Te Deum Cristiano Evangélico: 'The Evangelical' in Guatemalan Politics 1

By Bjune, Maren Christensen | Ibero-americana, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Te Deum Cristiano Evangélico: 'The Evangelical' in Guatemalan Politics 1


Bjune, Maren Christensen, Ibero-americana


I. INTRODUCTION

Over the course of less than forty years the percentage of nonCatholics in the Guatemalan population has risen from about 2 to 40 per cent, of whom the great majority are Evangelical Christians (Morales, interview, Guatemala City 31.01.2012; O'Neill 2012; Pew Forum 2006). The physical representations are hard to miss; throughout the country the construction of Evangelical churches is steadily increasing accompanied by painted messages recommending the public to prepare for the coming of the saviour, and that 'Jesus is the lord of Guatemala'. Alongside these physical changes, the so-called transformations can allegedly also be seen in the individual; as people convert, many change lifestyles, friends, and at times even personal economic status.

The phenomenon of rapid evangelisation in Guatemala has received broad scholarly attention, much of which serves as an inspiration for this article. However, as the percentage of Evangelical Christians increases, so does the diversity of the members of the category 'Evangelical', complicating the drawing of general conclusions with regard to the impact and effect of Evangelical growth. Perhaps most controversial and most debated in the field, has been the assessments of the impact of this largescale Evangelical conversion on Guatemala's socio-political development, and more specifically, on the processes of democratisation. Hence, today most studies concentrate on Evangelicalism as experienced by individuals and smaller communities.

The aim of this article is nonetheless to make the case for analysing the political impact of Evangelicalism at the national level. The findings suggest that in recent years, representatives of Evangelical communities have increased their presence in political spaces such as advisory boards to the President and hearings in Congress. The article explores to what extent this has been a deliberate strategy. As a hypothetical point of departure, the article argues that in national politics 'the Evangelical' can be considered as one single analytical category, defined as such both by official representatives of the Evangelical communities, as well as by other members of society. This will allow for bringing 'the Evangelical' into the analysis of Guatemalan politics, in spite of the heterogeneous character of the universe oí cristianos evangélicos.

The Guatemalan society is characterised by deep socioeconomic divisions, and the political discourse is characterised by a split between those who want change and those who prefer and benefit from the status quo. The first part of the article examines this portrayal of Guatemala's recent political development in order to contextualise the Evangelical political engagement. Further, some theoretical and methodological reflexions on the study of religion in politics will be presented, suggesting a framework based on the overlapping of religious spaces and political practices. In this 'the religious' will be considered not only as practices, but also as language, both as everyday language and the religious message distributed by leaders. Then follows a brief introduction to the scholarly debates on the 'Evangelical explosion' in Latin America, and particularly in Guatemala. In the second part of the article, the core findings are presented, concentrated around three aspects considered as central for the assessment of the role of the Evangelical as a political actor: (i) the sheer size of the population referred to as 'Evangelicals'; (ii) Evangelical churches' and organisations' activities and presence in civil society; and (iii) the moral and financial status promoted by, and attributed to Evangelical leaders. From this perspective, it has been possible to identify the mechanisms and tendencies of the Evangelical in national politics. The last part of the article explores and analyses these political strategies and it will be argued that through cooperation and endorsement on behalf of a large religious community, the political role of the Evangelical Church has so far served to support the socio-political status quo of Guatemalan politics. …

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