Revolutionaries And Revivalists Pentecostal Eschatology, Politics And The Nicaraguan Revolution

Research in Pentecostal eschatology

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected


Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Revolutionaries and Revivalists: Pentecostal Eschatology, Politics and the

Nicaraguan Revolution1

Calvin L. Smith

The Midlands Bible College, St John’s Square, Wolverhampton WV2 4AT, United Kingdom

[email protected]


In 1979 Nicaragua’s Sandinista guerrillas seized power with the help of revolutionary Christians. Yet by virtue of their eschatology and worldview, classical Pentecostals in Nicaragua were less enthusiastic. Premillennialism, otherworldliness and a focus on evangelism generated an apoliticism that was wholly unacceptable to a collectivist, this-worldly regime keen to co-opt the Church to help establish its vision of heaven on earth. Meanwhile, Sandinista antipathy towards Israel, close links with the East Bloc (traditionally associated with biblical Gog and Magog), and the sometimes brutal repression of evangelicals all contributed to a dispensational perception of an apocalyptic, dualistic struggle between good and evil. Thus, eschatology played an important role in shaping the nature of Pentecostal-Sandinista relations.


Nicaragua, Sandinistas, eschatology, premillennialism, Israel

On July 19, 1979 jubilant guerrillas entered Managua, capital of Nicaragua, filling the Plaza de la República and ending the dynastic, despotic Somoza dictatorship. The regime of the last Somoza, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was especially unpopular and corrupt, its latter stages marked by such human rights abuses by his National Guard that President Jimmy Carter cut all military and economic aid to this former U.S. client. At the height of an insurrection that cost thousands of lives, Somoza fled Nicaragua and


A version of this paper was delivered to the Whitefield Institute, Oxford (now Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Tyndale House, Cambridge) on November 9, 1999. Some of the material has since been incorporated into my book, Revolution, Revival and Religious Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/157007408X287777



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

guerrillas of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (better known as the Sandinistas) seized power.

This was a truly popular revolution, one that counted business leaders, trade unionists, conservative and liberal politicians, Marxists, peasants, and religious among its numbers. As such, the Nicaraguan revolution represented far more than the efforts of a single political party or guerrilla movement. Nevertheless, it was the Sandinistas who formed the new revolutionary government, not only because they alone had the organizational capacity already in place to do so, but also because after nearly two decades of armed struggle culminating in victory they were not about to hand over the reigns of power to anyone else.

Aside from the broad support it initially commanded, the Nicaraguan revolution was significant for another reason: the central role religion played within it. On a continent where Catholicism has traditionally looked after its own interests and often those of the elites, grassroots liberation theology Christians aided the guerrillas, some even taking up arms during the insurrec- tion. The role of these revolutionary Catholics was later recognized when four priests — brothers Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, Miguel D’Escoto, and Edgardo Parrales — were given prominent positions in the new Sandinista government. To outsiders, then, the Sandinista revolution appeared unique, melding together Marxism, revolutionary socialism, and that famously derided “opiate of the masses,” religion. Even Marxist hardliners conceded that Chris- tians might, after all, have a role to play in the amelioration of poverty in Latin America.

But all was not well in revolutionary Nicaragua. After a honeymoon period, opponents increasingly rejected the Sandinistas’ policies, ideology, and ever stronger grip on the country. Even some Sandinistas became disenchanted, and another civil war loomed as opponents of the revolutionary government took to the jungles and mountains to form the Contra rebel groups. With left- ist guerrilla movements across Central America threatening U.S. hegemony in the region, President Ronald Reagan backed the Contras in a bid to oust the Sandinista government. T us, during a Cold War in which Nicaragua repre- sented an ideological battlefield, a bitter propaganda war ensued as each side issued claim and counterclaim in a bid to secure the moral high ground. Just as religion had played such an important role in the revolution, once again Christianity found itself at the heart of the conflict, with Catholic Archbishop Obando y Bravo and Washington on one side, portraying Nicaraguan Chris- tians as victims of a tyrannical regime, while on the other, Sandinistas and liberation theology allies projected an image of full religious freedom and Christian support for the revolution.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


It was not long before Nicaragua’s Pentecostals, who represented most of the country’s evangelicals and the majority of Nicaraguan Protestants,2 were dragged into the fray. T ey were already suspicious of the Sandinistas, many of whom they regarded as Marxists or communists. (The majority were classical Pentecostals who were closely allied with and influenced by their U.S. coun- terparts’ anti-communism.) For their part, the Sandinistas regarded Pentecos- tals as intransigent and reactionary, compared with liberation theology’s wholehearted and uncritical support for the revolutionary project. T at a minority of historic Protestant churches supported the revolution only strengthened this perception. Tensions were further heightened as the Reagan administration began to cite Nicaraguan evangelicals as examples of Sandi- nista religious persecution. (David Stoll suggests that Washington possibly even incited the repression of evangelicals in order to build a case for interven- tion in the region.)3 T us, a clash between the Sandinistas and Nicaraguan Pentecostals was inevitable.

T ere are various issues, both endogenous and exogenous, that caused a breakdown in Pentecostal–Sandinista relations.4 T is paper focuses on just one of them: how classical Pentecostal eschatology (doctrine of the end times) contributed both directly and indirectly to this fracas. But before discussing specifically the role Pentecostal eschatology played in the revolutionary Nica- raguan milieu, it is important first to set the scene and highlight some key aspects of eschatology by way of necessary background.

An Overview of Eschatology

Understanding the various eschatological positions within Christianity is complex and time-consuming, made all the more difficult by the various ways in which eschatology is categorized. For example, one might hold to a preterist (also known as contemporary-historical, or Zeitgeschichtlich), futurist, historicist, or idealist (timeless-symbolic) position, depending on one’s herme- neutic. Alternatively, one could employ a millenarian system of classification5


Statistical details and analysis may be found in Chapter 4 of my Revolution, Revival and Religious Conflict.


David Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant? The Politics of Evangelical Growth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 222-23.


As discuss in Revolution, Revival and Religious Conflict.


From Latin mille, meaning “thousand,” based on the thousand-year period detailed in Rev- elation 20:1-6 (also known as “chiliasm” from Greek khiliasmos, meaning “thousand”).



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

that differentiates between pre-, post-, and amillennialism. Yet these are broad analyses that must be further subdivided. So a postmillennialist might subscribe to reconstructionism, dominionism, kingdom theology, or restorationism.6 Within premillennialism there are two very different views on the nature and timing of Christ’s return: pretribulationism and post-tribulationism. To confuse matter yet further, most pretribulationists subscribe to a highly systematized eschatology known as dispensationalism, while post-tribulationism is subdivided into the classic, semiclassic, futur- ist, and dispensational varieties.7 It is little wonder that evangelical scholar Derek Tidball states that “premillennialism comes in many forms, some of which require a fair amount of sophistication to understand.”8

Classical Pentecostalism, which was the predominant version in 1980s Nic- aragua, was, until fairly recently, strongly premillennialist. Premillennial escha- tology, based on a literalist approach to the Bible, believes (as its name implies) that the parousia (second coming of Christ) precedes the millennial period detailed in Revelation 20:1-6. T us Christ returns in person to set up his lit- eral earthly reign, which lasts a thousand years. Immediately prior to Christ’s return, however, premillennialists believe in a period of untold horror and misery lasting seven years, known as the Great Tribulation.9 Premillennialism’s antithesis, postmillennialism, argues that the parousia takes place after this thousand-year period (hence its name). Moreover, it regards this millennial period (which may or may not be interpreted literally as a thousand years) as Christ’s reign not so much in person but, rather, through the Church. Postmil- lennialism, then, sees the thousand-year period as one of great advances by the Church as it attempts to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. T us Millard Erickson writes: —

Postmillennialism rests on the belief that the preaching of the gospel will be so success- ful that the world will be converted. The reign of Christ, the locus of which is human hearts, will be complete and universal. The petition, “T y will be done, on earth as it


For a discussion of the various postmillennialist views, see Bruce Barron, Heaven on Earth? The Social and Political Agendas of Dominion T eology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).


R.G. Clouse, “Rapture of the Church,” in Walter Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of T eol- ogy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 910.


Derek Tidball, Who Are the Evangelicals? Tracing the Roots of Today’s Movement (London: Marshall Pickering, 1994), 140.


Based on Matt. 24:21; Rev. 2:22, 7:14. See also Mark 13:19; Luke 21:23 and Rev. 3:10. Tese references are linked to other eschatological passages that build upon the idea of an apoca- lyptic tribulation period.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


is in heaven,” will be actualized. Peace will prevail and evil will be virtually banished. T en, when the gospel has fully taken effect, Christ will return.


The post-apostolic church held to an embryonic form of premillennialism. The melding of church and state from the time of Emperor Constantine onwards, however, helped establish postmillennialism, which was based on the optimistic notion that the church was beginning to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. This is a theme that runs throughout postmil- lennialism’s history. In attempting to establish Christ’s earthly kingdom, Postmillennialists see the need to capture social and political institutions in a bid to further their aims. To summarize, premillennial eschatology envisages an apocalyptic end-times scenario, and it is therefore essentially pessimistic. On the other hand, postmillennialism’s social and political agenda, very much like the ethical utterances of the Old Testament prophets, offers a prophetic outlook, calling for action and social change. It is therefore uto- pian in character and, unlike premillennialism, highly optimistic. Straight away one notes a tension between the two systems: the apocalyptic versus the prophetic; spiritual otherworldliness versus social this-worldliness; a future Kingdom of God established by Christ versus a Kingdom of God here and now, on earth, established by the church. Already the battle lines are drawn between classical Pentecostalism and the liberation theology that was so prevalent in Nicaragua.

Within premillennialism there are several views that center upon an under- standing of the nature and timing of the Great Tribulation. The most common is pretribulationism, which proposes a two-stage parousia and which has strongly influenced classical Pentecostalism. It states that immediately prior to the Great Tribulation (when the devil and Antichrist will cause untold chaos and lawlessness) the church will be caught up to heaven, or raptured,11 meeting Christ in the air and thereby escaping the troubles besetting the world. T is emphasis on the rapture is an essential doctrine in helping us to understand Sandinista-Pentecostal relations. Pretribulationist Pentecostals believe the rap- ture can happen at any time without warning.


T us, the rapture is imminent, while post-tribulationism emphasizes a timetable set out in Scripture and offering some indication when Christ will return. For post-tribulationists, then, the parousia is impending. For the purposes of our study, this idea of an


Millard Erickson, Christian T eology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992, 1206). 11

From Latin raptus, meaning “caught up.”


Supporting passages cited include Matt. 24:37, 25:8-10 and 1 T ess. 5:2-3.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

imminent rapture is an important point and its significance vis-à-vis the Nica- raguan situation will be discussed shortly.

Before moving on to discuss what all this means for Sandinista-Pentecostal relations, there is one final piece of this eschatological puzzle that must be discussed briefly. Most pretribulationists are dispensationalists, a system that has greatly influenced classical Pentecostalism. Its name derives from a Greek word meaning “stewardship” and referring to managing the affairs of a house- hold. Dispensationalism, then, believes in a divine plan for the world, which is divided into a series of dispensations, or economies. Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie explains it thus:

The world is seen as a household administered by God in connection with several stages of revelation that mark off the different economies in the outworking of his total program. Tese economies are the dispensations in dispensationalism . . . thus a dis- pensation may be defined as “a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s program.”13

There is some disagreement over the exact number of dispensations, but most commonly postulated is seven, each ending in judgment. These are the dispensations of Innocence (before the fall), conscience (from the fall to the flood), human government (from the flood to the call of Abraham), promise, law, and grace. There is a seventh, which has not yet come. Central to dispensationalist thinking is how God has singled out the Jews as his chosen people. The current dispensation (from Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary through to the rapture) is known as the church age, which is regarded as a parenthetical deviation of God’s dealings with ethnic Israel. Thus, dispensationalists make a clear distinction between Israel and the church. This emphasis on Israel as God’s people cannot be overemphasized. Charles Ryrie believes dispensationalism developed into a coherent system from about the early eighteenth century in the writings of Pierre Poiret, Jonathan Edwards, and Isaac Watts.14 But it was John Nelson Darby, leader of the Plymouth Brethren, who systematized dispensationalism in the mid-nine- teenth century.15 In keeping with this concept that each dispensation ended in judgment before the next dispensation was instituted, Darby


Charles Ryrie, “Dispensation, Dispensationalism,” in Walter Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dic- tionary of T eology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 322.




Interestingly, although many commentators often refer to Latin American classical Pente- costalism’s links with the U.S., the development of its eschatology and pneumatology owes a


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


believed that the church was in ruins, as at the end of other “dispensations” of God’s dealings with men and women. The [new Brethren] assemblies were not to be set up with elders and deacons, but simply to be groups of people separated from the world awaiting Christ’s return.16

In summary, dispensationalism heightened the awareness of an imminent rapture, emphasized a sectarian philosophy that demanded separation from the affairs of this world, and regarded the Jews (and, later, the modern state of Israel) as God’s distinct people. Moreover, its highly systematized and literalist approach to eschatology resulted in its adherents producing a plethora of end-times diagrammatical representations, each charting in intricate detail the events that would lead up to the parousia. Thus, dis- pensationalists searched through their Bibles for “signs of the times” to attempt to reconcile current political events with prophecies appearing in the scriptures. It is also highly apocalyptic, emphasizing strongly the final battle between God and Satan, and strongly reflected in classical Pentecostalism’s dualistic tendencies.

Effects on Pentecostal–Sandinista Relations

Modern Pentecostalism traces its origins to outbreaks of glossolalia (speak- ing in tongues), first in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, and later in the Azusa Street Revival of 1906-8 in Los Angeles (there are other cases of glossolalia reported throughout church history).17 Central to the Pentecostal experience is the first Pentecost in Acts 2, when the disciples miraculously spoke in other languages. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, which explained to onlookers the significance of Pentecost, quotes from the prophet Joel (2:28-32), a passage that equates the pouring out of God’s Spirit with the two rainy seasons in the Holy Land (the former and latter rain, Joel 2:23). If the biblical Pentecost represented the first outpouring of the Spirit, the twentieth- century Pentecostals regarded their movement as the “latter rain,” or the

great deal to Darby and Edward Irving, who were British. See, e.g., David Allen, The Unfailing Stream: A Charismatic Church History in Outline (Tonbridge, UK: Sovereign World, 1994); and Andrew Landale Drummond, Edward Irving and His Circle (London: James Clarke and Co., 1934).


Harold H. Rowdon, The History of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford Lion, 1990), 525.


For a survey of these, see Allen, The Unfailing Stream , and Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004).



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

second outpouring. Given Joel’s strongly apocalyptic, eschatological nature (the theme “the day of the Lord” is paramount), the Pentecostals thus associated the “latter rain” (their movement) with the end of the current age. So for classical Pentecostals in the twentieth century, the work of the Spirit associated with their movement (signs and wonders, miracles, speaking in tongues, revival) was regarded as proof that the end of the world was not far away. No wonder Donald Dayton emphasizes a clear link between Pentecostal pneumatology (view of the Spirit) and its eschatology (view of the end times).18

Given this hermeneutic, it is hardly surprising that classical Pentecostalism embraced dispensationalism. Its emphasis on an apocalyptic end-times sce- nario, the imminent return of Christ, and the concept of different dispensa- tions all fit in nicely with the Pentecostal self-view that their movement marked the end of one age and the beginning of another (that age originating and end- ing with the two Pentecosts, the biblical one and theirs). T us, dispensational- ism, with its strong emphasis on the imminent return of Christ and otherworldliness, resulted in a disengagement from social and political issues (though it did express conservative values on, for example, abortion) that shaped the essentially sectarian nature and worldview of classical Pentecostal- ism throughout much of the twentieth century.

Dispensationalism was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, whose impact on Pentecostalism cannot be overstated.19 Another important book that promoted dispensationalism was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, which by 1990 had sold some fifteen million copies.20 Written in a sensational, fast-moving, easy-reading, tabloid style, during the 1970s it quickly became the fundamental eschatological text outside of the Bible among Pentecostal (and many non-Pentecostal) believers. The imminence of the rapture is a cen- tral theme of Lindsey’s book. One chapter paints a nightmarish scene of unex- plained disappearances marking the beginning of the Great Tribulation — students vanishing before their classmates’ eyes, cars suddenly careering across roads because their drivers have disappeared, and so on. Dispensationalists are also convinced that as we approach the last days, society will grow ever more evil and depraved, and that the only hope for the world is Christ’s return.


Donald W. Dayton, T eological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987), 144-45.


P.H. Alexander, “Scofield Reference Bible,” in Stanley Burgess and Gary McGee, eds., Dic- tionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 771.


Version quoted here is published by Bantam Books, New York (1990).


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


What is the point in seeking to change society? Society is incapable of any last- ing change.21 Lindsey states:

The Bible teaches that lasting piece will come to the world only after Christ returns and sits upon the throne of David in Jerusalem and establishes His historic kingdom on earth for a thousand years.22

Up to the late 1980s classical Pentecostalism embraced this view of society wholeheartedly. Things can only get worse, so why seek to change society at all, especially in light of the imminent nature of the rapture? Only Christ can change the world when he returns. Surely it would be far more productive to spend precious time winning souls before Christ’s return than engaging in any form of social and political activity. Lindsey makes exactly this point.23 As a result, Pentecostals in the twentieth century devoted their energies to aggressive evangelism (L. G. McClung refers to the “extremely urgent” nature of Pentecostalism),24 winning souls for Christ before that great and terrible day comes. McClung states:

Pentecostals have seen their evangelistic outreach as more than the mere extension of a religious movement or recruitment to a particular ideology or experience. From the outset of the modern Pentecostal movement there was a sense of “divine destiny,” the participation with God in a new work for the last days. The theological mood and atmosphere set by premillennialism and the actualization of the experiences and prom- ises of Scripture (particularly the “outpouring” passages such as Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:16-21) caused Pentecostals to view evangelism as an extension of the purposes of God for the world . . . . It has been crystal clear in the theology of Pentecostal evange- lism that humankind is lost and is under the judgment of eternal punishment unless reached with the good news of the gospel.25

Pentecostal Evangelism and Apoliticism

What has all this to do with Pentecostal-Sandinista relations? Pretribula- tional premillennialism helps explain classical Pentecostalism’s historical


Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth, 174.


Ibid., 159.


Ibid., 176.


L.G. McClung, “Pentecostal/Charismatic Perspectives on a Missiology for the Twenty-First Century,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society forPentecostal Theology 16, no. 1 (1994): 11-21.


L.G. McClung, in Burgess and McGee, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Move- ments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 285-26.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

unwillingness to engage in social or collective action or to become “entan- gled by the affairs of this world” (2 Tim. 2:4), and its emphasis, instead, on aggressive evangelism. Since the late 1980s, many classical Pentecostals in North America have been influenced by postmillennialism and begun to move into the social and political arena.26 But in 1980s Nicaragua the premillennial worldview prevailed. Pentecostals were far more interested in preaching the Gospel than in social work. Roberto Rojas, former Vice- superintendent of the Assemblies of God and now President of Nicaragua’s Evangelical Alliance, explained how, during both the Somoza and Sandinista periods, few Pentecostals were motivated by a social message. The overriding concern was to win lost souls. So urgent was this task that Rojas believes Pentecostals were hassled and faced constant oppression precisely because the Sandinistas simply could not bear the “aggressiveness of Pentecostalism’s propagation of the Gospel.”27 Saturnino Cerrato, Assemblies of God Superintendent both now and during the Sandinista period, also accepted that many Pentecostals had not been overly concerned with social issues during the 1980s.28 A number of Nicaraguan Pentecostal pastors interviewed expressed similar views.

It is not that Pentecostals have no interest in social problems; they do. For example, the current President of the National Council of Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua (CNPEN) recently established a human rights organization. Roberto Rojas detailed some work with drug addicts and orphans during the Sandinista period, while Cerrato speaks of similar programs. But these efforts did not represent a systematic attempt to correct underlying causes of social injustice. For Pentecostals in 1980s Nicaragua, the cause of society’s ills was sin, and their response was to preach the gospel and convert as many people as possible to correct that underlying failure of society. Moreover, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen has stated that Pentecostals are not obsessed with influencing existing social structures because they “have created their own alternative insti- tutions that function as instruments of human justice.”29

This apolitical worldview irritated the Sandinista government, who sought class consciousness and mass revolutionary participation, and an emphasis on otherworldliness and spiritual matter was to have a detrimental bearing on


For a discussion, see Barron, Heaven on Earth?.


Interview with Roberto Rojas, Managua, May 28, 1999.


Interview with Saturnino Cerrato, Managua, May 29, 1999.


Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen,. “Mission, Spirit and Eschatology,” in International Association for Mission Studies 16-1, no. 31 (1999): 83.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


Pentecostal-Sandinista relations. In the 1980s Humberto Belli, a Catholic and former opponent of the Sandinistas, stated:

The main reason for the open attack on the Protestants singled out by the government seems to be that the Sandinistas had no hope of converting them to the revolution or to Marxist liberation theology. In the eyes of the FSLN, they were too concerned with spiritual and supernatural matters and hence kept their people distracted from the all- important task of supporting the revolution.30

In 1982 the Sandinista daily newspaper La Barricada ran a series of provoca- tive front-page articles denouncing the “sects” (Pentecostals).31 The reports, which frequently drew on the views of several pro-Sandinista clergy, portrayed Pentecostals as guilty of allowing the poor to suffer, encouraging them to remain in their present material condition. The movement encouraged conformity and social inactivity, while patriarchal teaching was blamed for keeping women docile. The movement, La Barricada also argued, promoted an otherworldly message and solution. Moreover, the reports also highlighted how this Pentecostal apoliticism resulted in an unwillingness to play any part whatsoever in the revolution, in the popular organizations, or in any kind of politics, and they labeled these “sects” “anti-dialectic.” La Barricada also pointed out how a belief in an imminent Second Coming of Christ had created a fatalist attitude among the sects that encouraged them to spend what little time they believed remained carrying out religious deeds to stand them in good stead on the Day of Judgment, rather than engaging in social and political issues. Readers were also told how the evangelical literacy program ALFALIT was run separately from — thereby implying it was a rival to — the government’s own literacy crusade.

From the very outset, the Sandinistas demanded full revolutionary partici- pation by all Nicaraguans, as reflected in the popular revolutionary slogan: “El que no está conmigo es mi enemigo” (he who is not with me is my enemy). Not to commit oneself fully to the revolution, or even to take a neutral stance, meant being labeled a counterrevolutionary. T ere was simply no room for neutrality, and this was to be a massive, unified collective effort. One coman- dante told a group of Protestants that “all Nicaraguan Christians ought to


Humberto Belli, Breaking Faith: The Sandinista Revolution and Its Impact on Freedom and Christian Faith in Nicaragua (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), 194.


“La invasión de las sectas,” La Barricada (March 3, 1982), 1, 5; “Quienes son los que divi- den a los evangélicos?” La Barricada (March 4, 1982), 1, 5; “Estructura interna y externa de las iglesias evangélicas,”La Barricada (March 5, 1982), 1, 5 .



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

participate in the [revolutionary] process, because those who separate them- selves will not have the moral authority to criticise those who have not con- tributed.” He went on: “In this country now nothing can be as before . . . . The Protestant pastors must help create the New Man.”32 Christians were encour- aged to be revolutionaries indefinitely; there was to be no looking back.33 “The Church Should Be Behind the People,” exclaimed one headline.34 T ere was no room for complacency or inaction. One editorial explained how Christian love must be manifest through political action to help the poor and the masses. Christians must contribute to the revolution.35 Meanwhile, as tensions grew between the government and Archbishop Obando’s Catholic Church, the Sandinistas issued their statement on religion on October 7, 1980.36 In it they explained how Christians represented an integral part of the revolution, that faith and politics go hand in hand, so that Christians should continue their participation and role in the revolutionary process:

We Sandinistas state that our experience shows that when Christians, basing them- selves on their faith, are capable of responding to the needs of the people and of his- tory, those very beliefs lead them to revolutionary activism . . . . In the new conditions that are posed by the revolutionary process, we Christian and non-Christian revolu- tionaries must come together around the task of providing continuity to this extremely valuable experience, extending it into the future.37

Integral to the Sandinista view of religion was the way they eulogized Christians who supported the revolution, while denouncing those who did not.38 A regular series entitled Christians in the Revolution regularly sang the praises of those who supported the project, but always singled out and criticized in harsh language Christians who opposed it or who were apolitical.39 Divisions within Christianity over whether or not to support the Sandinistas were also criticized.40 Liberation theology was regularly


“Papel de evangélicos: Con la revolución,” in La Barricada (October 6, 1979).


“Cristianos en la revolución,” La Barricada (March 8, 1980), 3.


“La Iglesia debe estar con el Pueblo,” La Barricada (March 27, 1980), 3.


“Cristianos en la revolución,” La Barricada (April 19, 1980), 3.


Tomas Borge et al., Sandinistas Speak (New York: Pathfinder,1982), 105-12.


Ibid., 107.


See, e.g., “FSLN y cristianos trabajando juntos,” La Barricada (August 31, 1980), 5.


See, e.g., February 9, 1980; February 15, 1980, 3; March 2, 1980, 3.


“Cristianos revolucionarios responden a los nuevos fariseos,” La Barricada (March 22, 1980), 3. See also “Cristianos en la revolución,” La Barricada (February 15, 1980), 3; and “Cris- tianos en la revolución,” La Barricada (March 8, 1980), 3.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


praised, as were pro-Sandinista Protestants. The Protestant umbrella group CEPAD, whose leaders supported the revolutionary government (though not the majority of of the organization’s rank-and-file members), was often sin- gled out in La Barricada, sometimes for offering financial and other support for revolutionary projects,41 while the evangelical pastoral fraternal CNPEN, which was much more critical of the Sandinistas, was refused its personería jurídica (legal status) for many years. In response to a CEPAD donation to the government’s social fund, La Barricada praised CEPAD and stated, “Actions like those of CEPAD ought to be imitated.”42 Interior Minister Tomás Borge and several other senior comandantes sang CEPAD’s praises at a meeting between Protestants and revolutionaries, urging them to continue serving the people of Nicaragua.43 Yet those not supporting the revolution, for example by participating in its social projects, were labeled false Christians. The 1980 statement on religion made clear that the government supported those who sided with the revolution, but had little time for those within Christianity who opposed it.44

When some Baptist youths who supported opposition politician Alfonso Robelo denounced the Sandinistas at the Baptist seminary, they were dismissed by La Barricada as unrepresentative of true Christians.


The government priest Fernando Cardenal explained how no one had the right to criticize the revolution in the name of Christianity; both went hand in hand. T ose sug- gesting otherwise were merely using religion to justify their own interests.46 Liberation theology was regarded as the Latin American model of true Chris- tianity, while Charismatic religion was a North American colonial export and did not represent true Christianity at all.47 Just as the Sandinistas melded party and state, so that to be Nicaraguan meant being a Sandinista and vice versa, so the Sandinistas sought to appropriate religion for themselves, “sandinizing” it so that to be a Christian meant being a Sandinista (though not necessarily the other way around). T us, Tomás Borge declared that the central principles of the revolution and Christianity were one and the same.48 Christianity was


See, e.g., “CEPAD ayuda a refugiados,” La Barricada (July 7, 1980), 5.


“CEPAD dona 200 mil a Bienestar Social,” La Barricada (September 8, 1979).


See Introduction and speech by Marcos Somarraba in CEPAD, Reflexiones Sobre Fé y Rev- olución (Managua: CEPAD, 1982).


Borge et al., Sandinistas Speak, 109-10.


“Provocaciones en el Bautista,” La Barricada (November 11, 1980), 1.


“No caben criticas fuera de Revolución en nombre de cristiana,” La Barricada (November 20, 1979), 1.


“Cristianos en la Revolución,” La Barricada (March 2, 1980).


“Cristianismo y Revolución,” La Barricada (September 24, 1980), 12.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

regarded as an integral part of the revolution, so that one could not speak of an alliance between the two — they were inseparable.49 Both were working for a common goal50 — to be a Christian was to be a revolutionary.


Even Nica- raguan leader Daniel Ortega said so.52 Senior Sandinista Rene Nuñez Tellez explained how there should be no divisions between faith and the revolution; the two go together.53 A poster produced by the Instituto Histórico Centroa- mericano and published in La Barricada encapsulated this view. It depicted a crucified Christ with arms outstretched superimposed with a revolutionary in fatigues, with arms similarly outstretched, holding a rifle.54 Meanwhile, a La Barricada editorial angrily dismissed any alleged threat to religious free- dom, making clear it supported and would protect all “authentic popular traditions.”55

With four Catholic priests in the cabinet and CEPAD in tow, the revolu- tionary government turned on apolitical Pentecostals who were only interested in evangelizing the lost. In the eyes of the Sandinistas, Pentecostals represented the complete antithesis of liberation theology. Nicaraguan Pentecostals were accused of caring about nothing other than winning converts and reaping a heavenly reward in light of their belief that Christ’s return was imminent. Assemblies of God missionary David Spencer, who now pastors one of Nica- ragua’s largest churches and who was expelled from Nicaragua several times by the Sandinistas, explained how talk of the rapture or second coming of Christ greatly angered the Sandinistas.56 The Sandinistas perceived Pentecostals as concerned primarily with a spiritual message and hope, which put them at complete odds with Sandinista (and liberation theology) materialism.

The Modern State of Israel

The centrality of Israel and the Jews as God’s people has already been dis- cussed. As such, traditionally among dispensationalists there has been a great deal of interest in the modern state of Israel (it plays a central role in Hal


“Las tareas de la juventud, y los cristianos como parte integral de la Revolución,” La Bar- ricada (August 31, 1980), 3.


“FSLN y cristianos trabajando juntos.”


“Jóvenes ven conjunción Cristianismo — Revolución,” La Barricada (October 14, 1980), 3.


“Ser cristiano es ser revolucionario,” La Barricada (May 22, 1980), 1.


“La reacción abusa de la religión,” La Barricada (January 18, 1981).


“Fé cristiana y Revolución Sandinista en Nicaragua,” La Barricada (October 10, 1980), 3.


“Revolución defiende libertad religiosa,” La Barricada (April 7, 1980), 3.


Conversation with David Spencer, Managua, June 4, 1999.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth). Foremost among those with their eye on Israel’s political scene and who constantly uphold Israel’s virtues are classical Pentecostals. In fact, classical Pentecostalism has traditionally been essentially Zionist in nature, and both dispensationalism and Christian Zionism were given a major boost with the creation of Israel in 1948. Pentecostal support for Israel has been so visible and strong that Israeli officials have at times actively courted the Pentecostal lobby in the U.S.57

This theological notion, which forms a vital part of Pentecostalism’s doctri- nal mosaic, brought it into direct conflict with the Sandinistas. When asked to identify specific reasons why Sandinista-evangelical relations broke down, Mario Espinoza, a Pentecostal youth leader in the 1980s and later President of CNPEN, without hesitation placed Pentecostal support for the Israeli state at the top of his list:

T ey would not permit anyone to preach in favor of Israel, or even to mention the word “Israel.” To them, it was an abomination . . . they were very much against Israel . . . Here, you were not allowed to say that the Jews were God’s people. Honestly, I know because we used to preach in the street with the youth, and at University, and we were not allowed to say such things.58

Norwegian Pentecostal missionary to Nicaragua Burger Sandli, who arrived during the latter stages of the revolutionary period, also confirmed this Sandinista hostility toward Israel.59 Miguel Angel Casco, an Assemblies of God rebel who supported the revolution and for which he was ejected from the denomination, cited it as a major problem for Nicaragua’s Pentecostals.60 Several other Pentecostal pastors I interviewed concurred, while a former member of the Sandinista state security explained how the Frente had received assistance, both as guerrillas and as a government, from Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and Yasser Arafat. Such alliances inevitably created intense hostility toward Israel.61

Links between the Frente and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organi- zation (PLO) are well documented. Steven Kinzer, former New York Times


F.L. Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” in Burgess and McGee, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 247. See also Steven Spiegel, “Religious Components of U.S. Middle East Policy,” Journal of International Affairs 36, no. 2 (1982/3): 235-46.


Interview with Mario Espinoza, Managua, May 28, 1999.


Interview with Burger Sandli, Managua, June 7, 1999.


Interview with Miguel Angel Casco, Managua, May 24, 2004.


Interview with José Suárez (a pseudonym), Managua, June 6, 1999.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

bureau chief in Managua, details how Sandinista guerrillas trained with Pales- tinians, even taking part in PLO operations against Israel:

On more than one occasion, Sandinistas fought alongside PLO guerrillas in skir- mishes with Israeli troops. Several Nicaraguans also participated in airline hijackings led by PLO commandos. One of them, Patricio Argüello, was killed by Israeli security agents during a failed attempt to hijack an El Al passenger jet on September 6, 1970.62

Jillian Becker also details the PLO’s close links with Cuba and, later, the Sandinistas.63 This relationship included supplying the Sandinistas with arms and opening a PLO office in Managua after the revolution. Becker also refers to Arafat’s attendance of the first anniversary celebrations of the Sandinista revolution, when he declared that “the way to Jerusalem leads through Managua,” a variation on earlier PLO themes that victory would come through Amman, Beirut, and Damascus. She also details how some fifty families, Nicaragua’s entire Jewish population, were expelled after the revolution. Raphael Israeli also highlights PLO camaraderie with many East Bloc nations, as well as with Sandinista Nicaragua. He discusses the discovery of various training and sabotage manuals in Spanish (presumably produced by Cuba) and evidence for the presence of Sandinista guerrillas at PLO camps in Lebanon.64 One commentator alleges that the Sandinistas aided the PLO’s attempt to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan,65 while imme- diately after the 1979 revolution, the PLO organized loans for Sandinista Nicaragua.66

Two studies in particular highlight the close nature of PLO-FSLN rela- tions,67 while a third, which is somewhat more sympathetic toward the PLO


Stephen Kinzer, Blood of Brothers (New York: Putnam, 1991), 60.


Jillian Becker, The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization (London: Weiden- feld and Nicolson, 1984).


Raphael Israel, ed., PLO in Lebanon: Selected Documents (London: Weidenfeld and Nicol- son, 1983).


Myles Kantor, “Why Do Jewish Organizations Ignore Hatred of Israel?” in FrontPage-, April 9, 2002. Published on their website: cles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=1214 (last accessed October 7, 2002).


J.W. Wilson, “Swirl in the Eye of the Storm,” paper delivered at the War Since 1945 Semi- nar (April 2, 1984), Marine Corp Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia.


A.R. Norton and M. Greenberg, eds., The International Relations of the PLO (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989); and David Kopilow, Castro, Israel and the PLO (Washington, DC: Cuban-American National Foundation, 1984).


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


and Sandinistas, concedes close links between the two.68 Sandinista affinity with the PLO is long-standing and well documented. In a speech given at the Sixth Summit Conference of Nonaligned Countries in Havana (September 3-9, 1979), Daniel Ortega bunched together “Israeli Zionism” and “Yanqui Imperialism,” accusing the Israeli government of carrying out North American aims by proxy by supplying arms to Somoza. He stated:

Our people have been struggling against oppression and interventions for more than 150 years. T at is why we have historically identified with the struggle of the Palestinians and we recognize the PLO as their legitimate representative. And that is why we condemn Israeli occupation of the Arab territories and demand their unconditional return.69

Two years later, at a speech delivered to the General Assembly of the United Nations on October 7, 1981, Ortega condemned Israeli “acts of terror- ism” against Palestinians, carried out with full U.S. support. He went on to reaffirm his country’s solidarity with North Korea, Cuba, SWAPO, the independence movement in Puerto Rico, and also the PLO, whom he once again refers to as “the sole representative of the Palestinian people.”70

Meanwhile, in an interview with Playboy, Sergio Ramirez again confirmed close relations with the PLO and acknowledged they had accepted an offer by Libya to send them a planeload of arms and other military equipment.71 La Barricada boasted gleefully in its lead headline that Arafat would attend the first-year celebrations of the revolution.72 The PLO also retained an office in Managua. When Assemblies of God missionary David Spencer moved back to Nicaragua in 1990 he bought a house in the Los Robles area that had belonged to the PLO. When he first moved into the property, pictures of Ara- fat still hung on the wall, and neighbors told him Arafat himself had been seen several times visiting the house.73 The ascension to power of Anwar Sadat in Egypt was seen in Nicaragua as a major blow to the PLO’s struggle, and the signing of the Camp David Accord in particularly caused dismay among Sandinistas.74


Bruce Hoffman, The PLO and Israel in Central America (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1988).


Daniel Ortega, “Nothing Will Hold Back Our Struggle for Liberation,” in Borge et al., Sandinistas Speak, 48.


Daniel Ortega, “An Appeal for Justice and Peace,” in Borge et al., Sandinistas Speak, 142.


“Playboy Interview: The Sandinistas,” Playboy 1, no. 30 (1983).


“Fidel, Bishop, Manley, Price y Arafat vienen,” La Barricada (July 17, 1980), 1.


Conversation with David Spencer, Managua, June 4 , 1999.


“Victorias antiimperialistas del Tercer Mundo: eje de la Revolución Mundial en los años 70,” La Barricada (April 18, 1980), 3.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Aside from close links with the PLO, there is plenty of evidence to demon- strate that the Sandinistas hated Israel with a passion. In October 1979 La Barricada published a story entitled “Great Battles for the Liberation of Peo- ples.”75 The article, in keeping with sandinismo’s anti-nationalist and anti- “Yanqui” ideology, explored anti-imperial struggles throughout the world, which the Sandinistas supported. Concerning the Middle East, the article stated how the western nations needed oil in order to sustain their economies. T erefore:

To guarantee the domination of the region, imperialism accepted the plans of Zion- ism: to establish in Palestine a Jewish colony of European extract, building an imperial fortress in full view of the Arab world.

The article goes on to state . . .

Zionism is a Jewish movement, ultraconservative and closely linked with enormous financial interests, of a racist ideology, which maintains that the Jews are the true own- ers of Palestine. And so, with the support of imperialism was born the artificial State of Israel in 1948.

Reports in La Barricada were strongly anti-Israel, reflecting Sandinista government opinion. Even Latinamerica Press, a publication sympathetic toward the Sandinistas that disputed charges of anti-Semitism, conceded that there had been isolated incidences of anti-Semitism in Sandinista Nicaragua, that “rebel Sandinistas” had firebombed the only synagogue in 1978, and that the Sandinista press was anti-Semitic in the way it reported on Israel.76 Anti-Israel reports in La Barricada included a picture of emaciated children in striped prison clothes behind a barbed wire perimeter fence at Auschwitz.77 The caption read: “The Zionists’ Short Memory,” and it went on to explain how this picture could easily be Palestinian children suffering at the hands of the Israelis. It ended: “There is not much to differentiate the history of Zionist repression in Palestine from the methods employed by the Nazis.” Another report showed a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin spouting stars of David in a speech caption. The accom- panying story spoke of thousands of demonstrators being shot at by troops,


“Grandes batallas por la Liberación de los Pueblos,” La Barricada (October 21, 1979), 8.


“Charges of Nicaraguan Anti-Semitism Investigated,” in Latinamerica Press 15, no. 37 (October 13, 1983).


“La Corta Memoria de los Sionistas,” La Barricada (February 25, 1980), 2.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


the Israelis planting bombs at a Palestinian school and in an Arab lorry. The article was highly derogatory and inflammatory, and the whole story was sourced by the PLO itself.78 One editorial defined Zionism, offering a highly biased and subjective narrative of the rise of the state of Israel. It noted that, through Zionism, the Jews had been transformed from victims to aggressors, from oppressed to oppressors.79 Yet another story spoke of a mafia class that saturated Israeli society and politics,80 while another banner headline quotes Arafat, stating that “Israel is the spoiled, bad-mannered child of the United States.”81

Whether or not the Sandinistas were anti-Semitic is open to debate. But one thing is certain: the Sandinistas enjoyed very close relations with the PLO and were virulently anti-Israel. T ey also recognized and rejected the great importance Pentecostals placed on the state of Israel.82 Inevitably, this caused tensions between the Sandinistas and Pentecostals, especially as the latter fre- quently preached in support of Israel during evangelistic sermons and out- reaches.83 Assemblies of God rebel Miguel Angel Casco details how such activity caused problems for Nicaraguan Pentecostals who supported Israel.84

Links with the East Bloc

Central to dispensational thinking in the 1970s was the role Russia would play in the end times as an enemy of God and his people, which featured strongly in Hal Lindsey’s book.85 Pentecostals, like most evangelicals, viewed the Soviet Union as a great evil that persecuted Christians ruthlessly.86 Christianity and Marxism have always been enemies. Sociologist of religion Steve Bruce speaks of “a traditional monolithic religious bloc confronted by the equally monolithic organic ideology of Communism and socialism.”87 Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer, while conceding that Marx and


“Atentan contra alcaldes palestinos en Israel,” La Barricada (June 3, 1980), 2.


“Que es el sionismo?” La Barricada (June 6, 1980), 3.


“Israel: La pus sale por todos lados,” La Barricada (July 9, 1980), 2.


“Dice Arafat: Israel es el nino mimado y maleducado de Estados Unidos,” La Barricada (July 23, 1980), 2.


“Estructura interna y externa de las iglesias evangelicas,” La Barricada (March 5, 1982).


As discussed by Mario Espinoza, interview, Managua, May 28, 1999 .


Interview with Miguel Angel Casco.


See especially chapter 5 for a full discussion of Russia’s end-times role.


See Alasdair McIntyre, Marxism and Christianity (London: Duckworth, 1995).


Steve Bruce, Religion in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 59.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Engels expressed an interest in humanity, argued that when developed to its logical conclusion, “man became devalued in the communist state.”88 Meanwhile, Dale Vree believes that it is impossible to synthesize Marxism and Christianity. He argues that recent attempts are only mildly successful because they are dialogues between the revisionist, or dissident, strands within each (he labels them “dialogical Christians” and “dialogical Marxists”), and not between the traditionalist, conservative versions of each, which are wholly incompatible. Thus, Vree speaks of two “disjunctive belief systems” hostile toward each other for more than a century, with Christians convinced that “Marxism was intent on blaspheming God and destroying religion.”89 Throughout the twentieth century, then, Christianity rejected communist atheism (the product of Marxist materialism) and decried restrictions imposed on East Bloc churches. Alasdair MacIntyre writes:

Because persecution by Soviet power was designed to deny, so far as it could, any independence to the lives of the churches, Christianity had to identify itself with the cause of the anti-Communist West.90

Classical Pentecostalism has traditionally taken up this theme with enthusiasm and did so again in 1980s revolutionary Nicaragua, expressing alarm at a Sandinista government it regarded as communist and atheistic. Were the Sandinistas communists? From a religious perspective some Sand- inistas were clearly Marxists, even Marxist-Leninists, embracing historical materialism and rejecting religion as intrinsically reactionary. Consider also how the Sandinistas cited leftist symbols and slogans, created the Sandinista Defense Committees (small neighborhood units modeled on Castro’s Cuba and charged with the task of being the “eyes and ears of the revolution”), cen- tralized power, curbed political pluralism, centralized the economy, and expro- priated private property. Add to this close relations with Fidel Castro, an influx of Cuban military personnel, a poor human rights record, and tense relations with independent organizations such as labor unions, the press (which was regularly gagged), business leaders, and opposition political parties, and it is


Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is T ere (1968). Edition quoted is from the compendium Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 44.


Dale Vree, On Synthesizing Marxism and Christianity ( New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976).


MacIntyre, Marxism and Christianity, v.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


little wonder that one political commentator likened Sandinista Nicaragua to embryonic totalitarianism.91

Other Sandinistas, however, promoted a form of revolutionary Christianity and thus were technically not Marxist. In fact, there is some disagreement among Nicaraguanists about the ideological of sandinismo, with some arguing that one faction of the party was essentially democratic.92 Yet leaving all such theoretical discussions aside, ultimately what really matters here is how Nica- ragua’s (often politically unsophisticated) Pentecostals themselves perceived the Sandinistas based on what they saw and heard.

In their minds, Sandinista Nicaragua firmly allied itself with the East Bloc, despite claims of nonalignment.93 For example, La Barricada strongly sup- ported Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, claiming that military help had been requested by the Afghan people themselves. The newspaper went on to condemn those who reported against the USSR’s intervention, accusing them of misinformation and lies that had been produced by capitalist-controlled news agencies.94 The Sandinistas also relied heavily on East German assistance to create, fund, and train the state security apparatus.95 Morris Rothenberg traces close relations between Nicaragua and the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries. (The USSR regarded revolutionary Nicaragua as a “major Soviet triumph.”)96 More ominous was a full-page report on the freedom enjoyed by churches in the Soviet Union. The article claimed that Marxists and Christians worked together, that Christians participated actively in the construction of Socialism, and that the state did not interfere at all in church affairs.97


Alfred Cuzan, “The Nicaraguan Revolution: From Autocracy to Totalitarian Dictatorship,” Journal for InterDisciplinary Studies, 1, no. 1-2 (1989): 183-204.


For a discussion, see, e.g., Belli, Breaking Faith; Elizabeth Dore and John Weeks, The Red and the Black: The Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution (London: Institute of Latin Ameri- can Studies, 1992);and David Nolan, The Ideology of the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolu- tion (Miami: Institute of InterAmerican Studies, University of Miami, 1984).


For a discussion of Sandinista links to the East Bloc and Cuba, see Roger Miranda and William Ratliffe, The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinista ( New Brunswick, NJ: Trans- action, 1994).


“Victorias antiimperialistas del Tercer Mundo,” La Barricada (April 18, 1980).


John O. Koehler, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999).


Morris Rothenberg, “Latin America in Soviet Eyes,” Problems of Communism 23, no. 5 (1983): 1-18.


“Como funciona la Iglesia en la URSS,” La Barricada (May 24, 1980), 7.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Such close fraternal links with the East Bloc, Pentecostals believed, were evi- dence of communism just around the corner that threatened their very free- dom. T us, Christianity Today reported how one national evangelical leader stated: “We need to really get into our Bibles — and get ready to testify to a communist government.”98 Missionary Bob Trolese, whose Verbo organization counts former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt among its members, confirms the prevalence of this mentality when he arrived in Nicaragua in 1980, explaining how Pentecostals wanted to do as much as possible before Marxism took hold.99 Many Pentecostal leaders also highlighted the infusion of primary and secondary school books with Marxist and revolutionary ideology, which only served to heighten this perception of a burgeoning communist state.100

T us, Pentecostal leaders were convinced that the Sandinistas were com- munists. For Saturnino Cerrato, living in revolutionary Nicaragua fitted exactly the stereotype of an Eastern European totalitarian state. “Phone taps, mail interception, being followed, having Sandinistas attend services to ensure nothing inflammatory and anti-Sandinista was preached, as well as having to work closely with the local neighborhood committees, were all evidence of this. For me,” says Cerrato “the Sandinistas were and are Marxists.”101 Another Assemblies of God pastor, Rafael Arista, labeled the Sandinistas as Marxists who sought to introduce a program of brainwashing and ideological reeduca- tion. He pointed to the fact that Cubans could be found throughout all levels and facets of society.102 After an initial honeymoon period, most Pentecostals quickly became convinced that the new revolutionary government represented an ideological threat.103 Bartolomé Matamoros, who preceded Saturnino Cer- rato as Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, explained how Pentecostals feared another Cuba.104


Stephen Sywulka, “Aftermath of Nicaragua’s Civil War: Church and State Regroup,” Chris- tianity Today (September 21, 1979), 44-45.


Interview with Bob Trolese, Managua, June 1, 1999.


For examples of such ideological conditioning, see the following school books produced by the Sandinista government’s Ministry of Education: Español 5: Libro de texto Para Quinto Grado (Managua: Ministerio de Educación, 1985); Historia Cuarto Grado: Así Se Ha Forjado Nuestra Patria II (Managua: Ministerio de Educación, 1986); and Matemática, 2.o Grado (Managua: Ministerio de Educación, 1988).


Interview with Saturnino Cerrato, Managua, May 29, 1999.


Interview with Rafael Arista, currently Vice-superintendent of the Nicaraguan Assemblies of God, Managua, June 8, 1999.


Interviews with Rufino Soza, Ciudad Sandino, May 31, 1999; Alfonso Mejilla, Managua, June 8, 1999; Guillermo Ayala, Managua, May 31, 1999; and Roberto Rojas, May 28, 1999.


Telephone conversation with Bartolome Matamoros, February 26, 2004.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


Some Pentecostals drew a parallel between revolutionary Nicaragua and the Beast of the Apocalypse. Referring to food rationing that had been introduced during the Contra war, Rufino Soza, a pastor in Ciudad Sandino, explained how he and his family, as evangelicals, had been refused ration cards to buy essential foodstuffs because they were regarded as counterrevolutionary. Soza and others who were interviewed likened this rationing system to the Mark of the Beast. It was not rationing as such that caused them to associate sandinismo with the Beast, but rather, the fact that in Revelation those who did not have the mark of the Beast could not buy or sell (Rev. 13:7). Amalia Bell, librarian at Managua’s ecumenical Protestant university, explains how some Pentecostal preachers would liken the revolutionary government to the Beast during their sermons, which caused further unwelcome attention from the neighborhood committees and state security.105 Meanwhile, Bienvenido López, Superintend- ent of the Church of God during the 1990s, explained how Joaquin Guada- lupe, Superintendent during the Sandinista period, was ejected from the country for likening them to the Beast. T ey came for him one night at 3 a.m. and took him to the frontier with Costa Rica, expelling him from Nicaragua for good.106


There were many aspects of both Pentecostalism and sandinismo that caused friction and a souring of relations between the two. Just one of those was the complex eschatological framework that represented such a vital aspect of the theological make-up of Nicaraguan classical Pentecostalism. From a Pentecostal perspective, the Sandinistas’ rejection of Zionism and the nation of Israel was proof in their eyes that the Sandinistas were enemies of God’s people, the Jews. Such a view was exacerbated by the Sandinistas’ links with the East Bloc and the treatment of Nicaraguan Christians themselves for not supporting the revolution. As repression increased, so that national evangelical leaders were arrested and tortured and churches attacked by mobs,107 some Nicaraguan Pentecostals genuinely began to wonder if they were living in the last days and if they were experiencing first-hand the birth pangs of the Great Tribulation. The fact that they were not permitted to express support


Interview with Amalia Bell, Managua, June 4, 1999.


Interview with Bienvenido Lopez, Managua, June 8, 1999.


As discussed and documented at length in my Revolution, Revival and Religious Confl ict.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

for or even mention Israel led some dispensationalist Pentecostals to draw parallels between the Sandinistas and the Antichrist. As such, there was no prospect whatsoever for cooperating with or supporting such a regime. Yet such a sentiment merely served to anger the revolutionary government still further, which caused more problems for Nicaragua’s Pentecostals.

Just as importantly, though, Pentecostals were strongly motivated by the urgency of their task — to spread the Gospel — which severely limited any time-consuming participation within the Sandinistas’ many social projects demanded at the neighborhood level. After all, the rapture was imminent (as far as many Pentecostals in Sandinista Nicaragua were concerned), and it was important to win as many souls as possible before the end came. For their part, the Sandinistas responded by accusing Pentecostals of being reactionaries that were cooperating with a U.S. government that sought the revolution’s overthrow. Interestingly, by the late 1990s the shift within U.S. Pentecostalism from pessimistic premillennialism to an evangelical version of liberation theol- ogy (“kingdom theology”) that borrows heavily from postmillennialism, had begun to trickle down into the Nicaraguan Pentecostal churches. A burgeon- ing social role within Latin American Pentecostalism has been identified and documented elsewhere.108 Ironically, social concern within Nicaraguan Pente- costalism appears to be a direct result of eleven years of collectivist govern- ment. Assemblies of God Superintendent Saturnino Cerrato explains how Pentecostalism’s involvement in social and political affairs in Nicaragua is a relatively new phenomenon, and he attributes this new social awareness directly to the Sandinista years, which he regards as one of the revolutionary period’s more positive influences.109 Likewise, president of the Nicaraguan Evangelical Alliance, Roberto Rojas, explains how Pentecostals are far more socially active now than at any time during the 1980s, pointing to school programs, help for the elderly, infirm, poor, and the drug addicted, large-scale natural disaster programs, and other forms of social activity.110 Moreover, clas-


Doug Peterson, Not By Might Nor By Power: A Pentecostal T eology of Social Concern in Latin America (Oxford: Regnum, 1996).


This is evident in Nicaraguan evangelical literature produced in the 1990s. For example, an early edition of El Heraldo, a Managuan-based Christian newspaper, contained various reports relating to social concerns and programmes (no. 6, January 1999), while a glossy brochure in English produced by the Nicaraguan Evangelical Alliance pleaded for aid in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. The document, which contains several harrowing photographs, concentrates solely on the social need, the only reference to religion being when president Roberto Rojas ends his appeal by invoking God’s blessing upon the reader (AENIC: Hurricane Mitch 1998. Brochure).


Interview with Roberto Rojas, May 28, 1999.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


sical Pentecostals are no longer apolitical, but, rather, deeply involved in the affairs of Nicaraguan politics, so that one ex-Assemblies of God pastor, Guill- ermo Osorno, has even formed an evangelical party and won several seats in the Nicaraguan Assembly.111


AENIC: Hurricane Mitch 1998. Brochure produced by the Alianza Evangélica Nicaragüense,

Managaua, November 1998.

Alford, Deann. ‘Evangelicals Press Political leader to Focus on Poverty Issues,’ Christianity Today

(11 January 1999), 23.

———. ‘New Evangelical Party Gains Political Power,’ Christianity Today (3 March 1997), 60. Allen, David. The Unfailing Stream: A Charismatic Church History in Outline. Tonbridge: Sover-

eign World, 1994.

Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,


Barron, Bruce. Heaven on Earth? The Social and Political Agendas of Dominion T eology. Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Becker, Jillian. The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization. London: Weidenfeld

and Nicolson, 1984.

Belli, Humberto. Breaking Faith: The Sandinista Revolution and Its Impact on Freedom and Chris-

tian Faith in Nicaragua. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985.

Borge, Tomás et al. Sandinistas Speak. New York: Pathfinder Pres, 1982.

Bruce, Steve. Religion in the Modern World. Oxford: OUP, 1996.

Burgess, Stanley and Gary McGee, eds. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

CEPAD. Reflexiones Sobre Fé y Revolución. Managua: CEPAD, 1982.

Cuzan, Alfred G. ‘The Nicaraguan Revolution: From Autocracy to Totalitarian Dictatorship?’

Journal of InterDisciplinary Studies 1 no. ½ (1989), 182-204.

Dayton, Donald W. T eological Roots of Pentecostalism . Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press,


Dore, Elizabeth and John Weeks. The Red and the Black: The Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan

Revolution. London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1992.

Drummond, Andrew Landale. Edward Irving and His Circle. London: James Clarke and Co.,


Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of T eology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Erickson, Millard. Christian T eology . Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992.

Hoffman, Bruce. The PLO and Israel in Central America . Santa Monica: Rand, 1988.


Deann Alford, “New Evangelical Party Gains Political Power,” Christianity Today (March 3, 1997), 60. However, Gustavo Parajón, founder and former president of CEPAD, feels that Osorno has since done little to focus on poverty issues; see Deann Alford, “Evangelicals Press Political Leader to Focus on Poverty Issues,” Christianity Today (January 11, 1999), 23.



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Israeli, Raphael, ed. PLO in Lebanon: Selected Documents. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,


Kantor, Myles. ‘Why Do Jewish Organizations Ignore Hatred of Israel?’

(9 April 2002). Published on their website:

Article.asp?ID=1214 (accessed 7 October 2002).

Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. ‘Mission, Spirit and Eschatology’, International Association for Mission

Studies Vol. XVI-1 no. 31 (1999), 73-94.

Kinzer, Stephen. Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua . New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons,


Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. Boulder: Westview

Press, 1999.

Kopilow, David. Castro, Israel and the PLO. Washington DC: Cuban-American National Foun-

dation, 1984.

Latinamerica Press. ‘Charges of Nicaraguan Anti-Semitism Investigated,’ Latinamerica Press 15

no. 37 (13 October 1983).

Lindsay, Hal. Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970.

Macintyre, Alasdair. Marxism and Christianity. London: Duckworth, 1995.

McLung, G.L. ‘Pentecostal/Charismatic Perspectives on a Missiology for the Twenty-First Cen-

tury’, Pneuma 16 no. 1 (1994), 11-21.

Ministerio de Educación. Español 5: Libro de texto Para Quinto Grado. Managua: Ministerio de

Educación, 1985.

———. Historia Cuarto Grado: Así Se Ha Forjado Nuestra Patria II. Managua: Ministerio de

Educación, 1986.

———. Matemática, 2.o Grado. Managua: Ministerio de Educación, 1988 (T ird Edition). Miranda, Roger and William Ratcliff . . . The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas. New

Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Nolan, David. The Ideology of the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Miami: Institute of

InterAmerican Studies, 1984.

Norton, A.R. and M. Greenberg, eds. The International Relations of the PLO. Carbondale: South-

ern Illinois University Press, 1989.

Peterson, Doug. Not By Might Nor By Power: A Pentecostal T eology of Social Concern in Latin

America. Oxford: Regnum, 1996.

Ramirez, Sergio, Ernesto Cardenal and Tomas Borge. ‘The Playboy Interview: The Sandinistas’,

Playboy 1 no. 30 (September 1983).

Rothenberg, Morris. ‘Latin America in Soviet Eyes’, Problems of Communism 23 no. 5 (Septem-

ber-October 1983), 1-18.

Rowdon, Harold H . The History of Christianity. Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1990.

Schaeffer, Francis. Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy. Leicester: IVP, 1990.

Smith, Calvin. Revolution, Revival and Religious Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua. Leiden: Brill,


Spiegel, Steven L. ‘Religious Components of U.S. Middle East Policy’, Journal of International

Affairs 36 no. 2 (Fall/Winter 1982/3), 235-246.

Stoll, David. Is Latin America Turning Protestant? The Politics of Evangelical Growth . Berkeley,

California: University of California Press, 1990

Sywulka, Stephen. ‘Aftermath of Nicaragua’s Civil War: Church and State Regroup,’ Christianity

Today (21 September 1979), 44-5.

Tidball, Derek. Who Are the Evangelicals? Tracing the Roots of Today’s Movement. London: Mar-

shall Pickering, 1994.


C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82


Vree, Dale . On Synthesizing Marxism and Christianity. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976. Wilson, J.W. ‘Swirl in the Eye of the Storm.’ Conference paper (War Since 1945 Seminar, 2,

Marine Corp Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia, 2 April 1984).

Reports from the Sandinista Daily La Barricada

‘Atentan contra alcaldes palestinos en Israel’ (3 June 1980).

‘CEPAD ayuda a refugiados’ (7 July 1980).

‘CEPAD dona 200 mil a Bienestar Social’ (8 September 1979).

‘Como funciona la Iglesia en la URSS’ (24 May 1980).

‘Cristianismo y Revolución’ (24 September 1980).

‘Cristianos en la revolución’ (15 February 1980).

‘Cristianos en la revolución’ (2 March 1980).

‘Cristianos en la revolución’ (8 March 1980).

‘Cristianos en la revolución’ (19 April 1980) .

‘Cristianos revolucionarios responden a los nuevos fariseos’ (22 March 1980).

‘Estructura interna y externa de las iglesias evangélicas’ (5 March 1982).

‘Dice Arafat: Israel es el niño mimado y maleducado de Estados Unidos’ (23 July 1980). ‘Estructura interna y externa de las iglesias evangélicas’ (5 March 1982).

‘Fé cristiana y Revolución Sandinista en Nicaragua’ (10 October 1980).

‘Fidel, Bishop, Manley, Price y Arafat vienen’ (17 July 1980).

‘FSLN y cristianos trabajando juntos’ (31 August 1980).

‘Grandes batallas por la Liberación de los Pueblos’ (21 October 1979).

‘Israel: La pus sale por todos lados’ (9 July 1980).

‘Jóvenes ven conjunción Cristianismo- Revolución’ (14 October 1980).

‘La Corta Memoria de los Sionistas’ (25 February 1980).

‘La Iglesia debe estar con el Pueblo’ (27 March 1980).

‘La invasión de las sectas’ (3 March 1982).

‘La reacción abusa de la religión,’ (18 January 1981).

‘Las tareas de la juventud, y los cristianos como parte integral de la Revolución’ (31 August


‘No caben criticas fuera de Revolución en nombre de fé cristiana’ (20 November 1979). ‘Papel de evangélicos: Con la Revolución’ (6 October 1979).

‘Provocaciones en el Bautista’ (11 November 1980).

‘Que es el sionismo?’ (6 June 1980).

‘Quienes son los que dividen a los evangélicos?’ (4 March 1982) .

‘Revolución defiende libertad religiosa’ (7 April 1980).

‘Ser cristiano es ser revolucionario’ (22 May 1980).

‘Victorias antiimperialistas del Tercer Mundo: eje de la Revolución Mundial en los años 70’

(18 April 1980).

Interviews and Telephone Conversations

Arista, Rafael (Managua, 8 June 1999). Ayala, Guillermo (Managua, 31 May 1999). Bell, Amalia (Managua, 4 June 1999). Casco, Miguel Angel (Managua, 24 May 2004).



C. L. Smith / Pneuma 30 (2008) 55-82

Cerrato, Saturnino (Managua, 29 May 1999). Espinoza, Mario (Managua, 28 May 1999). López, Bienvenido (Managua, 8 June 1999). Matamoros, Bartolomé (26 February 2004). Mejilla, Alfonso (Managua, 8 June 1999). Rojas, Roberto (Managua, 28 May 1999). Sandli, Burger (Managua, 7 June 1999). Soza, Rufino (Ciudad Sandino, 31 May 1999). Spencer, David (Managua, 4 June 1999). Suárez, José (a pseudonym), Managua (6 June 1999). Trolese, Bob (Managua, 1 June 1999).


Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.