatic theology and praxis not only as a heritage of its ethos, but also as means through which social justice is made possible within the church and the world which the church reaches through ministry. In the pneumatic part of the research, the author responds to Karl Barth’s dream for theology of the Spirit. Villafane sees Pentecostalism as the movement that brings such theology.

In relationship to the immigration dynamics, the author gives an extensive overview of the Latin American immigrants and the way they experience their ethnic belongingness. Villafane shows that Latin American immigrants form at least four groups of language preferences (1) English only, (2) Bilingual with English preferences, (3) Bilingual with Spanish preferences and (4) Spanish only. This division is somewhat different than the Bulgarian language preference. At this present time, research shows that all Bulgarian immigrants speak some English but prefer Bulgarian among them. Also, all Bulgarian-born immigrants have studied Russian beside Bulgarian and English, but do not use it in their communication within or outside of the Bulgaria community. And finally, at this time there is no English only preference group among the Bulgarians. Perhaps such will be formed when a second generation of Bulgarian immigrants emerges in America.

Another interesting point of difference is the ethnos of the immigrant communities. Villafane shows that Latin American immigrants represent five such groups as follows:

  • Mexicans 61%
  • Puerto Ricans 15%
  • Cubans 6%
  • Central and South America 10%
  • Other Nations 8%

The ethnic structure of the Bulgarian immigration in North America is close to the ethnic ratio in the Bulgarian nation which are: Bulgarians 80%, Turks 12%, Roma (6%) and others 2%. This presents several major differences between the Latin American and Bulgarian diasporas which are:
(1) The Latin American diaspora represents a much larger ethnic and geographical area from which immigrants have come than the Bulgarian one.
(2) The Latin American diaspora represents a much larger immigrant group in North America, with a longer history and large geographical location than the Bulgarian one.
(3) The Bulgarian diaspora represents a less defragmenter community as a large majority (80%) is Bulgarians. In the Latin American case almost 50% of the immigrants are with different ethnic background.
(4) The Bulgarian diaspora represents a different ethnic group, which differ not only by national belongingness, but by language as well.

In this context it must be critically noted that until recently cultural assimilation was considered an inevitable fact which can be prevented neither by the assimilating culture nor by the assimilated culture. It was considered that once a group of two or more cultures meet, assimilation begins. In America, however, assimilation is no longer seen as an inevitable process. Instead a cultural diversity exists in a rather mosaic structure described by the term “segmented assimilation.” Such phenomenal ethnic formation derives from the multiplicity of lifestyles and worldviews that formed a contemporary American culture. The technical term for this new mixing is “transnationalism.”

Villafane’s research further offers an in-depth overview of the Latin American communities in North America examining their culture and paradigms and influence of Pentecostal ministry among them. The text speaks of the “homo socius” or the person in the context of community, claiming that an individual is only a person when acting in the social context. A certain transformation from one social context to another is also suggested when viewed in cross-cultural dynamics of immigration, assimilation and naturalization. These processes are similar within the Bulgarian immigrant communities in North America in relation to the ministry of Protestant churches among them.

The Bulgarian Christian communities are searching for a model of adjustment to the assimilating culture in which they exist. This can be accomplished by adopting a strategy of incorporating the postmodern setting of worship, theology and praxis within the Bulgarian Christian community. It should be accompanied by an intentional process of liberation from the dysfunctional model through which the Bulgarian Protestant Church operated during the Communist Regime (1944-1989). This process should purpose to liberate the believers from an oppression mentality and transform them toward the mind of Christ, in order to minister effectively in the present context of existence. Failure to address this present dilemma will result in an inability of the Bulgarian Christian community to communicate its faith and to minister to the younger, faster-adjusting generation of Bulgarian-Americans, whose religious belongingness remains unexplored and often even unknown to themselves.

In all cases, the Bulgarian Evangelical churches accept the responsibility of being much more than a religious center, as it serves as a social and ethno-cultural center as well. Thus, in the context of ethic assimilation and cultural regrouping, the Bulgarian churches not only remain a protector of the Bulgarian ethnicity and the Bulgarian way of life, but also acts as an agent of cultural integration. Naturally, as such it has received the attention of Bulgarian immigrants who have altered it to meet present needs.