The student choir of the Juan Figueroa Umpierre Bible Institute singing during the inaugural service for Red de Entidades Teológicas(ReDET), a new network serving Hispanic and Latino(a) students, scholars, and institutions.
Credit: Jay Blossom
Founded in 1991, the Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana (AETH) leads efforts for collaboration among people and institutions committed to the formation of leaders for the Hispanic/Latino(a) church in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada — and more recently in Latin American and the Caribbean. Directed by Costa Rican–born educator Fernando Cascante, AETH hosts annual conferences and dialogues about issues relevant to the Hispanic/Latino(a) church and community.
AETH is recognized by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) to certify the quality of the programs provided by Bible institutes and other Hispanic ministerial development programs. This certification allows graduates of these programs to be admitted to ATS-accredited seminaries on equal footing with graduates of regularly accredited undergraduate institutions.
On April 25, 2019, at a worship service at Juan Figueroa Umpierre Bible Institute, which is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) school in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, AETH launched a new program called the Red de Entidades Teológicas (ReDET) (Network of Theological Entities). ReDET is a community created for mutual support, collaboration, and finding solutions for common problems in theological education. It is open to individual and institutional members, who are expected to participate regularly in “communities of practice” via face-to-face and online meetings.
More information on AETH and ReDET is available at www.aeth.org.
Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, director of accreditation and global engagement at the Association of Theological Schools, brought greetings to the people gathered for the launch service. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, coordinator of ReDET, was the keynote speaker. Excerpts from their remarks follow:
Cultivating a culture of collaboration
By Lester Edwin J. Ruiz
I am grateful for the privilege of bringing warm greetings of solidarity, collegiality, and friendship on behalf of my ATS colleagues to this historic gathering on the occasion of the launching of Red de Entidades Teológicas.
"A theological school is a community of faith and learning that cultivates habits of theological reflection, nurtures wise and skilled ministerial practice, and contributes to the formation of spiritual awareness and moral sensitivity." —ATS Standard 3
At the heart of this affirmation is not only an assertion of identity but also an articulation of a value, a strategy, and a condition of possibility. Because theological schools are communities of faith and learning, they cannot avoid collaboration as a way of being — of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Moreover, community is first and foremost about being together. It is an engagement of self, of others, and of the world. It is a relationship, even a partnership, across space, time, and place.
This collaboration is about diversity, quality and improvement, collegiality, and leadership — core values to which ATS is committed. But collaboration is much more than these. It is about friendship, about struggle and solidarity, about diversity, yes, but also inclusion. In other words, collaboration is animated by justice (Greek: dikê), from which righteousness (dikaiosynê) arises.
And to what end? Nothing less than for building the household of God in all its fullness. ATS needs to look like the whole inhabited earth (oikouméne). And if it doesn’t, then it needs to be transformed into the fullness of God’s glory which, to paraphrase St. Irenaeus, is the body of Christ fully alive.
Unfortunately, much remains a dream and a promise yet to be fulfilled.
According to the research of my colleague Debbie Gin, of the more than 270 member schools in the ATS community, there are only four (based on percentage of headcount) that have more than 60 percent Hispanic/Latino(a) students. They are:
- Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
- Dominican Study Center of the Caribbean (Bayamón, Puerto Rico)
- Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary (Mayagüez, Puerto Rico)
- Barry University Department of Theology and Philosophy (Miami Shores, Florida)
Another 11 schools have 25 percent to 60 percent Hispanic/Latino(a) students:
- Oblate School of Theology (San Antonio, Texas)
- St. John’s Seminary (Camarillo, California)
- Franciscan School of Theology (Oceanside, California)
- University of St. Thomas School of Theology (Houston, Texas)
- Loyola Marymount University Department of Theological Studies (Los Angeles, California)
- Alliance Theological Seminary (Nyack, New York)
- St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary (Boynton Beach, Florida)
- Azusa Pacific Seminary (Azusa, California)
- Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (Fresno, California)
- HMS Richards Divinity School of La Sierra University (Riverside, California)
- St. Thomas University School of Theology and Ministry (Miami Gardens, Florida)
Full-time Hispanic/Latino(a) faculty in all ATS member schools increased from 3.5 percent of all faculty in 2007 to 4.5 percent in 2018. For students, the Hispanic/Latino(a) headcount increased from 2.5 percent of all students in 1988 to 7.7 percent of all students in 2018.
No doubt, there is progress in ATS — member schools are looking a little more like the whole inhabited earth — but we still have far to go. Today, of all students in ATS member schools, white students are 58 percent of the total headcount, black students are 14 percent, Asian students are 8 percent, and Hispanic/Latino(a) students are 8 percent.
The dream of collaboration must be more than a dream. It must, in my view, rise to the level of what some have called, a status confessionis — a matter of faith, a marker of Christian obedience.
May each of you travel with God and God’s people. May you feel the principled support from the gathered communities, which include ATS. Through the exercise of your leadership, may these gathered communities find the reassurance to believe even more in what the seraphim in Isaiah never grew tired of proclaiming: “Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh. The whole earth is full of Yahweh’s glory. The fullness of the earth is Yahweh’s glory” (David Baer translation).
May the exercise of your public leadership be a witness to all of us as we come to love our neighbors and to value the whole inhabited earth, which can come only when we all live out of justice, kindness, and humility. That is what gives birth to the full flowering of that which is fundamentally new, and which is also the fundamentally better — in an old world, to paraphrase Antonio Gramsci, where the new is still struggling to be born — that new world we all love so much yet often serve so poorly.
Theological education and the community of God
By Elizabeth Conde-Frazier
When launching the network of theological entities, we need to consider the questions the angel asked Hagar in Genesis 16:8: “Where are you coming from and where are you going?”
What is theological education? When I ask this question of my Latino brothers and sisters involved in some aspect of ministry, they all answer that theological education begins at home — even as early as when a mother sings hymns to her baby in her womb. This is because for Latinos, education does not only concern knowledge, but ways of training and educating, with attitudes that inform behavior and lifestyles.
Theological education is therefore appropriate for universal priesthood, not only as preparation for professional pastoral ministry.
How did this different way of understanding theological education come about?
In Latin America, hundreds of schools were established by missionaries, in some cases, before the public educational system was established. These missionary schools exerted great influence on the public education system, establishing pedagogical and even religious principles as a part of comprehensive education. Missionaries had great influence on all levels of education, from kindergarten to university and vocational schools. Indeed, Protestants believed that to form reliable leaders in all vocations, and especially to form leaders for further missionary work, education was essential for both men and women.
One of the great influences that changed the culture and worldview of the people was Sunday school. Using a simple method of studying the Bible — by interpreting the text and applying it to daily life — Sunday schools had a real impact on communities deprived of other educational resources.
To carry out efforts to change society, including the insistence that everyone — women, men, girls and boys — study the Bible, the union of different churches was important. Ecumenical unity grew in collaboration with education. Institutions for theological education were founded by people from different denominations working together. Today ecumenical collaboration continues, expanding theological education to address the effects of globalization and to develop practical and contextual theology (making theology from and within the Latin American context).
With the 20th-century diaspora of Latin American and Caribbean people, new theological pastoral questions arose as we began to face discrimination, racism, poverty, violence, and classism. AETH was formed as a way of responding to the injustices of the structures of theological education, with the understanding that congregations are one key to a thriving Latino community. Without leaders who understand how to respond to new challenges and barriers, we cannot empower effective ministries. So, starting in the 1990s, we created three important organizations to support the life of our communities: AETH, the Hispanic Summer Program, and the Hispanic Theological Initiative.
Over the last 25 to 30 years, these three entities have contributed to a social movement that has brought about the social transformation of a people. And what does a social movement do? It is a current of energy that pursues specific objectives and strives to achieve them through specific plans of action.
It is a powerful force that gains strength as it expands. It harnesses the power of a group united by common values and common struggles. It exerts influence on systems.
Our struggle has been to create a contextual theological education capable of creating leaders that are able to begin projects that will transform communities. And the theology that has informed this vision is the doctrine of the universal priesthood, which includes but is broader than professional pastoral ministry.
ReDET is an educational service of AETH for its members. It has been developed as a collection of Bible institutes and other theological entities that form a network for members to share common passions, concerns, and resources, to solve problems, and to explore new initiatives with the purpose of providing excellence in theological education. They do this as online communities of practice that meet on a regular basis.
AETH is a community. Community is our vision. Community is the body and it is the tissue that unites us. We are a social movement that eliminates the bonds of death because we are the body of Christ, who is the resurrection and the life.
All old things have passed away; the new is come.
Translated from Spanish by Viviana Calandra and excerpted by Jay Blossom.