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American Evangelicals in Guatemala  

Lauren Frances Turek

The category of “evangelical” is a broad one, encompassing a range of different Christian denominations, nondenominational groups, and subcultures. Evangelicalism in the United States has evolved considerably over time and varies greatly by geographic region as well as by ethnicity and race. Although the evangelicals of the First Great Awakening in the 18th century have a genealogical connection with the neo-evangelicals of the post–World War II years and the Pentecostals preaching out of strip mall churches in urban and suburban areas of the United States in the early 21st century, much has changed in terms of evangelical practices, demographics, and even beliefs over the intervening centuries. This diversity and evolution notwithstanding, evangelicals share a basic faith in Biblical authority, a conversion or “born-again” experience, and a commitment to evangelism according to sociologist Mark Shibley. The latter commitment, which derives from Jesus Christ’s Great Commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” has long spurred evangelicals to undertake missionary work throughout the world. The first evangelical missionaries arrived in Guatemala in the 19th century, and since then, the country has seen a steady influx of evangelists of all stripes. While some US missionaries worked in Guatemala on a short-term basis, many resided there for extended periods of time—decades in some cases—planting churches, building schools and medical facilities, and providing aid to alleviate suffering brought on by natural disasters or poverty. Evangelical missionaries also forged close relationships with some Guatemalan leaders, at times involving themselves in local and national politics and interacting with diplomatic officials and intelligence agents from the United States. The relationship between US evangelicals and General José Efraín Ríos Montt, a right-wing evangelical dictator who came to power in 1982 and oversaw a brutal genocide against the Indigenous Maya, has attracted particular attention. The evangelical presence in the country contributed to a dramatic shift in Guatemala’s religious demographics. In the 19th century, the country was (at least nominally) almost exclusively Catholic, though many Guatemalans also continued to practice indigenous faith traditions. As of 2019, Guatemalan Protestants, most of whom are evangelicals, made up approximately 35 to 42 percent of the population according to estimates from the Pew Research Center and the United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The ongoing relationship between US evangelicals, their counterparts in Guatemala, and Guatemalan leaders has influenced Guatemalan politics as well as relations with the United States into the present day.

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Catholics, Evangelicals, and US Policy in Central America  

Michael Cangemi

During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.

Article

Pentecostalism in Brazil  

R. Andrew Chesnut and Kate Kingsbury

Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s, and an integral part of conquest and colonization was missionary activity by Catholic clergy. Brazil, like all of Latin America, was Catholic for over four hundred years. However, in the early 1900s, missionaries from overseas came to Brazil extolling a new faith, known as Pentecostalism, that had its origins in the United States. This creed consisted of a charismatic Protestant movement that focused on baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal churches, originally founded by outsiders, soon began to burgeon under Brazilian leaders. Pentecostalism mushroomed in a brief span of time, proliferating across the nation and gaining popularity among immiserated urban dwellers. It has proven so popular among Brazilians that it has resulted in the pentecostalization of Christianity, in which the Charismatic Renewal has become the predominant form of Catholicism as the Church has struggled to compete with Pentecostalism over the past few decades. There are numerous notable denominations that boast millions of members, such as the Four-Square Gospel, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and Assemblies of God. These churches proffer a range of religious products to the urban poor, ranging from Prosperity Theology to faith healing. Impoverished city dwellers, faced with limited opportunities and denied access to basic human needs, nevertheless seek to navigate the difficulties of their daily lives. Faced with somatic diseases and social distress, many seek sacred succor to surmount their troubles. This may lead them to the door of a Pentecostal church, where they are promised miracles and healing in exchange for steadfast piety and generous tithing. Many find empowerment through conversion and catharsis during spirited services, where they imagine that through sacred power they might be freed from material deprivation. Pentecostal leaders, such as Edir Macedo, a billionaire bishop, have acquired not only significant capital but also great influence over their congregants. Such is their sway on the vox populi that political leaders have sought the support of Pentecostal clergy to further their ambitions, such as the recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro, who won thanks to the Evangelical vote.