Daily Archives: 22 December 2005

Is Latin America Turning Protestant?

After four Catholic centuries, a new brand of Christianity is catching in the Mission District of San Francisco, in the San Joaquin Valley of California, wherever in the United States there are large populations of Hispanics, and throughout Latin America.

Latin America! The Catholic hemisphere, the last best wine the Church had counted on to see herself through the twenty-first century–Latin America is turning in its jar to Protestantism. At the beginning of this century, there were fewer than two hundred thousand Protestants in all of Latin America. Today there are more than fifty million Protestants. The rate of conversion leads some demographers to predict Latin America will be Protestant before the end of the next century. Not only Protestant but evangelical.

Evangelico: one who evangelizes; the Christian who preaches the gospel. I use the term loosely to convey a spirit abroad, rather than a church or group of churches. There are evangelical dimensions to all Christian denominations, but those I call evangelical would wish to distinguish themselves from mainline Protestantism, most certainly from Roman Catholicism. Catholics may yet be the most communal of Christians; evangelicals are the most protestant of Protestants.

Evangelicals are fundamentalists. They read scripture literally. Most evangelicals in Latin America are also Pentecostals. Pentecostalism is emotional Christianity, trusting most a condition of enrapturement by the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism is rife with prophecy, charismata, healings, and the babble of sacred tongues. Evangelical spirituality hinges upon an unmediated experience of Jesus Christ.

Protestantism flourished in Europe in the eighteenth century. Protestantism taught Europe to imagine the self according to a new world of cities. Protestantism taught Europe that the central experience of faith was of the individual standing alone before God.

Protestantism increased fivefold in Latin America in the 1940s. Consider what may be a related statistic concerning Mexico during the 1940s. At the start of the decade, 70 percent of Mexico’s population lived in villages of fewer than twenty-five hundred people. Since the 1940s, the population of Mexico has tripled; the countryside has not been able to sustain such life. Seventy percent of the population of Mexico now belongs to the city.

SOURCE: Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father, by Richard Rodriguez (Penguin, 1992), pp. 175-177

UPDATE: Lirelou adds some intriguing personal historical perspective in the comments:

Protestantism was in fact part of the underlying reasons for the unrest in Chiapas, where the villages are Mayan. Those who converted to the protestant, usually evangelical, faiths found themselves excluded from their communities. Part of the reason for this exclusion was their refusal to contribute to village religious festivals, which in turn reduced the funds available, and undercut the power of local leaders. In revenge, protestant families were barred from using communal lands, and in some cases physically expelled. I met one pastor who claimed that his two sons had been murdered. Possibly, but I never personally verified that fact. He was also convinced that the catholic church was under the control of a secret order of Freemasons. Latin America may very well go protestant, but the day when other religions, even other versions of christianity, are widely accepted is still a long way off. But then, religious tolerance wasn’t exactly an overnight process in Europe either.

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Filed under Latin America, religion