Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Miguel de la Torre: A New(ish) Voice in baptist Theology

migueldelatorreMiguel de la Torre (left) is a friend of mine–and a rising voice in baptist theology in the 21st C.  He is one of the leading voices of Latino-American Liberation theology today–which is funny considering that he was once a staunch Republican who sold real estate in Miami.

Born in Cuba just months before the Castro revolution, Miguel’s family escaped to the U.S. when he was 6 months old.  For awhile, the U.S. government considered him to be an “illegal immigrant” (as they did the part of my family that came from Ireland during the late 19th C. and, finding the quota on Irish filled that year, stuck across the Canadian border).  He grew up in Queens, was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church while his parents became priest and priestess in the Caribbean religion of Santeria.  He left Queens and moved to Miami in his teens. 

At 19, Miguel formed his own real estate company, earned an M.P.A. from American University (Washington, D.C.), founded the West Dade Young Republicans, and eventually became president of the Miami Board of Realtors.  In 1988, he ran for Congress but lost in the Republican primary to Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL -115), who still holds that seat. 

In his early 20s, Miguel’s life took some dramatic turns.  He became a “born again” Christian and joined University Baptist Church by believers’ baptism.  Feeling called to gospel ministry, he dissolved his highly successful real estate company to finance his theological education, beginning at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (where we met–Miguel helped me hone my mediocre Spanish enough that I could pass Theological Spanish for grad school and study Latin American liberation theologies in the original–except for the brothers Boff, who, being Brazilian, of course, wrote in Portuguese! ).  He was ordained to the gospel ministry and served as pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Glen Dean, KY.

Like many of us, Miguel found his seminary experience transforming. Almost against his will, he changed from a social and political conservative to a proponent of liberation theology–who thinks most Democrats are far too tame.   When he completed his M.Div. at SBTS, he entered Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, earning a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion.  Miguel has applied social scientific models to study Latino/a religion in the U.S. as well as pioneering in theological ethics from a Latino/a liberationist perspective.

From 1993-2005, Miguel taught Christian Ethics at Hope College, Holland, MI. Hope College is a Christian liberal arts college associated with the Reformed Church of America, and a Latino Baptist somewhat stood out in an institution historically related to Dutch Calvinists–but both African-American and Latino/a students were a rising percentage of enrollment.  Things went mostly fine, Miguel earned tenure, until he wrote a column in the local newspaper that satirized James Dobson’s attacks on the supposed “homosexuality” of the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. (The article was called, “When the Bible is Used for Hatred.”) Dobson and his supporters caused enough trouble for Miguel that he eventually resigned his tenure and moved to Denver, CO.  Since 2005, Miguel de la Torre has been Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, an ecumenical and interfaith theological seminary connected to the United Methodist Church.  [Corrected slightly per comments from BDW] Formerly,  regular columnist for EthicsDaily, now more often for Associated Baptist Press, Miguel is a prolific author–so much so that I will only list below the books he has authored by himself. He also co-authored several books, edited others, and contributed articles to dictionaries, journals, chapters in books, and magazines and newspapers.  In all these ways, he is a powerful influence–a new voice and face to 21st C. Baptist (and baptist) theology in North America.

A partial bibliography of Miguel de la Torre’s works include:

Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. Personal note: This was a groundbreaking and very challenging work. I REALLY advise reading this–several times.

The Quest for the Cuban Christ:  A Historical Search. Gainesville, FL:  University Press of Florida, 2002.

La Lucha for Cuba:  Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2003.

Santeria:  The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2004. Not quite as ecclesiocentric as this Anabaptist-type would desire, there is still much that is essential in this fantastic book.

A Lily Among the Thorns:  Imagining a New Christian Sexuality.  Jossey-Bass, 2007. Haven’t had time to read this one, yet, but want to do so. Miguel goes where angels fear to tread.

Liberating Jonah:  Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2007.  Excellent.

Trails of Hope and Terror:  Testimonies on the Current Immigration Debate.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2009.  I have this one on order.

Social Justice from a Latina/o Perspective:  Constructing a Latina/o Ethics of Survival.  Waco, TX:  Baylor University Press, Forthcoming in 2010.

Genesis:  A Theological Commentary on the Bible.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, Forthcoming in 2011.

If I were to add all the co-authored and edited books or his chapter contributions, you’d wonder how Miguel de la Torre ever finds time to teach his class or be with his family! I envy his ability to write faster than I can read!  And I commend his works to you heartily. You will find his perspectives challenging, always.


September 27, 2009 - Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, theology


  1. Since Bob Allen left Ethics Daily for Associated Baptist Press a year or so ago, Miguel has written columns almost exclusively for ABP. His columns are always provocative and result in dozens and dozens of comments from readers, most of which are very angry comments.

    Comment by bigdaddyweave | September 27, 2009

  2. Yes, I think Miguel writes in a way that is designed to provoke conservatives. I don’t always agree with Miguel on specifics although we share broad commitments and values. But I think his voice is important to hear even when I disagree.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 27, 2009

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  4. Does he preach Jesus’ message ? That is what means the most to me.

    Comment by Paul | September 28, 2009

  5. Gee, Paul, I, a Christian, would be HOW LIKELY to promote someone whom I thought did NOT preach Jesus’ message? C’mon! Gi’me a break!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 28, 2009

  6. Good observation, Michael. The fur on the back of my–not especially red to that point–conservative neck often bristles when I read one of Miguel’s articles.

    Comment by Chuck | September 28, 2009

  7. Miguel is also the editor of “Handbook of U.S. Theologies of Liberation” (Chalice Press, 2004). My daughter Karen, who is also a friend of Miguel (they were in graduate school at Temple at the same time), is the author of the chapter on feminist theology in that volume.

    I met Miguel for the first time at the Society for Christian Ethics meeting in Chicago in January of this year, and I was very favorably impressed with him as a person as well as a scholar.

    Comment by Leroy Seat | September 28, 2009

  8. Yeah, Dr. Seat, I deliberately left off his edited books and other writings to keep the post from being too long.

    To Chuck: What white, middle class, conservatives have to understand is this: We (even though I’m not conservative I come from the same background) are used to just hearing our own voices. We’ve walled ourselves off from the voices of African-American Christians, Latino/a Christians, etc. So, when we finally start listening, we have to expect that there is much that will be different and will make us angry–because we are simply used to telling others what to believe, not to exploring the faith together.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 28, 2009

  9. Hey I just asked a question Michael. No need to pop a blood vessel. I don’t know the man from Adam’s house cat! Okay ?

    Comment by Paul | September 29, 2009

  10. I know you don’t know Miguel, Paul. You haven’t known the others in this series of New Voices I have been doing, either, but you didn’t question whether or not they preached Jesus’ message. And you have been reading me long enough to know that I would not promote someone I didn’t believe presented Jesus’ message–clearly and fairly.

    So, I apologize for my sarcastic tone. But I wonder at the lack of trust that is too often displayed between Christians. The only way for you to decide if you agree with me that Miguel is a challenging but faithful voice is for you to read some of his work–the work where he is giving his own views. (Obviously, his sociological work describing Santeria is not going to be “preaching Jesus.” His purpose there is to describe a newish, but growing, religion from the Caribbean in the U.S. and to do so in an objective, neutral manner.)

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

  11. Can you provide a link to the article, “When the Bible is Used for Hate?” I’d like to read it.
    Incidentally, I found your site by Googling, “why are Christian colleges all white?”

    Comment by Robin | September 29, 2009

  12. Michael,

    What makes you so sure that I’m white? And middle class? I understand the conservative label. HaHa. Just kidding. Your assumptions are correct.

    However, I believe there is less–than you do–legitimate “exploring” for us to do together regarding our “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith which is that sum of Christian belief which was delivered verbally to the holy people of God]” to quote the Amplified Bible.

    I believe unity in the body of Christ trumps cultural and racial differences, and bristle with those who major on finding or perceiving injustices in the Church to project on it that which they experience outside of it.

    Comment by Chuck | September 29, 2009

  13. Responding to your last comment first, Robin, that’s strange because I have never made such an accusation, nor written anything with that title. (Mainly because I have taught on some very multi-cultural Christian colleges and two church-related historic black colleges where I was among the few white faculty members.) I have written about Christian colleges–and their shortcomings as well as strengths–and my last name after the hyphen is “White,” so a search engine may have just linked those elements.

    Now, as to your question: That article was in a Holland, MI newspaper from 2005. I sincerely doubt there is a web version left, so any link would be broken. However, you could go to Iliff Seminary’s website, find Dr. de la Torre’s email and see if he still has a copy. That’s what I would suggest. Thanks for visiting.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

  14. Michael, I didn’t mean to imply that you should have included the book I mentioned. I just wanted to give my daughter a plug and to share my positive impressions of Miguel.

    Comment by Leroy Seat | September 29, 2009

  15. Thank you Michael if I offended you I am truely sorry. Sometimes I ask the obvious…:-)

    Comment by Paul | September 29, 2009

  16. Actually, the article Robin mentions (as well as the rest of De La Torre’s articles since 2003) are available on his website at http://www.drmigueldelatorre.com/Articles.html

    Comment by haitianministries | September 29, 2009

  17. Thanks, Daniel for that link to Robin’s article. Paul,no problem. I’m not usually so touchy, but I had experienced a week of conservative Christian friends from university days questioning whether I was “still a Christian,” because I am supposedly “so liberal” these days. I have a distinct distaste for those who, in the words of C.S. Lewis, presume to judge Another’s servant. They usurp God’s place as Lord of the conscience try to separate sheep and goats themselves.

    The incredible PRIDE of these folks is amazing. I reacted to your statement like it was a sample of more of the same. I may well have overreacted and, if so, I apologize to you.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 29, 2009

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