Twenty years ago the churches in Latin America were viewed as playing a major role in resisting military dictatorships and in developing new revolutionary social models. Recently, attention has shifted to the remarkable growth of Latin American Pentecostal churches. In Brazil, Chile, Guatemala and elsewhere, as many Protestants as Catholics may be in church on any given weekend.
My personal religious pilgrimage is not exceptional. I grew up in a community church in southern California that had evangelical leanings. It was a strong and caring group of people, even though the leadership of the church circumscribed the Christian faith with a relatively strong dose of moral legalism.
The 20th century may be recorded as the ecumenical century, but it certainly will be noted as the century of the Pentecostal renewal, both as a new church phenomenon and as a charismatic impulse within Catholicism and classical Protestantism.
Four years ago, after Ted Haggard confessed to involvement in a gay sex and drug scandal, he lost his Colorado Springs pulpit and his job as head of the National Association of Evangelicals and underwent a period of counseling and discipline. Haggard has led some prayer services in Colorado Springs lately, but denies he has imminent plans to lead a congregation.
At first glimpse, Marcelo Rossi is a textbook example of the pastor as showman. A handsome, stylish man in his early forties, he leads a flourishing São Paulo congregation legendary for its music. He dances during worship, performing “the Lord’s aerobics.” And people respond. One of his stadium revivals attracted 70,000 believers.
The blogosphere was abuzz with sermon snippets from Pentecostal and charismatic churches once attended by GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In them, pastors declare that people who die without Christ “have a horrible, horrible surprise” awaiting them and refer to America as a “Christian nation.”
Any account of the modern expansion of Christianity worldwide must pay respectful attention to Pentecostal and charismatic forms of worship. In Latin America, and most conspicuously in Brazil, this tradition accounts for virtually all of the vast growth of Protestant churches in the past 30 years.