Making Science Relevant in Hispanic Churches: Q & A with Pastor and Community Leader, Rev. Marcio Sierra

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When I met Marcio, I immediately knew we needed to invite him into our space. About eight months ago, Dr. John Terrill, executive director of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation and SftC friend and benefactor, invited me into an ongoing dialogue about theological education for Hispanic pastors in the Madison, Wisconsin, region. This dialogue was spearheaded by Jon Anderson (Collaboration Project) and Marcio Sierra Jr., the young, energetic lead pastor of Lighthouse Church who has a driving passion for building God’s kingdom. Together with his wife, Marcio founded and directs the Lighthouse Christian School Madison to address the needs of the BIPOC community in Madison. His insight, vision, and passion for working with racially and theologically diverse communities of faith are elements we need as we address diversity in our context, and as we work to make science relevant in Hispanic Churches.

Let’s start with a bit about who you are and your work in Madison.

Born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, I moved to Madison as a teenager in 1993. My father came to UW-Madison to get his Ph.D. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, Tia Sierra, and we have two exceptional children, Marcio III, 16, and Isabela, 13. We also have a dog named Taco, who is a big part of our family. We love to travel, experience new places, and try different foods. Since 2012, I have served as lead pastor and president of Lighthouse Church and Schools.

Lighthouse Church is committed to improving our community. We run several preschools, an elementary, and a middle school. In partnership with Extended Hands Pantry, we run a food bank to address food insecurity. Additionally, Lighthouse is involved with many other projects in the city. My responsibilities include overseeing the work and ministry of about 70 employees and many volunteers to serve around 500 disadvantaged BIPOC families. I feel God has called me to expand his kingdom in Madison, not only to grow Lighthouse Church. So, I spend a lot of time networking with other churches, pastors, and community leaders to find ways to serve our city.

Tells us why you are interested in the faith and science dialogue. I mean, how can we make science relevant to Hispanic Churches?

God and science have always been a part of my life. My grandfather and uncle were medical doctors. I grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school, loving science and participating in science fairs. Everywhere I looked, I saw God and science. How can you separate one from the other? God created the universe, and He made it full of science. As I grew up, science showed me how awesome and powerful my God is.

I remember leading a Bible study on the book of Joshua many years ago. The story explains that Joshua prayed, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12, NIV). Then, “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped…” (Joshua 10:13). I explained, “It wasn’t the sun that stood still, but the earth because it orbits around the sun and spins on its axis.” I was using science to explain what happened. Yet, a participant thought I was contradicting God’s Word. Of course, I was not contradicting God’s Word at all. I was just explaining that the sun stands still relative to the earth’s motion.

It was here that I realized the lack of scientific understanding is a significant reason for the barrier between faith and science. For the most part, my work as a pastor has been with people who are passionate about God. However, because of their education level, they don’t discuss science. I believe I must help my congregation understand God’s creation and the role played by science. This lack of understanding is why I became involved with Science for the Church.

During our recent diversity advisory council meeting, you spoke about how the science and faith dialogue is not necessarily something Hispanic pastors (and laypeople) see a particular need for or an immediate connection to within your context. Could you expand on these thoughts?  

Historically, many Hispanic immigrants come to the USA for a better life. For the most part, they are not educated. Consequently, science is rarely mentioned in our churches. You only hear about science at churches where the members are more intellectual, and their professions give them room to address those subjects. I have observed that educated Hispanics tend to go to English-speaking churches, where topics like science are more prevalent. Again, this has to do with education, social status, and the types of professions they have. Another reason is that Hispanics and BIPOC can’t relate to the issues, or they can’t see their importance. The truth is that many BIPOC churches are more concerned about lack of health insurance and not about the possibility of life on Mars.

When the majority of your congregation only has a middle or high school education and most people work in the service industry, talking about science can feel irrelevant and intimidating. In my opinion, groups like SftC need to venture outside the walls of academia and provide a pathway to science that is more approachable or accessible for pastors and church leaders. This is how you should think about making science relevant to Hispanic Churches.

Marcio, do you have any final words or thoughts about the church’s engagement with science and why it is crucial within your context?

The church needs to include science in its message. Also, the scientific community needs to recognize that God transcends science. God created the world, and science’s limitations do not constrain him. God is supernatural, almighty, and all-knowing. There are things that science will not be able to explain, and that’s OK. At the same time, God gave us science to provide clarity about many things in this universe, and that’s also OK. We are not at war with each other. Faith and science complement each other and clarify who God is and the amazing universe He created.

P.S. Our team would really appreciate your feedback as we consider our priorities in the months ahead. Please take a few minutes to complete this short survey. As an added incentive, five randomly chosen participants will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

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