Feb 28, 2001
Recently some huge billboards along British Columbia’s major roadways showed black-and-white photos of car wrecks—gashed and mangled metal, clouds of steam and smoke—all illumined under the luridness of fire, flares, searchlights and siren lights. The caption beneath the ads was as stark and grim as the photos: “Speed is killing us. Slow down and live.”
When Rodney Woo became pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston in 1992, the all-white congregation averaged 200 worshipers. Faced with a declining membership, and situated in a neigborhood that was changing its racial composition, the congregation set out to invite people of color to church.
That is a survival strategy that frequently fails. But Woo now looks out at nearly 400 people of various hues in the pews. A third are Hispanics, some are African Americans, and some are immigrants from more than a dozen countries.
In the early 16th century, Martin Luther, assisted by enterprising printers unhandicapped by copyright laws, swamped the market with five pamphlets for every one put out by his Catholic opponents. Other Protestant writers poured out their own flood of sermons, treatises, polemics and devotional writings. For more than three decades Protestants dominated the recently invented printing press. By the time the Catholic authorities found a way to use the new medium to their own advantage, the religious landscape of Europe had been utterly and irreversibly transformed.
The woman sitting next to me on a five-hour bus ride from Puebla to Oaxaca, Mexico, opened her Bible to the “Segunda Epístola de San Pedro Apóstol”—2 Peter. The “1” of the first chapter was circled and various verses were underlined. This was a well-used Bible. I asked, “¿Es cristiana?” She nodded and immediately asked if I was. Yes, I told her. It was like passing the secret handshake.
Mexico’s popular culture is Catholic, but its politics and state are secular. Vast majorities demonstrate both immense respect for the Roman Catholic Church and firm opposition to the political involvement of religious leaders or symbols. During the recent presidential campaign, Vicente Fox Quesada raised hackles by waving the flag of the Virgin of Guadalupe.