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date: 30 November 2022

American Evangelicals in Guatemalalocked

American Evangelicals in Guatemalalocked

  • Lauren Frances TurekLauren Frances TurekHistory, Trinity University

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • History of Central America
  • 1824–c. 1880
  • 1889–1910
  • 1910–1945
  • 1945–1991

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