“Welcome to Zingcreed, the totally unique Christian/Atheist blog, where I think aloud about religion and the world. Here there are no boundaries, and in this personal polemic I report what I find. I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.
In earlier Zingcreed Posts I looked at Liberation Theology and at men like Camilo Torres and José Porfirio Miranda. I think it’s fair to say that the United States government especially in the Reagan era was terrified at what this unruly child of the Vatican might get up to.
How the US Central Intelligence Agency blatantly used religion to counteract the incoming tide of Liberation Theology is an amazing story! Anti-Catholic sects like the Pentecostalists didn’t need much persuading. What was needed was money and coordination, and this was soon forthcoming.
The main North American organisations that started this crusade against what they perceived to be Marxist takeovers with the backing of substantial sections of the RC church, were
- The Assemblies of God (Pentecostal)
- The Church of God (Pentecostal)
- The Word Church (Pentecostal)
- The Campus Crusade for Christ
- Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority
- Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network
- Trans World Missions
- World Vision
- The Gospel Crusade
- The Christian Emergency Relief Team
What all these ‘gringos’ had in common was
- They were all fundamentalists, i.e. they took the Bible literally
- They emphasized ‘personal salvation’, i.e. being ‘born again’
- The Pentecostalists especially went in for faith healing, exorcisms, and miracles (possibly an attractive option in a poor Latin American country where there is no free health service)
- They used televangelism, and that included radio too for those rural/low income areas without TV
- They supported a conservative political culture, one that was willing to acquiesce in military dictatorships or even to support them ardently!
- The Pentecostalists in particular tapped into a the ‘despised’ roots of some local popular cultures. Roots the Catholic Church had tried to suppress; a world of demons, spirits, revelations, divine cures, and exorcisms (See Zingcreed Post on the UCKG and What Conservative Christians believe)
The head honcho coordinating what the local Catholics called “the invasion of the protestant sects” was the notorious Colonel Oliver North. I shall be concentrating on what happened in Chile and Nicaragua, where conservative pro-Reagan North was against the elected left wing government of Salvador Allende in Chile, and for the military coup of general Pinochet that overthrew it. Likewise in the Central American republic of Nicaragua he was against the ruling revolutionary Sandinistas, and all for the right wing Contra rebels who were trying to overthrow them by force.
The “invasion of the sects” was indeed a US-promoted conspiracy against Liberation Theology and all social movements for the emancipation of the poor. Quite a few evangelical missions crudely identified their religious intervention in Latin America with the the interests of US foreign policy. US evangelicals helped North give political and military aid to the Contras. When it became evident that the Contras had some embarrassing habits such as destroying schools and clinics, rape, and murdering civilians, the US Congress suspended official aid. North promptly (with the covert backing of the White House) went behind Congress’s back and recruited anti-communist evangelicals into a private support network for the Contras. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network promptly handed over $2 million for the Contra guerilla army.
North pulled the strings from Washington, and advised the missions to create “rice bowl Christians”, that is to buy the loyalty of the poor through food handouts. Huge funds were made available for relief, church building and various development projects that by-passed the existing (often Catholic) institutions that were already on the ground.
The evangelical groups tried to dissuade Central Americans from joining movements for social change, by holding out the hope of spiritual alternatives to political action. They were the cheerleaders for US military intervention. Many North American missionary organisations were CIA fronts following orders from Washington. Evangelical growth was the direct result of strategic US planning. Evangelicalism was a spiritual con game, as the eventual disclosures of Oliver North were to reveal.
As if it wasn’t bad enough having to fend off the US backed Contra invaders, the leader of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas also had to contend with the scolding of an anti-communist Polish pope!
Evangelical Protestantism also appealed to the upper classes because it didn’t criticize the social structure from which they benefited, but indeed absolved them of any responsibility for it.
The differences between Catholics and Evangelicals were then , and still are now:
Roman Catholic Liberation Theology:
- consciousness raising among the people through grass roots activities
- commitment to the struggle of the poor for self-emancipation
- few friends in high places, persecution by death squads etc
- very few funds
- resignation and fatalism; acceptance of the status quo
- offer a safe surrender to Christ
- their churches are considered holy and respectable by the authorities
- ample funds from abroad (NB many of these churches now generate enough cash of their own not to need foreign funding, indeed some new fundamentalist sects have popped up in Latin America which owe nothing to the ‘Yanquis’.
In a continent known for its macho men, marriage can sometimes be a stormy journey. Continued bachelor type activities after the wedding can threaten the whole family. It’s going to be pretty difficult for the wife and kids if hubby spends the housekeeping money on booze, drugs, gambling and prostitutes. Conversion to Evangelical Protestantism offers a way out. It’ll cost you a 10% tithe (UCKG), but if the convert adopts the new moral conduct the preachers are advocating, his family life should improve.
Individual strategies of upward mobility are worked out. Self discipline can open the door to membership of the middle class, and the capitalist spirit of competition can bring wealth in its train.
A final quote gives you an idea of the mindset these born again suckers are left with. In 1973 after General Pinochet’s military coup in Chile, the leaders of 32 Pentecostal churches in Chile declare that the coup “was God’s answer to the prayers of all the believers who recognized that Marxism was the expression of a satanic power of darkness…We the evangelicals recognize as the higher authority of our country the military junta who in answer to our prayers freed us from Marxism.”
Bear in mind that the government that the CIA backed junta overthrew was a democratically elected one.
Löwy, Michael “The War of Gods. Religion and Politics in Latin America” Verso 1996