Winter 2000
Volume 4 Number 4

by Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp

Luis Rivera-Pagán never met John Mackay, Princeton Seminary’s third president. But he is well aware of Mackay’s missionary presence and influence in the southern hemisphere of the Americas, the region that he also calls home. It seems appropriate, then, that Rivera-Pagán was invited to be PTS’s 1999–2000 Mackay Professor of World Christianity.

He comes to Princeton from San Juan, where he is professor of humanities at the University of Puerto Rico. He also serves as adjunct professor of theology at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. He was accompanied to Princeton by his wife, Anaida Pascual-Morán, a visiting scholar at PTS, who is a full professor in the Graduate School ofLuis Rivera-Pagan Education at the University of Puerto Rico. Luis and Anaida share a blended family of six grown children, a Spanish-speaking German shepherd, and a commitment to academic careers that are fully engaged with the modern struggles of Latin American life.

Rivera-Pagán’s intellect and academic training have pushed him out into the world rather than keeping him cloistered in the library. After research at the University of Tübingen, in 1970 he earned a Ph.D. in theology from Yale University. Returning home, he became active in protests against U.S. naval war exercises in Puerto Rican territory.

He explains that these protests (which continue today) are as much about quality of life as they are about hegemony. For example, in 1971 the island of Culebra, part of Puerto Rico, sustained 180 continuous days of bombing during training exercises. Rivera-Pagán believes it is impossible for civilians to live normal lives under such disruptive circumstances, so he and his colleagues engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience by interrupting naval exercises, resulting in their being imprisoned for three months. He describes incarceration as a blessing of sorts, an opportunity to read, to think, and to make lifelong friends.

During their U.S. federal trial, the protestors refused to speak English in the courtroom, and so were jailed for contempt of court. Rivera-Pagán tells this story partly to illustrate the fact that although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans speak primarily Spanish. This year in Princeton is Rivera Pagán’s longest immersion in the English language in thirty years. Even his dog, Hatuey Mackandal Ernesto, a true Puerto Rican, only responds to commands in Spanish! (Hatuey is named for three Latin American resistors against colonial oppression.)

The dog’s name hints at Rivera-Pagán’s scholarly interests. His influential 1990 work A Violent Evangelism (Westminster John Knox Press) was translated into English in 1992, at the time of the quincentenary of the discovery of the Americas. The book provides a window into the extensive debates and divergent opinions within sixteenth-century Spain about the justice, morality, and legitimacy of the conquest and subjugation of the Americas. Rivera-Pagán also explores "the primacy of the theological discourse in sixteenth-century ideological production," and how theology often "served to rationalize avarice and ambition…to sacralize political dominion and economic exploitation."

This spring Rivera-Pagán delivered a lecture at PTS titled "Myth, Utopia, and Faith: Theology and Culture in Latin America." He discussed, among other things, reasons for the remarkable longevity of Latin American interest in John A. Mackay’s The Other Spanish Christ, first published in English in 1932 and quickly translated into Spanish and Portuguese. "Mackay," he says, "articulates with intelligence and eloquence the ways in which Latin American culture, customs…and traditions might be enriched thanks to the Protestant way of preaching, understanding, and living the Christian Gospel." Rivera-Pagán is also intrigued with Mackay’s call for "Protestant theologians to initiate a meaningful dialogue with Latin American literary culture." As Rivera-Pagán points out, it was exceedingly enlightened for a Protestant European missionary in Latin America in the 1930s to be knowledgeable about Latin American literature.

However, Rivera-Pagán takes issue with Mackay’s conflation of Latin American and Spanish intellectual traditions, with his "naive" understanding of Spanish and Latin American political situations, and with his rather monolithic view of Latin American Roman Catholicism.

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