Academic journal article Ethnology

Native Evangelism in Central Mexico

Academic journal article Ethnology

Native Evangelism in Central Mexico

Article excerpt

As part of ongoing research on Protestant evangelism in Central Mexico, this Article focuses on two native evangelical congregations in the Cordoba-Orizaba region in the state of Veracruz: one of very recent inception, the other founded five decades ago. The aim of the presentation is threefold: 1) to describe the doctrinal configuration and organization of the congregation; 2) to ascertain their evangelical lineage and modifications; and 3) to compare them with respect to motivation for and modes of conversion. This exercise should illuminate a religious tide that is not well understood, and appears bound to spread under the increasing proselytism of Protestant evangelism in most countries of Latin America. (Protestantism, Catholicism, Protestant evangelism, Central Mexico, Latin America, conversion, catechization)

A good deal has been written about the spread of Protestant evangelism in Mexico (e.g., Baldwin 1990; Bastian 1983, 1990; Bowen 1996; Bridges 1973; De los Reyes 1990; Lopez Cortes 1990; Metz 1994) and in Latin America generally (e.g., Bastian 1986; Deiros 1986; Garrand-Burnett 1992; Martin 1990, Penton 1985; Stoll 1990; Willems 1967). Still, we know little about native evangelical sects(1) that have been established in these places during the past 70 years, especially since the late 1970s. Anthropologists occasionally mention them (see Aubrey 1974; Diaz de la Serna 1984; Gaxiola et al. 1984; Juarez Cerdi 1997; Zapata Novoa 1990), but provide scanty information on the nature and form of their evangelism, and the circumstances and conditions that led groups or individuals to reject Catholicism.

In the course of an ongoing investigation of Protestant evangelism in the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley and the Cordoba-Orizaba regions of Mexico (see Nutini n.d.; Nutini and Isaac 1974) I encountered five native evangelist sects, two in the former and three in the latter. Two of them were founded in 1936 and 1951; the other three were established within the past ten years. It is notable that the converts to these native evangelist sects all broke away from Catholicism for similar reasons. The main reasons consistently given for conversion to native evangelism are dissatisfaction with Catholic doctrine or practice, desire for more personal religious expression, greater freedom in organizing the congregation, the high cost of worship (particularly with rural folk), and disillusionment with the Catholic Church's lack of interest in the economic and social well-being of its members.

The aforementioned research indicates that there are no significant differences of motive for converting to native evangelism or Protestant evangelism. (Protestant evangelical sects differ significantly from one another doctrinally, of course, but they all have the same attraction for disenchanted Catholics desirous of some form of religious change. Converts may adduce idiosyncratic grounds for choosing Pentecostalism, Mormonism, or any other Protestant evangelist sect, but the reasons for conversion are basically the same.) Thus, native evangelism and Protestant evangelism, irrespective of doctrinal differences and modes of proselytism, are part of the same religious movement that is wresting souls from Catholicism.

Conversion is supported by the central doctrinal and pragmatic concerns that native and Protestant evangelism share: the Bible as the sole source of religious understanding and moral action; total rejection of the cult of the saints; emphasis on individual religious identity; lack of hierarchy in ritual and ceremony; administrative decentralization and democratic organization of the congregation; preaching as a core vehicle for religious experience; and the congregation as a source of social and psychological support. There are of course differences between native evangelist sects, just as there are differences between Protestant evangelical sects; those of the former depending largely on which Protestant group served as their model. …

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