Roberto Miranda, R.I.P.

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/06/15/roberto-miranda-r-i-p/

Roberto Miranda died on Saturday, May 21. He was a spiritual giant – the person with arguably more moral capital than anyone else in Boston. His unexpected death at the age of 66 is a tragic loss for his family, his church, his many friends, and our community. He leaves a tremendous void in the Boston community.

Reverend Miranda served as Senior Pastor of Congregacion Leon de Juda (Lion of Judah), one of the leading Hispanic churches in Boston, for about 38 years, starting in 1984. He described Lion of Judah as an evangelical, pentecostal church of the American Baptist denomination. With a biblically-based worldview, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in one of the most secular cities in America.

He cared deeply about helping the poor, homeless, and disadvantaged – the justice espoused in the Bible as opposed to the progressive “social justice” causes that are simply thinly disguised political tactics. He also believed – without apology or reservation — that the church needs to speak out on the great moral and social issues of the day. He was a proponent of faith in the public square.

This led him to counter the radical views on sexuality that have become fashionable and embedded in so many institutions in the Boston area. Yet he did so with great humility and love for those who disagreed with him. Miranda was bold and courageous in tackling issues such as the sanctity of human life, sexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism from an orthodox and traditional Christian perspective, but always in a gentle and humble manner that disarmed his opponents on these issues.

The same is true of other conflicts. During the coronavirus shutdowns in 2020, Miranda wanted to re-open his church. Certain hand-picked clerics inexplicably told Governor Charlie Baker’s advisers exactly what they wanted to hear, publicly backing the governor’s draconian and unjustifiable measures. Miranda had to be disappointed by their behavior. Yet when interviewed by NewBostonPost, Miranda began his criticism of these clerics this way:  “These are good people, and sincere Christians …”

 

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Miranda moved to New York City at the age of 10 to be with his father, a factory worker. He received a scholarship to the elite boarding school Phillips Andover Academy, the school from which both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush graduated. From there it was off to Princeton on another scholarship and then to Harvard in 1979 to study for a doctorate in Romance languages and literature. His path as the immigrant child of a factory worker to attend some of the most prestigious educational institutions in America is emblematic of what has always been one of the best characteristics of this land of opportunity since the days when the immigrant, Alexander Hamilton, came to America and received financial aid to attend Kings College (later called Columbia University).

While at Harvard, Miranda went through what he described as a “spiritual crisis,” during which God led him into what he called a “huge personal revival.” He dropped out of Harvard and worked for the state Department of Social Services in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he was assigned to work with twenty families, primarily Hispanic. Miranda began attending a small Hispanic church sponsored by the Emmanuel Gospel Center in Boston’s South End during this period, and later Central Baptist Church. In 1984, he was called as Senior Pastor of the church which later became Lion of Judah.

He moved the church from Cambridge to Boston in 1994. Describing the reason, Miranda often talked about a dream he had had. In the dream, he saw “this swarm of giant tarantulas settle over the skyline of Boston. They were intelligent and evil. Their skin was taut and full of venom. They were exercising demonic influence.” Miranda would then recall that “a lion’s face appeared above the spiders.” He believed that the lion was exercising authority. And three times, Miranda intoned, pointing to the lion, “You are the Lord.”  Miranda knew then that the Lord was calling him to move Lion of Judah to Boston to influence Boston in positive ways for the common good.

I was privileged to know Roberto Miranda and considered him a friend and a partner in the effort to advance the Judeo-Christian worldview in the public square. Miranda was fond of saying that “we can’t keep the gospel within the four walls of the church.” In other words, Miranda believed that faith was not just a private affair. Instead, he believed that it was right and proper for the Christian faith to permeate the public square for the public good – just as Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce did.

In 2000, together with several other members of Park Street Church, I approached Miranda about founding an independent Christian prep school with rigorous academics that would serve families of various races and walks of life in Boston. Roberto encouraged us to pursue the vision and threw the support of Lion of Judah behind the school. Boston Trinity Academy opened its doors in 2002. His associate pastor, Samuel Acevedo, was a founding trustee of the school and remains on the board two decades later. One of Miranda’s daughters taught at the school, and his other daughter attended and graduated from the school. Hispanic students have consistently made up 15 to 20 percent of the student body, and many students from Lion of Judah families have gone to it.

About the same time that Boston Trinity Academy got started, Pastor Acevedo, together with other first-generation college graduates, started Boston Higher Education Resource Center under the auspices of Lion of Judah. Acevedo, the center’s executive director, had seen too many brilliant young people get lost in the high school system. Many went straight to work in minimum wage jobs after graduation; others went to college but quickly boomeranged back into the community before even a year had passed.

What started as a drop-in college access counseling center in a makeshift office is now a thriving organization, equipping annually more than 1,200 low-income high school students and alumni in 10 Boston public high schools. Without Miranda’s leadership and support, none of this would have been possible.

Though not easy, this is the sort of good work that will get you no criticism. Yet Miranda wasn’t a fair-weather Christian. After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unilaterally created a right to same-sex marriage in 2003, Miranda agreed to chair the ballot initiative to try to let the voters decide. Since Jesus in Matthew 19 explicitly affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman, Roberto felt it was critical for the church to engage on this issue in the public square. He also encouraged his congregation to get involved. Oftentimes busloads of Lion of Judah members came to rallies on Boston Common to support the cause. The effort ultimately failed in 2008, when state legislators refused to allow a proposed constitutional amendment to go to the general election ballot. But Roberto’s witness was always unfailing.

Political causes were not where he felt most at home, though. Nor was he drawn to conflict. Roberto did not fit the caricature of the Bible-thumping, ranting evangelical preacher. He cared deeply about justice, and Lion of Judah became known throughout Boston for its many life-changing ministries for the poor, the homeless, and Hispanic immigrants, and for the unity of the body of Christ. Each of these concerns was transformed into ministries at Lion of Judah. Roberto was not just a pastor, a shepherd of his congregation; he was a man of action, a man who made his ideas come to life.

One example:  The Roxbury neighborhood in which Lion of Judah’s campus of three buildings is located is ground zero for the homeless and drug addicts. Lion of Judah created an outreach, now called Miracle Mile Ministry, whose mission is to care for the homeless and drug users who gather near the church. Lion of Judah congregants and other supporters serve meals to the homeless and seek to show the love of Jesus Christ to these lost souls.

Lion of Judah founded another ministry called Agencia Alpha whose mission is to improve the lives of Boston-based immigrants with legal aid, adult education, and civics classes, and help them deal with immigration authorities. It continues to be led largely by congregants of Lion of Judah.

Roberto Miranda was a remarkable man – a great moral leader who led with humility and gentleness. He refused to live by lies. He was also a discerning judge of right and wrong. In 2020, he sent me a 40-page document he had written to explain why he was supporting Donald Trump for president. While acknowledging that Trump’s behavior was distressing and often unpresidential, he wrote that he could not bring himself to vote for Democratic candidates who espoused a worldview totally at odds with the Christian worldview on the sanctity of life, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender.  He wrote that he could not support politicians with such a relentlessly secular and even anti-Christian world view. And he did not hesitate to let his largely Hispanic congregation of about 1,000 know where he stood on these issues and on the 2020 election.

To describe all the amazing things that Roberto Miranda did to prosper Boston – both spiritually and socially – would be overwhelming. Because of his many good works, he was beloved not only by Christians and conservatives, but by progressive leaders and liberal politicians, too, who occasionally spoke at Lion of Judah. He believed deeply in the unity of the church, in the power of prayers, in the need for spiritual revival in Boston and in the nation, and in evangelism – telling the good news of Jesus Christ.

In an interview with Park Street Church’s senior pastor, Mark Booker, in 2021, Miranda, when asked what message he had for the church in Boston, quoted a passage from the Old Testament book of Zechariah, “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says the Lord.”

Roberto Miranda modeled servant leadership like no one else in this city. Boston is much the poorer for his passing. He will be greatly missed.

 

Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $5.5 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.

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