Pen­te­costal­ism and pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pen­te­costal­ism, with its me­te­oric growth from a nascent move­ment in 1906 to roughly 500 mil­lion fol­low­ers world­wide to­day, has the po­ten­tial to change not only the re­li­gious land­scape but the po­lit­i­cal as well.

Luis Lugo, the di­rec­tor of the Pew Fo­rum on Re­li­gion and Pub­lic Life, which or­ga­nized a sur­vey of Pen­te­costals in 10 coun­tries, con­cluded that “Pen­te­costals are at least as po­lit­i­cally ori­ented as other Chris­tians in th­ese so­ci­eties, and on sev­eral mea­sures even more so.” In all 10 coun­tries, Pen­te­costals were more likely than non-re­newal­ists to be­lieve that re­li­gious groups should ex­press views on po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ques­tions. The Pew sur­vey, the most com­pre­hen­sive look at Pen­te­costal­ism to date, paints a good pic­ture of what those po­lit­i­cal views re­ally are.

Even though nearly 80 per­cent be­lieve re­li­gious groups should ex­press po­lit­i­cal opin­ions — and the fact that they are slightly more likely to be ac­tive in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, ad­dress­ing is­sues that in­clude poverty, em­ploy­ment and racial equal­ity — Pen­te­costals in the United States are less likely to be­long to or par­tic­i­pate in a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion or party. This is not the case in Latin Amer­ica. Gu­atemala has had two Pen­te­costal pres­i­dents, and Nicaragua and Brazil both have Pen­te­costal po­lit­i­cal par­ties that hold seats in par­lia- ment. An or­ga­nized vot­ing bloc has yet to emerge in the United States — and, in­deed, is dif­fi­cult to form be­cause most Pen­te­costal churches are in­de­pen­dent and the move­ment is with­out a cen­tral gov­ern­ing body — but 87 per­cent of Amer­i­can Pen­te­costals want their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to share their be­liefs. More than half of Pen­te­costals in the United States would even like to see steps taken to­ward mak­ing Amer­ica a Chris­tian coun­try; only one-quar­ter of Amer­i­can Chris­tians feel this way.

Th­ese be­liefs have a strong moral as­pect. Abor­tion is never jus­ti­fied, say 64 per­cent of Pen­te­costals in the United States and close to 90 per­cent in Kenya, Nige­ria, the Philip­pines and the three Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. (Opin­ion on the gov­ern­ment’s role in pre­vent­ing abor­tion is more equally di­vided in most coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States.) Pen­te­costals are also, across the board, much more likely to re­gard drink­ing al­co­hol, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, ex­tra­mar­i­tal sex and eu­thana­sia as never jus­ti­fied — be­liefs that lead some to see Pen­te­costals in the United States as an ide­o­log­i­cal con­stituency for con­ser­va­tive politi­cians. Pen­te­costals’ strong sup­port for in­creased so­cial pro­grams, how­ever, could be used to make a case for a new Demo­cratic con­stituency.

The move­ment’s ac­tive pros­e­ly­tiz­ing has tra­di­tion­ally tar­geted those who fre­quently feel marginal­ized by so­ci­ety — of­ten poor, and, in the United States, of­ten im­mi­grants. In de­vel­op­ing coun­tries par­tic­u­larly, the de­mo­graphic is shift­ing to in­clude more from the mid­dle and up­per classes. Pen­te­costals are far from apo­lit­i­cal, the Pew sur­vey demon­strates, and as the move­ment con­tin­ues to grow rapidly from its cur­rent 5 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, its ef­fects on the po­lit­i­cal ter­rain will be­come more pro­nounced.

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