Edgardo Colón-Emeric, who will begin July 1 as director of the Hispanic Studies Program and assistant research professor of theology and Hispanic studies, says the school is ideally situated to do important work in the field of Hispanic ministry.
Though Duke might be perceived as playing “catch up,” as recently as 1990 only about 76,000, or little more than 1 percent of the state’s then 6.6 million residents were of Hispanic origin. Current U.S. Census Bureau figures show that number has jumped to more than 533,000, or 6.3 percent of the state’s now 8.4 million residents. Indeed, between 1990 and 2000, North Carolina experienced the highest rate of increase in Hispanic population of any state in the nation, at 394 percent.
Those increases, obviously, are part of a much broader demographic change taking place across the country. Today, Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, at 44.3 million, or 14.8 percent of the nation’s total population. They are also, the Census Bureau reports, the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group and are projected to account for one-fourth of the U.S. population by the year 2040.
Amid this huge demographic shift, Methodists and other Mainline Protestants have had a difficult time figuring out how to minister to this new population, says Colón-Emeric. While in some areas of the country, particularly the border regions of Texas and the Southwest, Methodists have been in ministry to Hispanics for more than 100 years, in other regions, including North Carolina, such ministry is a new and different endeavor.
What role for Protestants?
Although the Hispanic population in the United States is heavily Catholic, United Methodists and other Mainline denominations have a role to play, says Colón-Emeric. Overall, about 70 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, 23 percent are Protestant, and 6 percent have no religious preference. Of the Protestants, most—about 64 percent—are members of Pentecostal or Charismatic denominations, according to a 2003 study on Hispanic Churches in American Public Life. Over time, those percentages shift, and by the third generation, almost a third of Hispanics are Protestant, the study found.