How Pentecostalism must embrace ethnic diversity.
A tipping point is the moment when something unusual becomes common. That occurred on a hot Friday last August in Indianapolis. The General Council of the Assemblies of God (AG)—the world's largest Pentecostal fellowship—gathered to elect the denomination's executive officers. George O. Wood was elected as general superintendent to succeed Thomas Trask, who resigned after 14 years of service. The more telling election, however, was to come that afternoon.
One of the most successful Pentecostal leaders ever, Trask was an important agent of racial reconciliation. During his term the AG added millions of new members and expanded globally. Trask not only reaffirmed the Pentecostal commitment to holiness, biblical orthodoxy and Spirit-filled living, he also added an element vital to the AG's viability in the 21st-century world: diversity.
Hence the tipping point. That afternoon marked the first time the AG elected to its executive leadership an African-American. Zollie Smith was a police officer and detective, U.S. postal inspector and an airborne infantryman during the Vietnam War, when he was wounded and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. His background alone proved he was no stranger to perseverance. In his post-election address he recalled his times of angst while waiting for the fellowship to change.
"I wanted to quit and give up on the Assemblies because I felt there was no place for me," he said. He then exhorted: "To the young people under 40 and the women, your gift will make room for you. You must persevere, you must pray, you must be consistent. Let everyone know you have a mandate from almighty God."
The historic moment created a wave of hope that the Pentecostal community would finally understand that the original upper-room outpouring was a convocation of all races, languages and cultures for the purpose of building one kingdom—God's kingdom.
Jesse Miranda, executive presbyter and commissioner of ethnicity for the AG, applauds the election: "After 100 years of the Azusa Street revival, where the cry was heard that the blood of Jesus has washed the color line, the Assemblies of God is complying to fulfill this claim."
Miranda was the first executive presbyter of color elected to the AG and oversees the World Hispanic Evangelical Alliance for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "The issue now is for ethnics to move beyond mere representation to effective influence, and for Anglo leadership to seek and gain cultural competency toward achieving what we represent in God's kingdom: a cooperative fellowship."
Others see the election as the beginning of a new era for Pentecostalism in America. "The AG is no longer talking ... about embracing diversity but rather putting it to practice," says Felix Posos, superintendent emeritus of the AG's Northern Pacific Latin American district.
At the end of the day, diversity is not a political issue but a kingdom one. "You ... have redeemed us ... out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9-10). Prayerfully, the day will come when the next generation will not know what a black, brown or white church is. They will instead know with certainty that a kingdom church embodies all races, tongues and peoples worshiping one God.
Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Hispanic NAE, serving 15 million Latino born-again Christians and 18,000 churches.