Pentecostals in Latin America

The CS Monitor has a great 3 part series on the explosive growth of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America. The first two parts, dealing mostly with Guatemala and Brazil are posted and have been quite interesting. I’m looking forward to the third.

As church lights dim across the US and Europe, Christian houses of worship are opening every day in Latin America. The majority of the new churches are Pentecostal, an expressive evangelical creed that emphasizes individual “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

“Renewalists,” a term that includes those belonging to Pentecostal denominations and “charismatics,” who have adopted the expressive worship services of Pentecostals but belong to Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, now make up an estimated one quarter of the world’s Christians, according to the World Christian Database. That number was just 6 percent 30 years ago….

Pentecostals across the region, most of whom considered themselves Catholics before, say they converted in order to tackle their problems, for a sense of community, or simply because Pentecostalism offered something that the rituals of the Catholic mass did not. Most Pentecostal services today are rollicking events that include 10-piece bands, movie screens, and emotional testimonials – a reflection of society’s preferences. It’s what Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, calls “bringing the fiesta spirit to church.”

Pentecostals have been particularly skilled at reaching out to the region’s poor, providing answers to the overwhelming problems their poverty provokes each day. The Catholic answer, in the 1960s, came in the form of “liberation theology,” a Marxist-tinged approach to addressing the needs of the oppressed. It had enthusiastic supporters across Latin America, but soon got wrapped up in cold war politics. Religious scholars often quip: “Liberation theology opted for the poor, and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.”

I’d guess the growth has also been strong in parts of the USA. Walking around my neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday night one will hear plenty of spanish voices and the upbeat hymn-pop that accompanies the movement.

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