LARA-BRAUD, JORGE (1931–2008). Jorge Lara-Braud, Presbyterian minister and founding director of the Hispanic American Institute in Austin, Texas, was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on April 3, 1931, to Luis Lara Castro and Maria Artemisa Braud de Lara. A human rights advocate, Lara-Braud dedicated his life to bridging the chasm between the Presbyterian Church and society by promoting Christian unity, theological education, and religious activism. His theological knowledge and passion for social justice made him one of the most well-known and respected Mexican American religious leaders of his generation.
Jorge Lara-Braud came to the United States as a student in the late 1940s. His parents sent him to study English at the Texas-Mexican Industrial Institute, now the Presbyterian Pan American School, in Kingsville, Texas, where he graduated in 1950. While there he converted to Presbyterianism from Catholicism. He then attended Mississippi College, a Baptist college in Clinton, Mississippi, and Texas College of Arts and Industry, now Texas A&M University-Kingsville. In 1953 he was a student at Austin College, a Presbyterian college, in Sherman, Texas, where he met his first wife Ruth Marroquín. They married on June 6, 1953, at the National Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Mexico City and had a son, Jorge Luis Lara Marroquín, in 1955. During the summer months he and his wife worked at Eastside Presbyterian Church in Durant, Oklahoma. Lara-Braud earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Austin College in 1954. He then taught in Mexico City and in Colombia before earning a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the spring of 1959. He entered the doctoral program at Princeton Theological Seminary that fall with a one-year teaching fellowship. In 1962 he completed his doctorate while a professor of history and theology at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Mexico City. He was also dean of students and faculty.
Lara-Braud completed his education and emerged as a leader in ecumenics and Latin American missions at a time when the United States grew increasingly concerned over communism in the hemisphere and Mexican Americans pushed for civil rights. In 1963 he traveled to various U.S. churches and Presbytery seminars and the fourth World Conference on Faith and Order in Montreal to speak on mission work in Latin America. He encouraged U.S. churches to increase their support of mission work and end interdenominational rivalry which he believed would hinder the growth of communism in Latin America. The following year the Presbytery of Mexico City tried him for heresy but did not find him guilty. On leave from the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Mexico, he returned to the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary as a visiting professor in 1964. He applied for permanent residence in the United States and became the chairman of the newly-created Association of Theological Seminaries and Bible School for the northern region of Latin America in 1965.
Perhaps his most important legacy was as the first director of the Hispanic-American Institute (HAI) in Austin, Texas, in 1965. The Institute, which emerged out of a partnership between the Presbyterian Church U.S. (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church USA (UPCUSA), served as an ecumenical center for research and religious training for ministry in Mexican American communities across Texas and the Southwest. As director of the Institute, Lara-Braud worked to build bridges between religious organizations and promote understanding of Mexican American culture in the United States. By 1968 he had gained support for the institution and its mission from eight Protestant and Roman Catholic organizations.
In conference talks, speeches, and sermons, Lara-Braud urged white church leaders to confess to past injustices and begin dismantling racism in the church through understanding the religious culture of Mexican Americans. In papers he wrote in 1967 and 1969, he laid out specific ways for the church to address internal racism and the need to include Mexican Americans in all aspects of Presbyterian Church life; his writings are credited with shaping the policies and strategies that emerged out of the PCUS and UPCUSA in the late 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to religious circles, as an outgrowth of his belief in liberation theology, Lara-Braud also worked directly with other Mexican American groups such as the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), the United Farm Workers Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the American G.I. Forum. In 1968 he moderated a solidarity conference of civil rights groups spearheaded by Raza Unida to launch a boycott of oil companies associated with the Humble Oil Refinery (see EXXON COMPANY, U.S.A.) and the Suntide Refinery of Corpus Christi and the United Carbon Company of Aransas Pass to protest job discrimination against Mexican Americans. That same year he also contributed “What is La Raza?”—a short essay published in La Raza Yearbook. The piece was reprinted in Aztlán: An Anthology of Mexican-American Literature (1972) and the second volume of the textbook Major Problems in American History (2002). He also spoke out against discriminatory coverage by mass media, and, in 1971 he was the keynote speaker at the first Raza Unida Conference. In 1972 he resigned from his position at the Hispanic-American Institute due to dissatisfaction with discriminatory hiring practices of many churches in the country. HAI formally closed in 1976.
Lara-Braud continued to work within the Presbyterian Church to shape church and missional policy across borders. In the 1970s, when many denominations were rethinking their strategies and approaches to church missions, Lara-Braud led the way by drafting policy for Presbyterian mission agencies. He also remained closely tied to Latin American religious politics through his engagement with organizations like Iglesia y Sociedad en América Latina (Church and Society in Latin America), which facilitated discussions among evangelicals in Latin American and the U.S. on theological education and human rights.
Lara-Braud authored, translated, and edited a number of texts in the late 1960s and 1970s that included his translation of Social Justice and the Latin Churches (1969) and his edited work Our Claim on the Future (1970). Both of these address the theological and ethical issues raised when assessing the uneven relationship between the United States and Latin America in the twentieth century. He was also a frequent contributor to Theology Today, Christian Century, Catholic World, Sojourners, Christianity and Crisis, and frequently spoke to groups such as the Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., the Texas Council of Churches, and other religious organizations. He was a harsh critic of U.S. military involvement in Central America and on occasion spoke at protest rallies at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Georgia.
He served on a number of boards that included the Fund for Theological Education, the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, and the Immigrant Aid Society of the Americas. He also served on the editorial board of Theology Today and as a consultant to the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. He led several ecumenical delegations to El Salvador and Central America and was a close friend of the slain Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. In 1981 he contributed a heartfelt introductory chapter to the book, Archbishop Romero: Martyr of El Salvador.
Lara-Braud and his first wife divorced on March 11, 1970, in Travis County, Texas, where he remarried in September to Carolyn Jeannette Weathersbee. The couple did not have children and divorced in 1973. He married Gretchen Shartle, who had two daughters from a previous marriage, in Travis County on June 15, 1986.
Jorge Lara-Braud spent his final years as a lay pastor of El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. On June 22, 2008, in Austin, he passed away at the age of seventy-seven due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease. He was buried at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin. The Presbyterian Pan American School, one of his alma maters, created a scholarship award named in his honor. The records of the Hispanic-American Institute during his tenure through 1976, when the institute closed, are located at the Austin Seminary Archives found at the Stitt Library, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Asheville Citizen-Times, July 30, 1963. Austin American, June 9, 1972; June 24, 2008. Paul Barton, Hispanic Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists in Texas (University of Texas Press, 2006). “Biographical Information: Jorge Lara-Braud,” Council on Theology and Culture Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for American Presbyterians: A Family Album, Record Group No. 301.9, Box 14, File 4, Board of National Missions: Council on Church and Race, July 1983, Presbyterian Historical Society, National Archives of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Brice Alfred Bongiovanni, Mainline Protestants, La Raza Protestors: Jorge Lara-Braud and the Hispanic-American Institute, 1965–1969 (M.A. report, University of Texas at Austin, 2018). R. Douglas Brackenridge and Francisco O. García-Treto, “Presbyterians and Mexican Americans: From Paternalism to Partnership,” Journal of Presbyterian History 55 (Summer 1977). Corpus Christi Times, July 11, 1959. Plácido Erdozain, Archbishop Romero, Martyr of El Salvador (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1981). HispanicAmerican Institute Records, 1943–1976, Austin Seminary Archives, Stitt Library, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Karla Ann Koll, “Presbyterians, the United States, and Central America: Background of the 1980s Debate,” Journal of Presbyterian History (Spring 2000). Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1968. News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), January 28, 1963. Panamericana News (Taft, Texas), June 21, 1953. Dafne Sabanes Plou, “Ecumenical History of Latin America” (http://www.overcomingviolence.org/en/about-dov/annual-focus/2006-latin-america/ecumenical-history-of-latin-america.html), accessed June 29, 2019. San Antonio Express-News, January 19, 1969; January 6, 1971.
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