Evangelical Gains in Latin America
From The Economist:
A LINE of Bibles snaking out of the door of the Friends of Israel Biblical Baptist Tabernacle means the afternoon service is about to start. The church has been extended three times in ten years to seat over 10,000 people, but it is still so busy that the faithful use Bibles to hold their spots in the queue. Weekly attendance is now 80,000, which its officials say is the most in El Salvador.
The evangelical Protestantism preached within its walls (and on screens outside) has taken off in Central America. Estimates vary, but according to the State Department of the United States, barely 50% of Salvadorans now identify as Catholic, and in Honduras and Belize the share has dropped below half. Nicaragua is close behind. In Mexico, by comparison, 90% have kept the Catholic faith.
Some Central Americans switched during the civil wars of the 1980s, when Catholic priests began criticising their governments. To the authorities, “if you were a Catholic you were suspicious,” says Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the assistant bishop of San Salvador. After Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered in 1980, many turned to Protestant churches.
More recently, the Catholic church’s conservatism has shrunk its flock. Edgar López Bertrand, the founder of the Friends of Israel, says he could not become a Catholic priest because his parents were divorced. Now, the crowd outside his church includes teenage couples and not a few miniskirts. (Should relationship problems arise, the church offers a book called “Help! I’m married”.) The gospel of prosperity, recklessly preached by some evangelical outfits, goes down well in poor countries: Costa Rica and Panama, twice as rich as their neighbours, remain strongly Catholic.