Review Essay

Review Essay

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REVIEW ESSAY

WHO

SPEAKS

FOR LATIN AMERICAN

PENTECOSTALS?

Everett A. Wilson

Carmelo Alvarez, ed., Experiencia

Latinoamericana Departamento

Ecuminico Heindrich Schafer. Protestantismo

Pentecostalismo

(San de

Investigaciones,

143

Josi,

y Liberación,.

Una Costa Rica: Editorial

1992). [DEI]

.

Central

(San Josi,

Costa Rica: Editorial

de

Investigaciones,

1992). [DEI]

y

Crisis Social

Departamento

en Amirica Ecuménico

Barbara

Boudewijnse, Mris

que Opio.

Una Lectura Latinoamericano

y

Caribeiio Ecuminico

Andre

Droogers,

Antropológica

(San de

Investigaciones, 1991). [DEI]

Luis E. Samandu en Centroamirica Centroamericana,

(compiler).

(San 1991). [EDUCA]

Protestantismos Jos6,

Frans

Kamsteeg,

eds.

Algo

del Pentecostalismo Jos6, Costa

Rica: Editorial

y

Procesos Sociales Costa Rica: Editorial

Pentecostalismo

y

Jaime Valverde. Las Sectas Conflicto

Social

(San Josi, Investigaciones, 1990). [DEI]

en Costa

Rica;

Costa Rica: Editorial Ecuménico de

.

Abelino Martinez. Las Sectas en

Nicaragua. Oferta y

Demanda de

Salvació

(San Investigaciones,

Josi,

Costa 1989). [DEI]

up

of Pentecostals-have

Rica: Editorial Ecuménico de

made

Latin American

popular evangelical movements-increasingly

yet

to be assessed in a manner commensurate with their

rapid growth

and increased

recognition. Clearly,

the sessions devoted to the

topic

at recent

meetings

of the Latin American Studies Association and articles about

evangelicals

Research Review mark a new academic

perspective

in the Latin American

on the

region’s

1

144

evangelicals.’

Moreover,

by

the

output

of a

growing

treatments

by

David

and

representatives

the

region

and constructive the

overwhelming

social

problems dispossessed.

While

the

widely recognized

Martin,

David Stoll and Jean-Pierre Bastian have been followed

closely

number of other trained scholars graduate

students. These latter tend to affirm the

centrality

for

ongoing study

of

topics

such as the movements’ relative

autonomy

as

legitimate

of the

masses, relationship

to

disruptive

social

change

in

(rather

than

obstructionist)

or

worse,

indifferent to the Pentecostals

approaches

to faced

by

the Latin American

high

levels of

scholarly of research

topics,

for better

commitments

scholars fail to define

key

terms Pentecostal, Charismatic,

their

interpretations

distinctions that are considered movements.

Moreover,

most of these studies reflect

objectivity,

the selection and

interpretation

have become the domain of researchers who

may

be

themselves,

research not as

anthropological “participant

to

given policies

and

purposes.

For

example,

when such

or

worse, may

embark on

observers,”

but with

(sects, Protestant, Evangelical, popular, missionary, historic),

in these of some often

highly

Pentecostal

resources,

Satisfactory

treatment

impulses

that drive the

movements, processes

of

religious renewal, remain elusive. There also

appears landmark

methodological

works

indigenous,

are unclear

and,

more

significantly, may gloss

over

indispensable by participants

despite

the

appearance

informative books and articles in the wake of the

previously

mentioned landmark

studies,

in general subsequent research has shed little

light

on

leadership profiles

and

organizational dynamics.

of Pentecostal

nature of Pentecostal

spirituality

and the

religious

as well as their

relationship

to the secularization and social crisis also

to be little awareness of some by 2

Luther

Gerlach,

Felicitas D.

Goodman and Cornelia Butler Flora.2

In

part

the

interpretive problems

stem from the

popular, spontaneous

religion.

Because in

large

measure Pentecostals represent deprived populations

that lack the benefits of class, status and

Metamorphosis Perspective,” authors,

Religious

American ‘Virginia

Burnett, “Protestantism

in Rural

Guatemala, 1872-1954,”

Latin

Research Review 24/1

(1989): 127-142;

Jean-Pierre

Bastian,

“The

of Latin American Protestant A Sociohistorical

Latin Research Review 28/2 Groups: American

(1993): 33-61; multiple

“Protestantism in El Salvador: Conventional Wisdom versus

Survey Evidence,” Latin American Research Review 28/2 (1993): 119-140.

2Luther Gerlach, “Pentecostalism: Revolution or

Counter-Revolution?,”

in

Movements in Contemporary America, eds. Irving 1. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974); Felicitas D. Goodman,

in Tongues (Chicago, IL:

in

University of Chicago Press, 1972) and Cornelia Butler Flora, Pentecostalism Colombia: Baptism by Fire and Spirit (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1976).

Speaking

2

145

they

nature and influence. could no

longer initiatives

presented

power,

often have national, ethnic and denominational foci, and

usually are absorbed in

carrying

out their own

evangelistic commitments, have not answered in

scholarly

idiom the

questions

raised about their

As their movements

be overlooked-and as their

popular, energetic

an excellent

Pentecostal the Pentecostals

Editorial

Departamento Jose,

Pentecostalism

and

monographs,

Editorial

grew

to dimensions that

example

of the

self-empowerment

about

(DEI)

of San Latin American

statistical

directories,

memoirs

a number of

topical

invoked

by

the

sociological theory

of the 1980s-the Pentecostals became an academically

worthy object

of study.

In an effort to

highlight

the kind of treatment these Latin American

groups

have

received,

and to make the case for

allowing

to

speak

for

themselves,

this article reviews the

output of one of the most accessible sources of information about

them,

the

Ecumenico de

Investigaciones

Costa Rica. While information

has been

accumulating

on three continents in numerous journal articles,

doctoral

dissertations,

DEI has

gathered

analyses

and case studies into

books, making

them more available than had

they

been diffused in learned

journals.

headed

by

Carmelo

Alvarez,

a

Disciples

of Christ minister and author of several books and articles on

Pentecostalism,

a consortium of Central American

worked

closely

with

EDUCA, university presses,

in

encouraging Pentecostalism and related contribution merits

recognition

With an editorial board

Editorial

DEI has

and

disseminating

research on

DEI’s substantial

themes. Editorial

and

provides examples

for

assessing available

scholarly

works on the

subject.

the first of the aforementioned studies to be published,

Las Sectas en

Nicaragua, recognizes

Chronologically

phenomenon

must be understood

that the Pentecostal in

respect

both to the beliefs of the

adherents and the nature of the social climate in which

they operate.

Within this tension Pentecostal promoting

sect-like characteristics

groups emerge

as

“eclesiolas,”

and

1980s. The Pentecostal

negative product

of social

forces,

exclusiveness and

claiming

absolute

religious

truth. These

made the Pentecostals

very

marketable to those seeking religious

alternatives in a national climate of

uncertainty fear

brought

on

by

the Sandinista revolution and the violence of the

movement is thus

portrayed primarily

as a

issues of

injustice, exploitation

an immediate relief from the

symptoms

of alienation but an

inappropriate way

to address the “real”

and

suffering

which are

only prolonged by inattention

to the need for structural

change.

Las Sectas en Costa

Rica,

the work of a

specialist

in Central

religion,

advances the thesis that Pentecostals

American

in

general

3

146

characteristics,

issues of the

community. protest against unacceptable

existence, suppressed

“sectarian”

(“cultic”?)

the

to

Valverde,

were the Pentecostal

should be considered churches that affect

notably,

the

tendency

toward claims to absolute

truth, isolation from other

religious groups

and indifference to the

larger

This

religious

enthusiasm itself is a

symbolic

conditions of life and reflects Pentecostals’ desire to

separate

themselves from them.

Rejection

of the world,

the author

asserts,

is “not

only

the reason for the

group’s

but of its

vitality” (p. 75).

As labor

organizations

in the

1970s, according

churches became an

increasingly employed

method

(for

some

workers)

and

(for

the

employers)

(p. 84).

The Pentecostals’

effect,

in their

assuming

a political

role,

a passive support for the status quo. Thus,

Pentecostalism not

only repressed

social action but tended to turn adherents into at least

unwitting agents

of

imperialism

and the

of

avoiding organization

conflict,

otherworldly

for

breaking

labor beliefs

resulted,

in

perpetuation

of social

injustice.

Protestantismos

articles

prepared by

academic American

universities,

y

Procesos Sociales en Centroamdrica consists of

roads to

understanding” (p. 13).

Protestant

groups

sociologists

from several Central

University

of

statistics that offer

found

primarily

where

as well as from the Catholic

Louvaine and the Latin American Biblical

Seminary,

San

Jose,

Costa Rica. Its

objective

is “an effort to

bring together

the sectarian

changes occurring

in the isthmus

are

reportedly

capitalist

investment has undermined the traditional

patterns

of land use and labor and has

produced

a rural

proletariat,

Costa Rica and Panama. The

study

also

Atlantic coasts of

Honduras, finds Protestantism

proportionately

evident

especially

on the

more influential in smaller and rural

the

growth

of Protestant

communities than in the cities.

Ultimately,

groups

correlates with

populations neglected by

the Roman Catholic

church.

This

interpretation American

Project ambitious

project country-by-country

undertaken

Studies

of the Central (PROCADES),

an

of the church

is based on the

compilations

of

Socio-Religious

by

Clifton Holland in a series of

studies not unlike other

compilations

growth

school of research. The

compiler

of this volume warns the reader that the studies are restricted to

quantitative (read “descriptive”) material and do not

attempt

to

explain

the social or economic causes

for Pentecostal

growth.

Nonetheless,

are themselves

prejudicial.

West Indian

immigrants

the

analysis developed

For

example, evangelicals

groups

are found in

large proportion

or

indigenous groups evangelized by early

and the conclusions advanced

of the historic on the Caribbean coast

among

4

Protestant

missionaries-tracing

147

profiles hardly apply

to

Pentecostals,

Central American

evangelicals. Nicaragua,

which

grew rapidly Sandinista era, are labeled Pentecostalism”

[pentecostalismo

a

the same

Protestantism to

imperialism-these

who constitute the

majority

of And the Pentecostal

groups

of and

disproportionately during

the

product

of a “misunderstood mal

entendido],

which is “indifferent

make

essentially evangelical-notably the masses. Pentecostalism

to social crisis.” The

chapters

on the other Central American

republics

point,

the

Pentecostal-approach

from Pentecostal

the

inappropriateness

of the

to the social needs of

of

papers originally

Santiago, Chile,

in December, by

their

professional qualifications,

y

Liberación is a

compilation

presented by academically qualified leaders,

who for the most

part

are

churches and are committed to an ecumenical

agenda, to a gathering of Latin American and Caribbean Pentecostal leaders in

1990.

Participants

in the

symposium

are

Pentecostal

their denominational status and

access to

publications

in a far better

position

to be heard than are most

pastors, lay persons

or even executive leaders.

Thus,

the noble sentiments with which the book

concludes,

a

plea

for

greater

and

greater

concern for social tutorship

and

guidance

of the

coordination of Pentecostal

groups issues-presumably

under the participants

majority

of Pentecostal

pastors, preparation,

of the

symposium-is hardly

the

expression

of the vast

most of whom have limited formal

Central consists of a

and

who,

at

any rate,

are

deeply suspicious

of secular or religious

leaders who

presume

to

speak

for them.

y

crisis social en Amgrica

of the author’s several studies based on field research between 1985 and 1990 as

part

of his research for his doctoral

Protestantismo compilation

dissertation

at the Ruhr-Universitat

poor,”

and

“small,

radicalized

of Bochum. A Pentecostal

by

congregation,

Schafer’s

elements of the Pentecostal

[consisting] mostly

of

experience

and

pastor

of a Lutheran-Reformed

sentiments are

clearly

with

progressive

movement. He

presents

a

three-category typology

of Pentecostalism: “an

escape

for the

poor,”

“a vehicle for

resisting

the

insurgency

of the

organizations,

members of old-line

churches,

but with some

indigenous

Pentecostals

that most Pentecostals do not share his

(p. 17),

Schafer’s

expectation

that the

rapture

of the church is imminent, and as well, with a fundamentalist view of the death and resurrection of Christ, it will not be

possible

for him or her to realize the

example

of Christ in

solidarity

among

them.”

Recognizing political

convictions

with

oppressed peoples” (p. 19).

writes,

“If one lives in the

5

148

While

providing

much

insight America,

Schafer’s

interpretation

of a

complex

analysis repeatedly

victims of an

exploitative

his work

escapes

the distortion

said that the

typical

Pentecostal under the

unjust

conditions

into the Protestants of Central

returns to a reductionist socio-theological phenomenon,

the

conspiracy.

Schafer is

clearly

competence

and

sympathy

It

hardly

needs to be

intrusion of extraneous influences

upon indigenous people

who are the

international

entitled

by

his

superior training,

obvious

with the

suffering

masses of Central America to a hearing, but whether

of an

ideological

bias or

presents

an adequate profile

of these

groups

is

questionable.

pastor,

whose

congregations daily

live

that Schafer and

every

other

person

of good

will

laments,

has had to make recurrent decisions about how to face these

very

issues. And the model

pastor, despite

his limited formal

is

likely

to have

fairly well-thought-out

based on limited

options

and a realistic sense of what

policies

are most desirable. In

any event, given

the fact that he

typically

is sustained

by his own income or

by

his

congregation,

preparation,

his

opinions

are a

consequence

statistical

interpretation Algo

political opinions

it

may

be

questioned

whether of

foreign

financial

dependency

and

unity, support

for

progressive

questionable

subtle

ideological manipulation through Sunday

School literature.

If the

forgoing

works have in each case a focus that identifies its bias-such as a

plea

for ecumenical

elements

among

the Protestants of Central America and a

profile

of Central American Protestants based on sometimes

mds

que Opio [Something

More Than Opium,

reviewed in PNEUMA 14

(Fall 1992) by David Bundy)]

offers yet

another focus for the

ongoing study

of the Pentecostal movement. The book’s lead article reviews and raises

questions

about the Droogers,

and in

general

the other

of available

sociological theory

to

diversity

and

apparent

internal contradictions.

suggestions

of

George

E. Marcus and in effect calls for a much broader

adequacy

of

prevailing

theories. authors, recognizes

the

inadequacy explain

the movements’

Following

the theoretical Michael M. J.

Fischer,3 Droogers concept

of

Pentecostalism, protean elasticity

and

versatility.

Stated

one that will

give adequate

attention to its

was

represented

as

being populations staging

a

symbolic,

simply,

these authors

argue

that the movements must be understood on their own

terms,

sui

generis,

as a product of the current social situation in the

region.

As much as Pentecostalism

a movement of

alienated,

Critique:

escapist protest

in the

past

marginal in

response

to

‘ George

E. Marcus and Michael M. J.

Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural

An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago, IL: of

University

Chicago Press, 1986).

6

unacceptable

149

may

be

represented

in

quite

anthology,

conditions

which,

in

large part,

stemmed from

capitalist policies, increasingly today

Pentecostalism

different terms. The

profile

that

emerges

in this coordinated

questions

anomie as the fundamental cause of Pentecostal

and instead affirms the self-reliance of the

movements,

to them

diverse,

even

contradictory

tightly

knit associations

for survival and

protection

of their interests. If the authors find a basis

moreover,

growth,

attributing

find in Pentecostalism

functions. Adherents that offer them a basis

in unfavorable

conditions,

they

for the

origins

of Pentecostalism recognize

the

self-empowering includes

contradictory elements, explained by

the believers’ conservative cultural

patterns. using

their faith

pragmatically,

nature of the movement. Pentecostalism

systems

of Pentecostals

as a

scarcely recognized foreign-mainly

studies

interpreted

security. Now, increasingly,

it is

argued,

a

paradox

that is

to both innovative and

of of the entire

range

attributed almost

entirely

to

as

“indigenous”

accessibility

Pentecostals thus have the

option

of

according

to the needs of the situation at hand

(p. 55).

Whether this functional

analysis

does

justice

to the belief

remains to be

examined,

but

certainly

these authors offer a different,

apparently evolving appraisal

of their

subject.

While a brief review of one source of

scholarly analysis Pentecostalism must not be taken as

representative

of ongoing

research,

the dialectic of Pentecostal studies

generally

tends to be reflected in the books

produced by Editorial DEI. Initially

viewed

phenomenon

North

American-missionary enterprises, subsequent

Latin American Pentecostalism

movements

resulting

from

profound

social

upheaval

and the search for

these

groups

are treated

by

scholars as popular

movements that have at least an implicit social

agenda

and that speak legitimately

for the Latin American masses. From a conspiracy to

changes,

Pentecostalism

as a popular movement to build a new

society.

Available studies tend to

presupposed agendas, apparently

in some cases with

designs

on the movements’

often

well-disciplined, energies.

While it is clear that the Pentecostals are

deeply

embroiled in a social

struggle,

it is also clear that

they

have their own

objectives, priorities

and

preferences. Expecting

conform to an alien

program

or to be used

by

either

foreign

or other

obstruct

revolutionary

national interests is unreasonable.

is now more often seen

large

numbers and

abundant,

them to

Yet, many publications-among

them some with excellent

insights

and claims to

legitimacy

in

speaking

that the bulk

to

paternalistic

of

Latin American manipulation,

are

for Latin

Americans-imply Pentecostals are

susceptible compromised

their own

peoples.

by foreign

influence and resources and have

betrayed

7

150

Given the

competence

any

effort to

understand be welcomed. Pentecostals and

relating

and the

option

for the

poor displayed by

most writers who have treated Latin American

Pentecostalism,

the

process

of

spiritual, religious

and social

change

should

But it seems

especially

desirable that Latin American

speak

for

themselves, their

organizational

that

interpreters movements, men and women

interpreting impulses

their own

experience to their own

beliefs,

the

their

aspirations

and resources. What

appears

from the

longitudinal study

of Pentecostalism as

represented by

the

publications

of Editorial DEI is

have tended to

impose

their own views on the

sometimes

ignoring

the sentiments of the vast

majority

of

whose vision and dedication have

brought movements into

being. When,

as has too often been the

case,

writers have lectured Pentecostals on their social

obligations,

or have

sprinkled

with “should” or

“ought

adherents for their failure to

support given strategies,

has

simply

abandoned the task of

analysis

to use the

study

at hand as an

conclusions

ideological pulpit.

While Pentecostal

to demonstrate

solidarity found in Pentecostalism

to,”

or have berated

the

interpreter

groups may

suffer from limited

resources and forms of

myopia,

their adherents at all

organizational levels

appear

to be

essentially

a motivated

laity

that has no further need

with the Latin American masses.

Having

a way to address their own

problems, they

are not inclined to

accept uncritically suggestions

their own

nation,

social class and

religious grouping

as to what are in

their best interests.

from elements outside

and not

for their benefit in

Ultimately,

the student of Pentecostalism should be sensitive to the

interests of the Latin American rank-and-file

on them. The studies reviewed here and similar

should be

recognized

of these movements.

They

should not be taken in their

entirety

or

exclusively,

of the movements’ character and evolution.

self-expressed

impose expectations

efforts at

interpretation promoting

better

understanding

interpretations

however,

as authoritative

8

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