Like many, I have primarily focused on Black and White issues of race. And like many, I know the weaknesses of not paying more attention to the nuances outside the Black/White binary. Romero centers the title as Brown Church because Latinx or Hispanic or various other overview designations are not either White or Black and, as such, are in that ‘liminal space between’, therefore Brown.
Robert Chao Romero is a Latino scholar and is one of the few that have worked to keep an understanding of spiritual matters in the academy’s perspective on Latinx Studies. Some of the problems of keeping religion in the academic study is the fault of the church, after all, there has been a distortion of Christian faith when it has essentially said, “It’s okay for us to decimate and enslave millions of ‘Indians’ and thousands of African slaves because we are saving their souls by sharing Christianity with them. Without us they’d just go to hell.” (pg 12)
The academy, on the other hand, tends to distort Christianity and see it only as an oppressive force and not see it as a force of change and empowerment. Romero opens up the book with several vignettes about actual people he knows (many of them students) that made writing the book salient. And those personal reasons for writing carry through in the passion of the book. Brown Church is easily in the top handful of books I have read this year, and I have highly recommended it.
Brown Church is broken into eight chapters and is only just over 200 pages. Romero packed an enormous amount of content into a relatively short book. The first four chapters are more historical overview while the last four chapters are more in-depth looks are particular aspects of biography (Oscar Romero and Cesar Chavez) and theology (Liberation Theology and social justice).
I am way too new to this discussion to offer any critique. Almost all of this book was new information to me, although I have some background in understanding liberation theology and some rough history. I want to point out a couple of points that I thought were particularly helpful.
Chapter six discussed the LIberation Theology (more Catholic oriented) and MisiÃ³n Integral (more protestant oriented), and I was surprised at how several streams of White Evangelical theology had been impacted by these movements without me being aware of the origins of the ideas. It is clear appropriation without attribution, and I was glad that it was pointed out.
I was also glad to have something more on Cesar Chavez. I vaguely knew some of his story, but not enough. That being said, the clear look at him, recognizing his weaknesses and was helpful and prepared me as I picked up a biography of another flawed civil rights leader, Stokley Carmichael.
It is also essential to understand the gifts of the broader church. We are always Christians in a culture, the ability to see how other cultures express Christianity differently is important to understanding how Christianity is expressed in whatever culture we are in. No culture has Christianity expressed ideally. There are always distortions, and capitulations to culture and also areas where there should likely be more freedom, and there is not. The Brown Church, like the Black Church, has arisen mainly under oppressive forms of Christianity opposing their enculturation. Because of that, the Brown and the Black Churches have much to teach the US church today as it loses some of its cultural power and dominance. The inability of many White Christians to learn from the Black and Brown Church in areas where they have more experience and wisdom is an example of the ways that White superiority gets expressed.
Brown Church is not only informative but well written and intriguing. I am going to seek out more books by Robert Chao Romero.