Several weeks ago I blogged about a new article I'd written on Latin American Pentecostalism for the Journal of Beliefs and Values. I said then that I thought I might be allowed to publish a version of the article at some stage on this site, once I had secured permission. Having now heard from the publisher I'm pleased to be able to offer the text, in full, of the pre-print version. (The pre-print version is the text of the article submitted prior to the peer-review process, before any recommendations and subsequent editorial changes take place. Actually, the article was accepted with no changes other than some bibliographic corrections). I'm very grateful to the publishers for this permission to reproduce the article. So for those interested in a survey of Latin American Pentecostalism and its impact on that continent's society and politics, here's the original pre-print article in full (all 5,000+ words of it). Hope you enjoy it.
Pentecostal Presence, Power and Politics in Latin America (pre-print version)
by Calvin L. Smith
This is a preprint of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in the Journal of Beliefs and Values © 2009 Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education. The Journal of Beliefs and Values is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g917827291.
It has been noted how, prior to the 1980s, many political scientists had rejected religion as a determinant of political behaviour (Steigenga 2004, xiii—xvi). The view of religion as inherently conservative, a penchant for materialist explanations, and a rejection of models relying on belief, culture and psychology in favour of empirically-based (and thus considered more elegant) theory all contributed to the dismissal of religion as a significant actor on the political stage. Yet the Iranian revolution, the rise of the Religious Right, liberation theology’s role in volatile Central America and explosive Latin American Pentecostalism together marked the resurrection of religion as a viable political determinant. More recently, the events of 9/11, the West’s response to Islamism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Judaism-driven settler activity in the West Bank, the rise of Palestinian Islamism (marking the de-secularisation of the Middle East conflict), recent fundamentalist Hindu activity in India, and the emergence of an Evangelical left in the US, to name but a few, surely demonstrate how religion’s role on the geopolitical stage, far from diminishing, is in the ascendancy.
Arguably, it was the explosive growth of Pentecostalism in 1980s Latin America which was instrumental in capturing the attention of sociologists and political scientists (together with academics from various other disciplines), leading to a ditching of secularisation theories and a boom in academic research exploring the political impact of Pentecostalism in the region. Eventually two seminal studies, both published in 1990, offered important region-wide analyses of the phenomenon. The first explored Pentecostalism’s potential to facilitate the emergence of a bourgeoisie espousing democratic capitalism across Latin America (Martin 1990), while the second examined Protestantism’s collision with liberation theology and its potential as a generator of Latin American social change (Stoll 1990). Since then, studies exploring various facets of Latin American Pentecostalism, particularly its social and political impact, have been plentiful.
The purpose of this article is to offer a brief narrative setting out the rise, growth, expressions, and social and political impact of Latin American Pentecostalism across that continent. The paper consists of three parts. The first details the history of Pentecostal penetration across Latin America, from the first tentative missions and early converts won at great cost, through to the explosive growth of the 1980s and beyond, before exploring in a little more depth several issues raised by this phenomenon. Part two identifies different expressions of Latin American Pentecostalism, particularly in relation to how these translate into diverse political responses. The final section details briefly direct Pentecostal political participation before moving on to more implicit, though arguably more widespread and just as important, social and political impacts of the movement across the continent.
Arrival, Consolidation and Phenomenal Growth
Protestantism arrived late in Latin America. By exporting the Inquisition Spain ensured no more than a handful of instances of Protestantism in her New World colonies prior to the 1800s. This was no accident. The Reformation and Spain’s colonisation of the Americas were contemporary events, and as such Protestantism represented an arch-rival to Catholic Spain, a subversive political ideology which threatened her hold over the new colonies. The sociologist David Martin notes a longstanding Anglo-Hispanic enmity, referring to a “clash between the Hispanic imperium and the Anglo-Saxon imperium… one of the longest running of all wars” (1990, 9—12). Another sociologist, Jean-Pierre Bastian (1992, 314), concurs:
The struggle for maritime and commercial supremacy in the Atlantic… had a religious connotation inasmuch as on the seas the Catholic nations (Spain and Portugal) confronted Protestant nations (the Netherlands and England, principally). Within the Portuguese-Spanish colonial territories, therefore, Protestantism was conceived of as a heresy threatening the ideological and political integrity of a composite socio-political totality which had been established with Christianity as a model.
Hence, Spain was not motivated solely by religious zeal as its Inquisition set about its task of stamping out Protestantism in the colonies with ruthless efficiency.
Yet the emergence of ruling Liberal elites following the wars of independence signaled a new perception of Protestantism in the New World. These first generation Liberals aspired to emulate the progress and advancement of Anglo-Saxon liberal societies (especially a US model) and regarded the Protestantism of these countries as a religion of progress. Thus, as they set about pursuing their agenda of progress and enlightenment Liberal leaders opened their borders to Protestant immigrants possessing the relevant skills and technical knowledge they sought, which in turn required the de-criminalisation of Protestantism. (For a useful survey of Protestant immigration in the nineteenth century see González and González 2008, 184-205.) A fierce backlash by a Catholic Church keen to protect its societal role led a second generation of Liberal leaders to curtail yet further Catholicism’s power and introduce wider religious reform, allowing Latin Americans themselves by the early twentieth century to convert to Protestantism, though often at great expense socially.
These new religious freedoms paving the way for Protestant missionary activity in Latin America were contemporaneous with the rise of a new expression of Christianity – Pentecostalism – in the US, which by virtue of its pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) and eschatology (theology of the end times) had at its core an urgent sense of evangelisation and a strong missions-driven agenda. Given the proximity of Latin America to the US, it was inevitable that the new Pentecostals, influenced by dispensationalism which heightened a belief in an imminent parousia (second coming of Christ), set about evangelising Latin America to win souls for Christ before it was too late. Missionaries soon began to arrive in small numbers, and various reports of their work can be found in early Pentecostal publications such as the Latter Rain Evangel.
Initially, growth was slow, often hampered by fierce, even violent Catholic resistance and persecution. Reports of such persecution are plentiful, while the hagiographical literature detailing early missionary endeavours (for example Jeter de Walker 1990, 1992) describe various instances of confrontation, such as Pentecostals being denounced by mobs led by priests and nuns hurling abuse and stones. Sometimes, even small explosive devices were left on church doorsteps, while very occasionally church leaders or converts were killed. Such reports are not limited to Pentecostals, with reports of similar difficulties faced by non-Pentecostal Protestant missionaries early in the twentieth century being well-attested. Even in the late twentieth century many Catholic leaders in Latin America continued to view the Protestant penetration with distrust and suspicion (see, for example, Galindo 1994).
Despite this opposition, by the mid-twentieth century some of the small Pentecostal gains won at great expense were consolidated, while the 1950s and 1960s witnessed a period of mass evangelisation, including radio broadcasts and various city-wide evangelistic campaigns. These became increasingly successful in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which softened Catholicism’s antagonism towards Protestants (now regarded as “separated brethren”). Thus, as conversion to Protestantism was gradually de-stigmatised this contributed to Pentecostalism’s steady growth across many parts of the continent in the 1960s and 1970s as new converts no longer feared losing their jobs. During the 1980s, however, much of the continent experienced substantial and sustained Pentecostal growth across Latin America, launching the current academic interest in the movement.
Even the briefest perusal of some of the more recent statistical data demonstrates the truly phenomenal nature of Pentecostal growth. For example, in Chile Pentecostals and Charismatics have been estimated at 30% (Pew Forum 2006, 4, 77-8), and even 36% (David Barrett et al 2001, cited in González and González 2008, 280) of the total population. For Brazil, the data is even more noteworthy, with suggestions that renewalists (ie Pentecostals and Charismatics combined) consist of between 47 and 49% of the total population (Pew Forum 2006, 4, 75-6, González and González 2008, 283). But it is Guatemala which is frequently singled out as having the highest proportion of Pentecostals, with one survey estimating them at an incredible 60% of the total population (Pew Forum 2006, 4, 79-80). While less dramatic and diverse, Pentecostal adherents in other Latin American countries are still sizeable, for example 13% of the population in Mexico (González and González 2008, 286), while Protestants (which in a Latin American context mainly consists of Pentecostals) in El Salvador are numbered at 34% (Holland 2008), and in Costa Rica the average across a decade of polling to 2001 is around 18% (Holland 2009).
At this stage of the discussion it is important to sound a warning note about statistics on Latin American Pentecostalism. Even allowing for the different ways in which polling organisations and researchers define Pentecostals (for example, some consider anyone with a past Pentecostal experience as part of the movement) some of the above and other statistics – notably those for Brazil, Chile and Guatemala – are so dramatic they demand closer scrutiny. Consider, for example, the Pew Forum figure of 60% for Guatemala. Clifton Holland, a specialist in Protestant statistics across Central America, explains how during 1960-1980 Guatemala became a showcase for Latin American Protestant growth. But he goes on to note how “the enthusiasm of Evangelical leaders regarding continued high rates of church growth in Guatemala often exceeded the reality.” From polls and data available he suggests there was little change between 1990 and 2001, so that throughout that period Protestants (mainly Pentecostals) numbered about 25% of the population (Holland 2002). If the Pew Forum figure, based on a “national probability sample” (80), is to be taken at face value it would mean the highly unlikely scenario of Pentecostals in Guatemala more than doubling from 25% to 60% of the population between 2001 and 2006. Meanwhile, a careful piece of analysis by two specialists in Latin American Pentecostalism back in 1998 challenged statistics which then numbered Chilean Pentecostals at between 13-16% of the population (Cleary and Sepúlveda, 106-112). Their own analysis concluded the statistics did not accurately identify fully committed and practising Pentecostals, the proportion of which they argued in 1998 was closer to 7% of the population.
Despite a shortage of reliable statistics based on careful research, or leftist and Catholic scaremongering which exaggerates Pentecostal growth for its own political or religious purposes, or Pentecostal triumphalism which might inflate or draw upon unreliable figures, nonetheless the Latin American Pentecostal presence is undoubtedly sizeable and growing, while the movement is also having a major impact upon other religious expressions across Latin America. Thus, even if the current statistics might be diverse in their efforts to identify the size of Pentecostal populations across Latin America, nonetheless they certainly indicate quite phenomenal numbers of people who experienced Pentecostalism in some form or other.
The growth of Latin American Pentecostalism raises an important question for some observers, namely, to what extent does it represent an ideological and cultural invasion? This view is favoured by many Latin American Catholic leaders and some on the political left, who speculate that many of these groups have formal links with the US, including North American policymakers. Both accuse Pentecostals of being a tool of US cultural imperialism, even an extension of US foreign policy. Bookshops in Latin America contain many Catholic-produced items on how to deal with the sectas (sects), while Marxist commentators have accused Pentecostals of serving as a social prop for pro-US regimes as a means of retaining the status quo. Meanwhile, it is often argued the US finances such groups to further its own agenda for the region.
It is indeed true that the US has, on occasion, sought missionary help to gather intelligence in parts of Latin America, which led the US National Association of Evangelicals to issue a resolution denouncing such practices (National Association of Evangelicals 1996). A North American missionary I know well, while based in Panama at the time was approached by a US official requesting him to bring back information during his visits to Sandinista Nicaragua, which he refused to do (Smith 2007, 91).
But such cases are quite different from the view conspiratorial suggestion that the invasion of Pentecostalism represents a US foreign policy tool, and that Pentecostals receive funding accordingly, or that Pentecostals in some way represent a social prop for unjust regimes. First, any argument for Pentecostalism as an exogenous force must bear in mind Protestant penetration of the continent was only made possible by Liberal leaders who opened their doors to them (see discussion above), and as such owes something at least to endogenous factors.
Neither was there ever a Pentecostal invasion of Latin America in the true sense of the word. Rather, the available evidence suggests the initial influx of missionaries was small (a missionary here, a man-and-wife team there), while a careful examination of the personal accounts of Assemblies of God missionaries sent to Latin America from Springfield, Missouri, over many years often details only subsistence-level funding (the denomination always encouraged self-sufficiency), so that some missionaries struggled financially. David Stoll has also suggested the funding argument is inadequate and over-exaggerated (1990). Furthermore, the US Assemblies of God encouraged rapid indigenisation of local ministries in Latin America (consider how Melvyn Hodges, a Central American missionary and later Missions Secretary of the Assemblies of God, was strongly influenced by the writings of Rolland Allen, who strongly emphasised indigenisation). Finally, if Pentecostals in some regimes represented a social prop aimed at retaining the status quo, it seems they were getting very little out of it. Consider such an accusation levelled against Pentecostals during the Somoza regime. Yet the Somoza dynasty failed to protect them from Catholic persecution, and there is even evidence of a group of Pentecostals being executed towards the end of the regime (Smith 2007). Thus, if Nicaraguan Pentecostals indeed helped to bolster the Somoza regime, they clearly received very little in return.
To summarise this section, then, despite humble beginnings Latin American Pentecostalism has grown at an astounding rate during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly from the 1980s onwards. How is this Latin American Pentecostalism expressed, and to what extent has it impacted the continent socially and politically?
Diverse Expressions and Political Responses
Contrary to some perceptions, Latin American Pentecostalism is not some monolithic, homogenous bloc across the continent, and such views are unsophisticated and lack nuance. Rather, there are several expressions of Pentecostalism in the region, leading to a diversity of political outlook and responses.
First, it is important to differentiate between classical and neo-Pentecostalism. The former represents the original expression of the movement in the early twentieth century. Drawing on various revivalist strands, particularly the Holiness tradition, classical Pentecostalism focuses on glossolalia (speaking in tongues), first manifest at a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas in 1901, and later during the Asuza Street Revival in Los Angeles (1906-1908). Within a short time the new Pentecostals had broken away from the Holiness movement to form their own denominations, the largest being the Assemblies of God and Church of God. Significantly during any discussion of Latin American Pentecostalism, classical Pentecostals (so-called to differentiate them from the later Charismatic movement, also known as neo-Pentecostalism) have generally retained close links with their denominational headquarters in the US, compared with Latin American neo-Pentecostals, who may or may not exploit and draw upon such links. The Charismatics of the 1950s and 1960s, who emphasised other spiritual gifts as well as glossolalia, by and large remained within their denominations rather than forming new ones as the early classical Pentecostals had done. Thus, here is another reason why some Latin American Pentecostals have a less formal relationship with their US counterparts.
This leads to another defining point of Latin American Pentecostalism: the emergence of autochthonous, that is, national or “home grown” expressions of Pentecostalism. Unlike classical Pentecostals in Latin America who retain close links with, for example, the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, some Pentecostal groups in Latin America originated and developed separately. A notable example of such a national expression of Pentecostalism is in Chile, which originated within Methodism. Despite the new breakaway group – the Iglesia Metodista Pentecostal – initially being led by the North American missionary Willis Hoover, who arrived in Chile in 1889, nonetheless this Pentecostal organisation was quite distinct and independent from North American Pentecostals. For example, it retains its Methodist doctrines and practices, the central doctrinal plank of glossolalia as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism commands a less important role than in the US Assemblies of God, while the organisation was one of the first Pentecostal churches to join the World Council of Churches (Anderson 2004, 64-7). Cleary and Sepúlveda also note how Chilean Pentecostal views on issues such as abortion and divorce are less strict than among other Pentecostals (1998, 111).
Brazilian Pentecostalism retains a strong sense of national origins and identity (Anderson 2004, 69-74). The first Pentecostal church there was founded by an Italian, Luigi Francescon, later giving rise to the Christian Congregation, now the second largest Pentecostal denomination in Brazil. Unlike its US counterpart this denomination has no full-time pastors, men and women sit separately during worship, there is no emphasis on tithing, and worship is more structured than many other Latin American churches. The largest Brazilian Pentecostal denomination is the Assemblies of God, originally established by two Swedish missionaries working out of the US, but which grew and spread without US financial support or involvement. As such the Brazilian Assemblies of God is an autochthonous expression of Latin American Pentecostalism (Anderson 2004, 71-2).
What bearing do these various expressions of Pentecostalism have on political outlook and participation? The diversity of responses are indeed notable, so that comment on Latin American political involvement demands considerable nuance. For example, Pentecostal responses to the leftist Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua were mixed, with the majority – classical Pentecostals with close relations with their US counterparts – expressing suspicion and distrust of the Sandinista experiment programme. That is not to downplay very real endogenous factors which contributed to tense Pentecostal-Sandinista relations. Yet significantly nationalist, or home grown Nicaraguan Pentecostalism responded far more positively to the revolution than their classical counterparts (Smith 2007).
Meanwhile in early 1980s Guatemala, the political responses of Pentecostals is even more confusing. Here, one must differentiate between urban, middle class neo-Pentecostals (or Charismatics), for example the large El Verbo church, with a much more national, indigenous version of Pentecostalism evident among the Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. The latter had little contact with North American Pentecostals, compared with its urban counterpart. Indeed, these two brands of Pentecostalism represented quite separate religious movements, though naturally, as Pentecostals they had plenty in common. Given their autonomy and autochthonous nature one would expect peasant Mayan Pentecostals to demonstrate a closer political outlook to that of their leftist, pro-Sandinista counterparts in Nicaragua, especially given the Guatemalan military dictatorship’s brutal attempts to stamp out the Marxist counterinsurgency in the Guatemalan highlands, resulting in various atrocities carried out against Maya Indians by the Guatemalan army. Yet quite the opposite is the case, with Mayan Pentecostals participating in the military government’s fusiles y frijoles (beans and bullets) initiative, which co-opted local peasants into the counterinsurgency process. Perhaps caught in the middle Mayan Pentecostals felt they had no choice, or perhaps even Pentecostalism represented a survival strategy against a regime headed – ironically – by a neo-Pentecostal, Efrain Rios Montt, who was a member of the neo-Pentecostal El Verbo church. Either way their political response did not mirror that of Sandinista Pentecostals.
Further illustrations demonstrate how Pentecostal political responses defy easy stereotypes. Consider how the Iglesia Metodista Pentecostal’s largest church, Jotabeche, in Santiago (which in 1999 claimed some 80,000 members) was opened by General Pinochet. Meanwhile, Pentecostal leaders in Chile had generally opposed the leftist Salvador Allende in the 1970 election, and these two facts together suggest Chilean Pentecostal support for the right. However, there is evidence to suggest many grassroots Pentecostals, unlike their leaders, had in fact voted for Allende (Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998, 103-5). In Sandinista Nicaragua, too, it is essential to differentiate not only between pro- and anti-Sandinista Pentecostals, but also between rural, highland Pentecostals, where the movement finds its greatest strength, and their urban counterparts. In the highlands, where the Contra war was fought out, many Pentecostals joined the Contras in response to what they perceived as the brutal ideological Sandinista suppression of their faith in that region, while urban Pentecostals were more passive (Smith 2007).
A brief study into Pentecostal political responses in El Salvador suggests Pentecostal conservatism in that country is personal, but rather less so politically (Aguilar et al 1993). For example, Salvadoran Evangelicals did not agree with the US-sponsored late 1980s elections (a fact which runs contrary to the social prop theory discussed above). Moreover, Salvadoran Pentecostals were aware of and expressed opposition to social injustices, again demonstrating how Pentecostal political response defies easy stereotypes. Finally, a common view held by some sociologists is that Pentecostalism breeds political quiescence. Yet this is simply not the case. Indeed, it appears that although Guatemalan Pentecostals are unlikely to criticise public officials or to involve themselves in certain political issues, they still represent a politically-active and important voting bloc (Steigenga 2001).
Gauging Latin American Pentecostal responses, then, requires a degree of sophistication, differentiating not only between classical, neo-Pentecostal and autochthonous expressions of the movement, but where circumstances dictate, also country and/or region, history, demographics and political circumstances. In short, Latin American Pentecostalism does not translate into a homogenous, monolithic bloc which is inherently conservative. Indeed, in a direct challenge to those who take this view, even Pentecostal expressions of liberation theology have emerged, not only in Latin America but elsewhere too.
Explicit versus implicit political impact of Pentecostalism
One way in which Pentecostal politics is being manifest in Latin America is through the formation of and support for Evangelical, mainly Pentecostal political parties. Thus, the rigid separation of church and state formerly practiced by many Pentecostals has now been dismissed in favour of openly standing for election at the local and national levels. In his survey of Protestant political parties, the sociologist Paul Freston discusses several such parties and activities within the Latin American milieu (2004). However, polling success has been mixed, ranging from the dizzy heights of capturing the highest political prizes (notably in Guatemala) thorugh to quite disappointing polling results, for example former Nicaraguan Assemblies of God minister Guillermo Osorno polling third with just 4% in the 1997 elections (Alford 1997), this despite a particularly strong Pentecostal presence in that country. On the other hand, Pentecostal voting for other parties has arguably played a much more influential role (for example see Steigenga 2001, Zub 1993, and Smith 2007, 271-4).
Other expressions of political activity include the formation of pressure groups, while many Pentecostals across Latin America are now heavily involved in social projects such as literacy, helping the poor, orphanage work, and drug rehabilitation (Petersen 1996). Meanwhile, a Pentecostal theological worldview view can have a direct bearing on the extent to which political participation might take place. For example in revolutionary Nicaragua classical Pentecostalism’s premillennial eschatology had a direct bearing on how it viewed the Sandinistas and eschewed political participation (Smith 2008).
But political activity among Pentecostals is not always expressed so explicitly. Pentecostal belief and practices often have an unintended or implicit political outworking, which is also very important. Regarded as “the religion of the oppressed” (Campos 1997, 36), Pentecostalism has impacted strongly the poorer sectors of Latin American society. One commentator points out Pentecostals do not go around vocalising a preferential option for the poor; rather they are the poor – this is the church of the poor (Karkkainen 1999, 31).
An examination of why Pentecostalism draws heavily upon and attracts the poor yields a range of similar proposals. The Argentinian Pentecostal leader Lidia Susana Vaccaro de Petrella points to a strong sense of community within Latin American Pentecostal churches (1986, 34-38). Pentecostalism also provides a sense of community to Latin American peasants migrating to cities (Moreno 1997, 31-34). The poor receive a welcome and sanctuary at Pentecostal churches, while those travelling from the countryside to the city “recover a sense of family” (Eldridge 1991, 16). Indeed, Pentecostal churches provide a sense of community to uprooted people who have lost their point of reference (Escobar 1994, 3-35).
Pentecostalism also offers transformed lives and socio-economic circumstances for every believer, encouraging the family to commit to personal and social transformation. Eldridge also notes how “families are often renewed, not only because wages are more likely to be converted into food and shelter for the children, but also because sober husbands with purpose are less likely to beat wives and children” (1991, 17). The effects of these new spending priorities allows for social upward mobility, while a Pentecostal emphasis on education out of a desire to read the Bible, and even the movement’s success in domesticating Salvadoran youth gang members, both in El Salvador and the US (Vazquez 2001), are symptomatic of Pentecostalism’s ability to offer the marginalised a tremendous feeling of self-esteem, taking them `del suelo al cielo’ (from earth to heaven) (Samandú 1988, 1-9). In short, newly converted Pentecostals begin to see the positive effects straight away, leading Eldridge to observe:
The very volume and intensity of the gatherings sends a message into the darkened barrios that something exciting is happening. From the lighted church, a clarion call goes out to all to leave the oppressive reality of hunger, unemployment and illness and cleave to the celebration inside the church” (1991, 15).
Pentecostals also create conditions for equality among their own structures, seeing “each member of the congregation as an essential and vital player in the work of the church” (Birchall 1994, 15). Those who were previously powerless are given new opportunities and responsibilities: “The belief that Spirit baptism equips every believer, men and women alike, for ministry reveals the leveling influence of modern Pentecostalism and the key to its rapid growth” (Kaikkinen 1999, 78). Moreover, despite the power exercised by Pentecostalism’s leaders, these same leaders remain close to the people, not least because they are typically drawn from the same socio-economic class
Finally Pentecostalism, while not a feminist movement, also empowers Latin American women, emphasising self-worth and autonomy in a machismo culture. God is also placed above family, freeing Pentecostal women from the fetters of traditional Latin values. Moreover, “Pentecostalism is able to resolve marital conflict because it redefines the relationship between the individual and evil” (Mariz and Machado 1998, 41-54). Pentecostalism also provides women with skills, power within a church setting, and thus legitimacy (Drogus 1998, 55-75).
The explosive growth of Latin American Pentecostalism has strongly challenged Catholicism’s religious hold and as such has arguably ushered in a new Reformation in that continent during the latter part of the twentieth century which is no less profound than the Reformation in sixteenth century Europe (Stoll 1990). It has also strongly influenced Catholicism and other religious expressions across the continent, resulting in the rise of what one commentator describes as “Pentecostalized religion (Steigenga 2001). González and González concur, observing how “the impact of Pentecostalism and Charismaticism on Latin American Christianity – even in those churches that do not consider themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic – is undeniable” (2008, 294). Indeed, it is not unusual in Latin America to encounter Catholic churches and services which, responding to the power and attraction of the “sectas” have employed Pentecostal modes of worship, including the use of guitars, choruses, and services free from liturgy.
But another story also emerges within the narrative which is Latin American Pentecostalism, one of diverse expressions and political participation, whether explicit or implicit. So significant is this phenomenon that it has given rise to a whole research industry devoted to its study from across a range of academic disciplines. Moreover, Latin American Pentecostalism successfully challenges the views held by some that the movement is inherently conservative and monolithic. Meanwhile, the exponential growth of Pentecostalism in the region has played its part in demonstrating that religion, far from in decline, remains an important determinant of political outlook and behaviour.
Calvin L. Smith is Course Director and Tutor in Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School and the University of Wales, Lampeter. As well as writing on Latin American Pentecostalism he is also currently researching Christian responses to the modern State of Israel.
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