He shared the information from the viewpoint of the Association for the Hispanic Theological Education, which he serves as assistant executive director.
Gomez said AETH has been, “at the forefront of the discussion on the impact of the growth of the Latino population and the Latino church on theological education.”
This subject is at the core of the summit being held this week at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. Director of the Center for Latino Studies Dr. Wilfredo Estrada-Adorno said the summit was designed to bring together Hispanic leaders of the church. The two-day session is meant to provide a platform to share ideas and cultivate change.
According to Estrada-Adorno, one of the main issues is providing a master’s-level education for Hispanic ministers.
Gomez stated the main concern for the association has been to provide a theological formation of Hispanic/Latino pastors in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
A report written by Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez entitled “The Theological Education of Hispanics” in 1988 revealed several troubling trends. He highlighted, “a lack of recognition of Hispanic leadership by either Catholic or Protestant church authorities, a lack of cooperation among church agencies and ministries, absence of opportunities for sound theological formation of Hispanic leadership at seminary level and a range of mostly inadequate programs at the Bible institute level.”
This study led to the creation of the AETH. Several seminars eventually led to partnerships with organizations like the Hispanic Summer Program and the Hispanic Theological Initiate. AETH has worked hard to provide local pastors and Bible institutes with “biblical, theological and pastoral resources and with training and reflection opportunities.” A main goal was, and still is, to bridge denominational divides in an effort to have ministers discuss, “critical issues within the Hispanic church and community.”
The growing number of Hispanics within America has altered the current plans of the institution.
Gomez revealed population projections suggest less than 50 percent of the American population will be white by 2050. Hispanics are expected to make up the largest ethnic minority group.
He explained, “This reality calls for a theological education that needs to be more and more sensitive and responsive to training seminary students — still mostly white Anglo — to serve in cities and rural areas that are increasingly becoming multicultural and multiracial.”
AETH would like to see growth in representation by students and faculty at “traditional academic theological institutions.”
According to statistics from 2011, Hispanics made up 16.7 percent of the total population, but only represented 4.5 percent of the total student enrollment at “any kind of theological program.”
In addition, faculty only made up 3.7 percent of the total number of full-time faculty, “teaching in all levels ... at Association of Theological Schools.”
Gomez said a second present reality is much more optimistic.
“... More and more theological institutions are realizing that, if they are going to survive the 21st century, they cannot turn their backs to the new social realities of the world, nor to the new characteristics of their present and potential students.”
This new awareness has led to the increase in online distance education courses.
According to Gomez, several initiatives have arisen from the current educational and social realities. These include a partnership with the ATS for the creation of Certification Standards for interested and eligible Bible institutes; the development of online courses written by Hispanic scholars and from a Latino perspective; and, “the creation and development of the Justo Gonzalez Center for [Latino/Latina] Ministries.”
The future is currently full of various ideas and possibilities, as far as AETH is concerned. One hope is to offer a national master of divinity degree taught in Spanish to, “be offered through a consortium of seminaries committed to the theological education of Hispanic/Latino(a) leaders.”
“[The association’s] contribution to the development of Hispanic church leadership has already been significant and its full potential contribution is yet to be fulfilled,” Gomez concluded. “We welcome your prayers, your support, your wisdom and your advice so that may be so.”