GetReligion, as a rule, has never been interested in public-relations features.
So why lead the top of a weekend “think piece” with a Baptist Press story that is obviously the kind of glowing public-relations work that is a stable in church-market, denominational media of all kinds?
That’s easy to explain. You see, this feature — “Church ESL camp preps Hispanic elementary students for school year” — is a perfect example of a trend in the wider evangelical world that is linked to one of the most important political, and religious, stories in America right now.
Why is that?
Read the top of this story and think to yourself: This is an absolutely normal story in Southern Baptist Convention life at this point in time.
Fanny Baltanado planned to spend just six months visiting her new granddaughter in Texas when the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic thwarted her return to Nicaragua. She would need to find a church home near Humble, Texas.
An adult English as a second language class attracted Baltanado in March to Cross Community Church, where she became a regular attendee and in August, helped the church teach ESL to local Hispanic elementary students in a back-to-school camp.
“For me, this was an amazing experience because we are able to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the people, especially kids,” Baltanado said. “I think they are the base of the society, and we need to help them to be more comfortable, to be more confident with themselves, because they are (in) difficult times.”
ESL classes ranked as a top community need when Del Traffanstedt and his wife Charmaine planted Cross Community Church in the majority Spanish-speaking Eastex-Jensen area of northeast Houston in September 2021. The couple learned of the need for the ESL camp for children after launching their first adult class in March, said Charmaine Traffanstedt, who directs the church’s ESL ministry.
What is the political angle in that local-church story?
Answer: Flash back a few days ago to my post that ran with this headline: “Axios looks at the hot political (of course) trend of Latinos becoming evangelical voters.”
I am returning to that topic again because (a) this truly is a story that news consumers will be hearing about as we head into midterm elections and beyond and (b) because I had an obvious “senior moment” when writing that earlier post.
When I emailed myself a copy of that Axios story, I sent the link to Part 2 of a collection of pieces — instead of the URL for the entire six-part package of features (or even Part 1). The information in the rest of that package is a must-save for journalists covering religion and politics, as well as new consumers.
Thus, let’s fix my mistake by pointing readers to the first story in that package, by reporter Russell Contreras, and stress the wisdom of digging up the whole kit and caboodle. It’s also interesting that the religion angle is a bit more more obvious in Part 1: “The shifting Latino voters.” At the end of the Axios story, readers will see a “Next Story” link and, one after another, the whole package is available. Here is the top of Part 1:
Big divides over issues like inflation and crime — along with religious and cultural dissonance with progressives — are eroding Latinos’ decades-long loyalty to the Democratic Party, injecting a major wildcard into the 2022 midterms and beyond.
Why it matters: Democrats once viewed projected U.S. Latino population growth as their party’s ticket to long-term political dominance. But recent elections and midterm polls show the perils in that thinking.
By the numbers: Democrats’ generic advantage over Republicans among U.S. Latino adults fell from 16 percentage points to 12 between March and June, according to Ipsos polling for Axios. Other polls have shown more dire scenarios for Democrats, with preferences essentially tied.
The political hooks are all over the place. However, a few paragraphs later there is a connection to some of the issues that I raised in my first post. The key: What does it mean that Democratic Party leaders keep trying to attract voters with “issues that don’t resonate with many Hispanics”?
If you sense a “religion ghost” there, you are not alone. Thus, another trend is important:
Meanwhile, there’s evidence that religious Latinos have been shifting from the Catholic Church to evangelical Protestantism, hardening conservative social stances that align more with the GOP.
This isn’t just an issue that “conservative” insiders have notice. One of the key voices addressing some of these trends for Axios is Jacob Candelaria, a “Princeton-educated, openly gay Latino New Mexico state senator.” His main theme: White progressives just don’t understand the priorities of many Hispanics.
But, at that point, the religion angle vanishes.
What about in Part 3, “What’s driving the shift”? There are more hints, but little follow-up, until the very end:
The big picture: Like other parts of the country, Latinos in the Midwest are hard to pin down politically. The Republican Party for decades has attracted about a third of the community with platform planks focusing on religion and conservative values.
— “The community is not a monolith. It’s not going to fit into generalized patterns,” Eli Garza, a former pastor at Detroit’s First Spanish Baptist Church, tells Axios.
It’s safe to assume that GOP strategists are focusing on “religion,” “values” and culture because they are seeing that in exit polls and pre-campaign research. It’s also possible that Republicans are more comfortable, these days, talking to evangelical and Pentecostal pastors.
File the links to this Axios package. This is one of the most important religion-meets-politics story of the year, especially in Florida, Texas and across swing states in the Heartland.
MAIN IMAGE: Baptist Press feature photo of Fanny Baltanado, with her granddaughter.