Damned, Pleasure-Loving and Devout: Women and Religion

By Pereira, Nancy Cardoso | International Review of Mission, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Damned, Pleasure-Loving and Devout: Women and Religion


Pereira, Nancy Cardoso, International Review of Mission


When speaking about the question of religious coexistence in the five hundred years of the Americas, perhaps it is best to start from my own religious identity: I am a Protestant from the Methodist Church.

But, if the intention is to study the Americas, then it is better to start from my own cultural identity and to propose a reflection starting from Latin America, Latin American protestantism.

Another possibility would be to articulate an analysis that grows out of work and of an ecumenical spirituality that is deeply rooted in the popular struggles in the Latin American continent.

However, what I need and want to do is to construct my remarks starting from my identity as a woman. Latin American. Protestant. A feminist position that cuts through and puts into perspective religious and cultural identity and fidelity, creating a theoretical and practical link with the many women's movements in the Americas, reinforcing their popular and ecumenical vocation.

Perhaps it is not the easiest or the most objective perspective to take - there does not yet exist sufficient clarity to illuminate the roots and trajectories of what we are, women in the Americas. Damned, pleasure-loving and devout, it is only in recent times that we have been able to put together our historical and theological memories. I beg to borrow a little of that, which the historians, theologians, poets and sorceresses, witches and militants have been weaving together in these five hundred years, to think about religious coexistence.

Ecumenism in Latin America? Where?

Ecumenism was impossible in the Americas in these five hundred years of invasion, conquest and exploitation. It is not possible to be ecumenical when the structuring movement in the society is one of exclusion.

Exclusion of cultures, the silencing of the sacredness of "the others," massacre of peoples, gestures, rights, prayers, voices. In the whole continent, the African religions and the religions of the indigenous peoples survived massacre through strong resistance, so that, within the limits set by the parameters of Christianity, they continue to worship their gods and goddesses. Syncretism or ecumenism?

An evaluation of the five hundred years of the conquest of the Americas cannot reject or underrate the weight that the religious question has, in a unique way, in the formation of the Latin American identity. Iberian catholicism has molded the continent ideologically and culturally. Without restricting its civilizing influence to the faithful alone, in all truth catholicism provides the regulating matrix of behaviour and attitudes, it is a creator of norms and parameters.

If it is true that catholicism, which was identified with the state, made the arrival of the Protestant missions in the South American continent more difficult, it is also true that protestantism on its arrival here did not offer alternatives that made viable another model for society, the coexistence of Christians and other religions. Distinguished by its origin or out of interest in the expansion of North American missionary models, Latin American protestantism participated in the establishment of a climate of proselytizing and intolerance that characterizes the inter-confessional relationships on the continent.

Other religions established on the continent were forced to act Within a space defined by the influence of the official Catholic hegemony. Also in these cases a class-conscious proselytizing or an ethnic link defined the limits that each group could aim for, so that they became a type of folklore or a tolerable curiosity because they did not question the structures imposed by society.

A single winner, violent liturgy, Christianity in the Americas is confused with the civilizing model of the white, western man. Father, boss, lord, husband. Intransigent and intolerant, Christianity fought and devoured even its own variations and alternatives making dialogue between Christians almost impossible. …

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