The Growth of Protestantism: From Religion to Politics?
In Nicaragua, Protestantism, particularly in its Pentecostal forms, is a growing phenomenon. Its growth rate in the last decade means that it now encompasses enormous human wealth. The following article quantifies and characterizes this dynamically active and organized religious sector, which boasts 2,000 churches, dozens of schools, radio stations, a television channel, clinics, mobile medical services, hospitals, newspapers and magazines, printing presses, more than 20 training institutes and centers for reflection and development, a university, and schools of theology, music and nursing, in addition to a voluminous social structure. It is an economic, cultural and religious force. Taken as a whole, with its shared symbols, it is the most organized element of civil society in Nicaragua.
Given that evangelicals represent a large number of votes, it is important to analyze this sector's ideological choices and political practices. This article by Paraguayan theologian Roberto Zub, which won second prize in envío’s fifth annual writer's contest, does that. It particularly sheds light on the sector’s role in the 1990 Nicaraguan elections to determine its political tendencies and some of its behavioral characteristics at that moment, as well as its current political loyalties. It analyzes the differences between the Protestant vote and that of the Managua population in general; and evaluates the potential for and feasibility of a Protestant political party in Nicaragua. It also makes some comparisons among the six different denominations surveyed.
Arrival of the Protestants Protestants penetrated Nicaragua's Pacific region during President José Santos Zelaya's Liberal revolution in 1893. Zelaya began his reform by modernizing the country's economic, legal, social and religious structures.
Protestant missionaries arriving that same year coincided with these reformist principles. Together with the Liberals, they contributed to opening new religious spaces, countering the Catholic Church's hegemony. At that time, Liberalism and Protestant were two converging elements, as were Conservatism and Catholicism.
Religious and political interests went hand in hand, and the state and certain Protestant clergy joined forces to put in place a Liberal economic project with religious pluralism. In this sense, the missionary projects of the Central American, Baptist and other churches were largely following the initiative of international organizations that were sending missionaries to Nicaragua to fight the Catholic Church for religious, social and political ground.
The study area Six different Protestant denominations in Managua's urban areas were chosen for this study: Church of God, Assemblies of God, Baptist Church, Christian Mission, Christ Church and Four Square Gospel Church. Of more than 100 denominations in total, these 6 have their own peculiarities, histories, perspectives and characteristics.
The same survey was taken in all denominations. The first question verified the interviewee's denomination. To choose people to interview, it seemed best to work with church membership lists, since we found that proportions between men and women and young and old were not the same in any of them, and each stratum could not therefore be given the same weight. The membership lists thus allowed us to carry out surveys in equal proportion to the actual age and gender stratification of each denomination. We also established a minimum of 30 persons to be interviewed per denomination so that the universe of each would be representative. These 30 or so interviews were conducted in no less than 3 neighborhoods and 4 different congregations, proportional to the size of each congregation.
The study was done in 24 neighborhoods of the capital and in the town of Ticuantepe (6 miles south of Managua). The neighborhoods were La Primavera, Larreynaga, San Luís, Rubenia, Reparto Schick, Miguel Gutiérrez, Altagracia, Acahualinca, Campo Bruce, El Riguero, El Dorado, Bolonia, Pueblo Nuevo, San Judas, Batahola Sur, Santa Rosa, Mercado Oriental, José Dolores Estrada, El Calvario, Waspán, Santa Ana Sur, Ducualí, Villa Libertad and 10 de Junio. The people interviewed live in still other neighborhoods, since it is customary among Protestants in Nicaragua to attend church in an adjacent neighborhood.
Who was polledThe universe interviewed includes people baptized from 1 to 53 years ago. According to data obtained from the survey, Christian Mission and the Assemblies of God baptized the most people in the past decade, followed by the Church of God. The Baptist Church registered the least, though it is the denomination that had the greatest number of baptisms in previous decades, mainly in the years before 1970.
If the variable of baptisms is taken as a measure of growth, it is worthy of note that the Pentecostal churches—Assemblies of God, Four Square Gospel Church, Christian Mission and Church of God—grew the most during the 1980s. This growth is partly related to the Sandinista revolution, since Pentecostals opposed the revolution in an almost generalized manner. We thus hypothesize that, as a tendency, Pentecostals baptized during the revolutionary period tended to vote for UNO, while those baptized in earlier periods did so to a lesser degree.
The boom and development of Pentecostal churches in Managua has followed the Pentecostals' typical growth pattern. Historically, these denominations have grown in association with an anomie, as a way to crystalize attitudes and reformulate solidarity in the face of that anomie. It is probable that many of those who converted to Pentecostalism immediately after the triumph of the revolution were suffering from anxiety over the political change. (We understand an anomia as it is defined by Adam Schaff: "a social situation characterized by the collapse of a socially accepted value system and behavioral norms, which is reflected in a crisis of society's regulatory influence over individual behavior.")
Another hypothesis would be that Pentecostalism largely represents a reaction to the revolution, which broke with existing social structures, causing some sectors to seek religious communities in which they could find a kind of non-Sandinista fraternity and ideological affinity.
Church Participation. Of those surveyed, 52.8% hold a post in their church: as pastors, deacons, teachers, preachers, evangelists, co-pastors, superintendents, treasurers, musicians, secretaries, administrators, or presidents or vice presidents of youth or women's groups or the church board. It is surprising that more than half of the members hold some kind of post. One must assume that they are therefore highly organized societies or that they develop participatory, shared and democratic work styles.
Gender Distribution. The poll reflects the general tendency that there are considerably more women than men. Of those polled, 62% are women, 38% men.
Age. The youngest person surveyed turned 16 on the date of the February 1990 elections, while the oldest is 83. The largest age group ranges from 37 to 46 years old and represents 24% of the people interviewed. The oldest Protestant population was found among the Baptists, in both the 57-66 and 67-83 age groups.
Almost 60% of the people interviewed in these age groups are Baptist. This could mean that the Baptist population in general is older than that of the other churches, and also reinforces the hypothesis that this denomination did most of its growing several decades ago.
Income. The survey results indicate that voter preference based on income or social class variables is not independent of political issues but is socially differentiated. The lowest income group consists of those who, because they are unemployed, have no income. This sector includes housewives, youth, students and elderly people, who are dependent on other family members' wages. The sector represents 11% of those polled.
Those who make 300 córdobas ($60) per month or less—the largest sector of the Protestant population—represent 41 % of those surveyed. Those whose monthly income ranges from 301 to 700 córdobas represent 24%. In general, the poll indicates that the Protestant population is largely a poor sector of Nicaraguan society.
Based on income, the Four Square Gospel Church and Christian Mission represent the poorest sectors; they have the greatest number of people with incomes under 300 córdobas and none with wages over 1,200. The middle sectors are found in Christ Church and the Church of God, and the highest income sectors in the Baptist Church.
Education level. Those who have not finished elementary school predominate (33%), followed by those who have not finished secondary school. A small portion of those surveyed (6%) has had no education; all, however, know how to read and do so publicly, reading the Bible in church.
As for university education, the difference between denominations is notable. Among those surveyed who had finished college, 70% are Baptists. In contrast, only one person interviewed from the Four Square Gospel Church had finished high school, and no one had studied at the university level, demonstrating that the average educational level among members of that church is very low.
This also shows that there are some middle-class Protestant denominations and others representing very poor popular sectors.
According to a survey conducted in 1987 by the Itztani-UCA Research Institute, educational levels among the Managua population were as follows: 6% illiterate, 2% literate with no formal education, 20% incomplete primary education, 11% primary completed, 32% secondary incomplete, 9% secondary completed, 11% university incomplete, and 8% university completed. Comparing this information with the Protestant population surveyed it is apparent that the average educational level among Protestants is significantly lower than among the Managua population in general.
Given this, the differences between the kinds of higher education offered to Protestants and Catholics is worth noting. In Managua, two religious universities were founded just a few years apart: the Catholic Central American University (UCA) and the Baptist Polytechnic University (UPOLI). While the UCA offers a humanist education emphasizing the social sciences, UPOLI orients its teaching toward preparing professionals technically in commercial sciences, emphasizing careers that offer earnings quickly.
Occupation. The occupations of those surveyed reinforce the observation about lower average educational levels. Housewives are the largest group, followed by technicians, then by those who work in the informal commercial sector, then by housekeepers.
Professionals fall in fifth place. The majority has jobs common to the poorest sectors of society with little education.
As for job stability, the prevailing category consists of those who have spent more than three years in their current position: 63% have a stable job, and 70% were neither affected by the change of government nor suffered from layoffs. This stability could be based, in part, on the fact that a considerable percentage of those surveyed are self-employed, as mechanics, artisans, technicians, professionals, merchants or housewives.
Denomination and social class All of this information reflects a more or less definite social stratification between the denominations surveyed. The differences relate to income, occupation, education and housing, as well as variations in other social indicators. The highest and most specialized social classes, with greater technical training, higher income levels and more professional jobs, belong to the non-Pentecostal denominations—the Baptist and Christ Churches.
The political participation of the Baptist and Christ Church members is also much greater than that of Pentecostals. That difference, naturally, is not the result of exclusively religious factors but also of social motives. The older churches are set apart from the Pentecostal churches by the political posts that their parishioners hold, their human and financial capital and their institutional weight in the life of the nation.
These are not recent differences but probably have historical roots, from the time when joining a Protestant denomination was tied to the political ascent of Liberalism in the first half of this century. That was the highest-growth period of the Baptist and Christ Churches, when Protestants and Liberals built their own political project, acquired professions with greater economic possibilities and joined Nicaragua's middle class. Liberals converted to Protestantism, and not a few Protestants became Liberals in order to develop political and ideological positions that could influence the country's legal and economic order. The rupture with legal and economic traditionalism in Nicaragua clearly coincides with the moment in which Liberalism came to power and Protestantism arose. Both projects rejected traditional political and religious authority.
Pentecostalism, on the other hand, dates from a more recent period and is related to the upsurge not of Liberalism but of poverty. This hypothesis can be confirmed statistically by taking into account the Nicaraguan population's peculiar predisposition toward Baptist Protestantism in the decades before 1970 and its preference for Pentecostalism as an alternative to Catholicism today.
In conclusion, the survey clearly shows that Nicaragua's Protestants—especially Pentecostals—come largely from the popular sectors. Protestantism appeals to the poor, according to Chilean sociologist Humberto Lagos, because it offers "a global life project that implies coherent responses to the people's anxieties; certainty and security in an uncertain and insecure society; the personalization of the faithful, who become active subjects in a project that they feel is their own; social progress and positive self-evaluation."
In May 1986, the Vatican disseminated a document produced by episcopates from different parts of the world and by Papal Commissions that worked on it for more than three years. The text tackles the reasons for the upsurge of new religious movements, stating that they respond "to the need to belong to a community, a culture, to have one's own identity and to be treated as a distinct person, with spiritual needs that are not being met given the current crisis of traditional social structures."
In the same document, the Vatican adds that the relative success of religion at this time is due, in part, to the "depersonalized structure of current society, created in the West and broadly exported to the rest of the world, which is the cause of multiple crises at both the individual and social levels." Given this situation, "the sects present themselves as the only answer, the 'good news' in a chaotic world."
In synthesis, the document states that the root of the religious phenomenon called sects is found in the destruction of traditional social structures, cultural models and traditional values themselves, caused by industrialization, urbanization, migration, the rapid deterioration of communication systems and the imposition of completely rational technocratic systems that leave many individuals disoriented, insecure and, consequently, vulnerable. The Vatican recognizes that these sects "appear to offer human warmth, attention and support in the framework of a small community and provide, in addition, easy, pretty and quick answers to complex questions."
Protestant vote in the 1990 electionsThe opposition coalition UNO won the 1990 national elections with 54.7% of the votes. In Managua, the results were similar to the national figures: 53.5% UNO, 42.9% FSLN.
Different analysts have speculated about the electoral behavior of Protestant voters. The most conservative calculations claim that at least 80% voted for UNO. The August 1990 edition of Semana Teológica, published by the Antonio Valdivieso Ecumenical Center, contended that between 90% and 95% of Protestant voters chose UNO. It is important to analyze this issue according to the survey data.
When we asked those polled about their political sympathies, we did not specify whether the question referred to their current opinion or their opinion before the elections; it is thus most probable that people answered how they felt at the time of the interview. But since political sympathies do not change very quickly, we can assume that there is not a great difference in peoples' opinions between 1990 and 1991.
The largest category (36%) consists of those who have no particular sympathy toward any political party. Second (29%) are those who sympathize with the FSLN (according to an Itztani poll, 28% of the Managua population identified with the FSLN in 1988); only 11% sympathize with the UNO coalition that won the elections; and 10% identify with the Liberal Party (one faction of the Liberals was a member of UNO). Though a significant sector shows an apparent disinterest in any political party, approximately 60% sympathize with one party or another.
We also wanted to determine whether an individual's preference for a political party coincides with the way he or she voted in the elections. Those who expressed a political sympathy were thus asked if they had voted for that party. The answers show that only 47% did so; 13% explicitly confessed that they did not. Some said that none of the options available in the elections were akin to their tastes or interests; in spite of that, they voted to fulfill their civic duty. (According to a cross-comparison of survey questions, 24% did not vote in the prior 1984 elections, while abstention in the 1990 elections was insignificant.)
The category of those who said they did not know if they had voted according to their current sympathy is large and took second place with 34%. It is believed that these people have no defined political criteria and believe that a "good Christian" should not sympathize with anything "of this world" for religious reasons. Nevertheless, they did vote to fulfill their civic or legal duty.
Election eve, 1990 We also wanted to know about the moment in which those surveyed decided who to vote for, so as to develop some hypotheses about the reasons behind the FSLN's election defeat. We therefore focused our analysis on those who decided on election day itself, based on the hypothesis that a high proportion of people who made their final decision that day had intended to vote for the FSLN but were expecting something that did not happen—such as the repeal of the draft—and thus changed their opinion.
If the 71% who made their decision upon becoming familiar with a candidate are added to the 6% who made their decision several weeks before election day—all of whom knew whom they were going to vote for well in advance—a total of 77% made a premeditated and conscientious vote. The 14% who decided on the same day as such a significant election probably represent the sector that was waiting for the FSLN to repeal the draft.
If this percentage is applied to the national vote, that 14% swung the elections to UNO. The question remains as to why this portion of the population waited until election day to choose whom they would vote for and what political tendency they represent. Would the FSLN have won had it repealed the draft at its final election campaign rally on February 21? We do not have the answer, but it is very probable that it would have won more votes and/or would have been defeated by a smaller margin.
To some degree, attending an election campaign rally or other event reflects the electorate's degree of political awareness or support for a particular party. Of those surveyed, 75% did not attend a single campaign event of any political party; 24% did.
The denominations that participated most were Christ Church (39%), the Baptists (35%) and Christian Mission (29%). The Assemblies of God took first place in abstaining, with only 7% participating in political meetings, followed by the Four Square Gospel Church with 13%. This difference between denominations is significant and probably arises from different religious conceptions or emphases. It also confirms that the more conservative religious sectors respond less to a political call.
Those who had attended some kind of campaign event or meeting were asked to which political party or alliance it pertained.
The greatest participation in FSLN activities came from Christ Church (36%), followed by the Baptists (29%). The Assemblies of God show the least participation in either UNO or FSLN events, while Christian Mission, Christ Church and Baptist Church members participated in UNO campaign events more than the Pentecostals.
When asked if their denomination published any kind of letter or communiqué orienting its followers about how to vote, over 98% answered that there was no explicit orientation of that kind.
The only calls made by some Protestant churches, or organizations such as the Ecumenical Center for Development Aid (CEPAD), the National Council of Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua (CNPEN) and the Baptist Convention, were to register to vote and participate in the elections to fulfill one's civic duty.
The survey also asked whether any church revelations or prophecies indicated which candidate to vote for. While 97% said no, 2% said they received such orientations and followed them in the voting booth.
The change they hoped for When the questionnaire was designed, it was presumed that those surveyed would refuse to answer a direct question about how they had voted. For that reason, in addition to a direct question, indirect questions about voting intentions were formulated to thus deduce voter preference as closely as possible. With this goal in mind, people were asked what kind of change would be best for Nicaragua.
The majority of those interviewed (57%) wanted a "significant change," indicating the defeat of the FSLN. That percentage is very close to the total vote for UNO in the elections. Those who wanted "some changes" occupied second place. In general, members of the Pentecostal churches wanted a more radical change than those from the historic churches.
It is important to note that the vast majority of the population surveyed wanted changes, and only 3.6% wanted "everything to stay the same." Those who responded this way reside in suburban Managua and are members of Christ Church; they wanted an FSLN without changes.
Several questions arise from all of this, some of which we try to answer below. In this political scenario, what difference does being or not being Protestant make? And if belonging to one or another denomination makes a difference, how does one know if people are voting for a party program or an individual candidate, or if none of this makes any difference to Protestants? Where is the boundary between the religious and the political? Do the Pentecostals, born from the womb of 20th century capitalism, maintain an orientation favorable to this system or do they exist to combat it? And if the latter, how? What variables act upon and determine a citizen's vote: religious beliefs, education, gender, employment, income or others?
Denomination and voter preference The following table summarizes the results of the direct question "Who did you vote for in the February 1990 elections?"
The next to last column of this table shows the total percentage of votes that the Managua we surveyed gave to each political party; the last column shows the vote of the Managua population in general. It can thus be seen that the Protestant sector reflects a slightly different voting tendency than the rest of Managua.
If one compares this sector's votes for the FSLN, the Social Christian Party (PSC) and the Liberal Party with the general Managua vote, the differences are significant. The vote for the FSLN, for example, shows a difference of 14 percentage points between the two groups: one-third fewer Protestants voted for the FSLN than did the Managua population as a whole. At the same time, significantly more Protestants voted for the PSC and the Liberals than did the general population. If these two latter parties had won these percentages nationally, they would have won more seats in the National Assembly.
A comparison of votes between denominations also shows significant differences. Members of the Four Square Gospel Church and the Assemblies of God, for example, voted overwhelmingly in favor of UNO, well above the Managua average. Those who issued the fewest UNO votes were the Baptists and the Church of God; Christ Church members also voted for UNO less than the Managua average. The Church of God showed the most diverse or pluralist voting record.
The non-Pentecostal Baptist and Christ Churches show the highest percentage of votes for the FSLN, though still slightly short of the Managua average. Those issuing the fewest FSLN votes were the Pentecostal Four Square Gospel Church and Assemblies of God. This reconfirms the hypothesis that the Pentecostals found followers in recent years among an unstable population that felt uprooted by the country's profound structural economic, political and social changes, as well as by the war. The church offered them an alternative for participation and social stability. This population saw the FSLN as the cause of their socioeconomic problems and thus voted for UNO.
The third electoral political force—though not so in affinity—among evangelicals are the Social Christian Party (PSC) and the Liberals, each winning 4% of the votes of those surveyed.
Sympathies for the PSC are concentrated among members of the Church of God and Four Square Gospel Church, while the Liberals find their backing among members of the Church of God and Baptists. There was little to no significant Protestant support for any of the other parties that ran in the election.
Political opinions: Denominations and the FSLNThe political agenda of one Protestant sector during the past few years of Sandinista government was marked by abstention and the censure of those who tried to become party members or to express a positive position with respect to the FSLN. Nonetheless, overlooking important differences between Pentecostals and the traditional churches, the common theme today seems to be political participation, with the express desire to create an evangelical party in Nicaragua. It appears that the Pentecostals are the ones who most want this to happen. Protestants whose political affinity is closer to the FSLN most clearly tend to oppose the creation of such a party.
In general, the majority sees relations between the FSLN and Protestants as good or average, indicating that those relations have been normal or satisfactory. There is a significant contrast, however, between denominations. The Baptists, followed by Christ Church, most preferred "good" or "average," but a significant number chose "excellent." At the other extreme, a high percentage of Assemblies of God and Church of God members chose "poor."
The majority of Nicaraguans are well aware of historic confrontations between the FSLN and important sectors of the Catholic Church, mainly Cardinal Obando y Bravo. But there were also confrontations with important evangelical sectors, especially the Assemblies of God, whose faithful saw the revolution as an instrument of Marxism, of an ideology that foments atheism and class struggle.
Although many members of non-Pentecostal denominations adopted Marxist ideology, their contribution dealt more with the macro-analysis of society than with their congregations. They exercised intellectual leadership and defined numerous actions that contributed to a revolutionary process in which they found the opportunity to create a new social order and lifestyle more favorable to the majority.
In spite of the existence of a Protestant sector committed to the FSLN, between 1982 and 1983 many evangelical church buildings were taken over arbitrarily, and the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS) initiated a campaign to discredit evangelical pastors and followers. This resulted in conflicts with some Pentecostal sectors. The taking of Pentecostal temples produced a thoroughgoing ideological and political break between Sandinismo and Pentecostalism. Broad Pentecostal sectors began promoting resistance to the ideology and organization pushed by the Sandinista government, searching for alternative and parallel experiences in society.
It is worth mentioning some additional historical elements that are not part of the survey but also reflect the character of Protestant-FSLN relations. No other President before Daniel Ortega, nor any other government before the Sandinista government, had such a close relationship with Protestants.
President Ortega and many other FSLN National Directorate members attended Protestant religious services and evangelical campaigns, such as that of the Puerto Rican preacher Yiye Avila, as well as activities sponsored by Protestant organizations such as CEPAD, CNPEN, the Evangelical Committee for Social Responsibility (CEPRES) and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Center for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS).
In addition, some churches were able to organize worship ceremonies in the jails and to baptize prisoners. Many pastors, mainly in the war zones, joined the Reconciliation and Peace Commissions. President Ortega chose Father Gustavo Parajón, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Managua, as a distinguished citizen to serve on the National Reconciliation Commission, created in the framework of the Esquipulas peace negotiations.
During the Sandinista government, more Bibles were distributed and sold in Nicaragua than under any previous government. Another important concession benefiting many Protestants was the exemption of pastors and theology students from the draft. The government also facilitated the influx of important foreign donations, principally through CEPAD.
The media, as well as education and religion, can influence and modify society's values and affected not just life in general but also individual political and social attitudes. The survey shows that an equal percentage of those interviewed read the pro-Sandinista El Nuevo Diario as read the pro-government La Prensa, though there are differences between denominations.
Comparing which newspaper people read with the question referring to the relationship between the Sandinista government and Protestants shows that those who prefer the FSLN daily Barricada believe that relations between the two groups were good or excellent, while those who read either La Prensa or no newspaper at all believe they were poor.
Regarding the question of whether a Protestant can be affiliated with a political party, while in general opinions are evenly divided between yes and no, again there are significant differences between denominations. The Pentecostal Assemblies of God, Church of God and Four Square Gospel Church all show a clear majority opposing party militancy, while a significant minority in the Baptist and Christ Churches oppose such affiliation. It is thus interesting to note what happens when asked about the possibility of a future evangelical party.
Total positive responses jumped from 50.8% for the previous question to 70.6% with respect to the formation of an evangelical party. Though agreeing with the formation of such a party does not automatically imply a willingness to join it, one can assume that any contradiction about whether or not a Protestant should be affiliated to a political party would disappear if a party were actually created and directed by evangelicals. By approving the creation of an evangelical party, the, majority who responded "yes" are implicitly saying that they have no particular loyalty to the country's current political parties.
Comparing responses by denomination, the Baptists—who voted in their majority for the FSLN—also rejected the evangelical party by a majority. In contrast, only 12.5% of those surveyed from the Assemblies of God rejected the idea. This could mean that denominational factors play a role and that such a party would find its main supporters from among the Pentecostal sectors.
A question as to who they believe can solve Nicaragua's economic problems was asked in order to measure to some degree the political-religious consciousness of the Protestants surveyed.
It is worthy of note that the two most commonly chosen options for resolving the country's economic problems have a religious character, with an evangelical government taking first place and God taking second. The latter was not one of the optional answers provided but arose from the responses of those interviewed. In third place are those who don't know, or perhaps do not see any of the religious or political alternatives as feasible solutions to Nicaragua's problems.
Politics and religion: Coming together It is significant that the evangelical party and God appear so closely associated with politics and the solution to Nicaragua's problems. The old religious dichotomy separating God from worldly things does not appear to be reflected in the contemporary opinions of the Protestants, despite the fact that in Nicaragua's recent history, their ideal was that the state would have religious legitimacy but would be secular.
Nicaragua's evangelical National Justice Party (PJN) was formally constituted on February 22, 1992 in a congress celebrated at Managua's Olof Palme convention center. It is now seeking official recognition. Its leaders assure that if their party does not win the 1996 elections, it will be at least the second most important political force in the country.
"We are not just playing at forming a political party. We will do so, in spite of the undemocratic Law of Political Parties, and we will do what no party has done to date-present the 143 boards from across the country that the law requires for the formation of a party," assures Jorge Díaz, the new party's provisional president. Diaz is a 32-year-old doctor, is married, has three children, is a member of the International Baptist Mission and has no past political experience..
"We will not make alliances with anyone," he says. "The majority of political parties and politicians are disdained by the people, and, thus, [alliances] would reduce our moral authority." In his opinion, the Catholic Church's reaction should be tolerant, and he hopes that the Catholic leadership "understands that every sector needs representation." Diaz has much more optimistic expectations of the Moravian Church. "They would support this project," he predicts. If so, the PJN would have a high percentage of Atlantic Coast votes guaranteed.
"We will base our campaign around human rights and biblical principles, which will guide our government plan," Díaz explains.
"We will speak only of the Bible, of serving the poor,punishing rape, attacking machismo as a factor of familydisunity; that is, of building a state according to the Bible."
According to Díaz, the PJN's goal is to create a government that favors development with no additional tax burdens; that would replace the strong presidentialist system, which aims to substitute God, with a parliamentary system; and which in worried about the demographic explosion and concerned with conserving nature. He says it would be a party similar to that of Jorge Serrano, who, like Fujimori in Peru, won the Guatemalan presidency in large part due to the evangelical vote. Just in the northern districts of Jinotega and Matngalpa, the PJN claims that half of the peasants are Protestants.
The invitation to join the PJN, whose slogan is "We’re all needed here," states, "We who love our country, conscious of Nicaragua's political history in which suffering, pain find struggle between brothers have been paramount, conscious of the loss of moral and spiritual values and lock of an effective leadership, come before you in response to the overriding needs of the nation, bringing a message of hope, full of love, justice and truth with which we hope to see Nicaragua shine through real public participation.”
If an evangelical party were created, if the principal denominations participated, and if it had the support of the Protestants' most qualified leadership, that party could be one of the three key contenders in the country's next elections. The reason is simple: the evangelical population is estimated at some 500,000 people, of whom over 70% believe the country could resolve its problems under an evangelical government.
If a religious party were to accede to government, given the jealousy of the Nicaraguan Catholic hierarchy, the possibility would not be remote that, in some sense, medieval history would repeat itself. In fact, future battles for ideological supremacy could occur between Pentecostalism and Catholicism. That day may not be far off: in April 1992, in northern Nicaragua, there were serious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in the municipality of El Jícaro. A May 28 "Declaration of Evangelical Pastors and Leaders from Northern Nicaragua" signed by more than 40 leaders states that Catholic authorities "have undertaken a campaign that obstructs the human rights of evangelicals, reaching the extreme of organizing religious demonstrations in which people have yelled 'Death to the heretics!' in front of Protestant church buildings and have created municipal laws prohibiting evangelicals from using megaphones...."
It should not be surprising that religion is so bound to political hegemony when it was so for centuries. A religious sector that struggles for political power never discards the possibility of imposing a moralistic fundamentalism on all of society.
Everything indicates that we are coming to the end of an era in which Pentecostals were concerned because politics are "dirty" and invaded religious spaces, opposing Liberation Theology's role. The survey shows that now the opposite is happening: it is the evangelical, principally Pentecostal, churches that would like to enter the political arena.
As the next elections near, we are sure to see pastors carrying out partisan tasks and traditional politicians using religious language to attract evangelical militants. This situation could be exploited even further given the proximity of the end of the millennium, which many will take advantage of to refer to the forthcoming "religious millennium." This is a central Pentecostal doctrine, which speaks of a golden age in which Christ will return to Earth to reign for 1,000 years, together with his chosen people. There is currently, in fact, a theocratic movement in Latin America, led primarily by Earl Paulk, that proposes the need to constitute an international network of Churches of the Kingdom. They speak of preparing the "political conditions" for the coming of Christ, saying that He has not returned precisely because of the need for the right political conditions in the world.
In this context, religious parties could replace traditional parties tied to specific societies or labor unions and broad-based parties such as the FSLN—a game in which political issues lose specificity.
Historically, when politics have been permeated by religion, they have tended to be totalitarian. The effects in Nicaragua of a religious party—of those who assume political activity as if it were religious—could be as unpredictable for religion as for politics.
On the invasion of categories and religious thought in politics, Protestant theologian José Miguez Bonino says the following: "We are witnessing today, all over the world, an awakening symbiosis between religion and politics. Muslim revolutions, the massive participation of conservative evangelical sectors in US politics, the religious pretensions of military governments and the political concerns of base communities in Latin America...all demonstrate in various and conflicting ways the fact that the old connection between religion and politics has in no way disappeared from our so-called secular world."
In this study, we were able to perceive a tendency toward certain socio-political conditioning of religious conduct and even of the contents of one's faith. The society and spirit of the contemporary world determine or shape the kinds of faith that currently exist as well as the actions of the Church, which is now losing some of its fears of the political arena. Religion understood as resignation to the world and society is giving way to a new position about transforming the world: one must ascend politically in order to "reform the world," putting it under Christian administration.
We undertook this study in a country where the economy, politics, culture and religion have gone through profound crises, where the variable of structural changes and the war have had important individual consequences. Given this context of change, the vast majority feels powerless and limited, that its own efforts are not enough either to survive or to live. The response is to deny oneself to make way for the supernatural and God. In this context of shortages and limitations, where an individual must value him or herself and find meaning to life, it was not the revolution but Pentecostalism that offered personal experience and shelter to many. Daily services provided support, strength, peace and joy in the midst of adversity.
The prolonging of the economic crisis and its link to violence, as well as the impact of growing inequalities in income and standard of living between rich and poor, made those with this experience tend to vote for UNO and reject the FSLN. Now they want an evangelical party. Why?
We have generally shown that the Pentecostal congregations are poorer than those of the traditional Protestant churches and, at the same time, the Pentecostal charges are having greater success among the population. One hypothesis is that Pentecostalism reaches the poor masses more because of the relationship between its message, its symbols and the universe of the daily lives of the oppressed. These churches incorporate sacredness into the daily lives of those who suffer all kinds of privation. This corroborates the hypothesis of the majority of sociologists that the poorest and most neglected are the preferential focus of Pentecostal religious programs, and that Pentecostalism is expanding more than the traditional churches. How would many Nicaraguans survive without Pentecostal services or the "miracles" that make them forget their pain?
Pentecostalism was a refuge for the poor anti-Sandinista masses. For the wealthy, the refuge was exile. Those baptized in the first five years of the revolution—years of profound ideological antagonism and serious economic restrictions—show a greater tendency to vote for UNO than those who converted in earlier years. This means that it is not years of indoctrination that determine one's vote, but factors related to one's economic, social and political reality. Members of the Four Square Gospel Church, the poorest of the six denominations surveyed, with lower incomes and educational levels—society's most vulnerable—are those who most voted for change and against the FSLN. If this holds true generally, there is no causal relationship between being Pentecostal and voting a certain way, but rather individuals with a certain prior ideological position who seek Pentecostalism as a religious alternative with which they share an ideological universe.
We hypothesize that, to date, evangelicals have not participated actively in politics as a sector, but that they are now heading in that direction. In previous years, the priority task of the Protestant minority was to consolidate itself, partly to guarantee its quantitative growth but, above all, to built its identity as a sector and as a group. Today, revalued, with a well-defined identity, aware of its capacity and socially and politically recognized as a sector, it is also becoming aware of the importance of building itself politically, moving into the partisan and political realm, both due to its needs as a social sector and as a task imposed by the experience of faith in a given context.
In all of Latin America, there is popular discontent with traditional political parties: they are in crisis and have been unable to resolve the peoples' problems of increasing dependence and poverty. On this impoverished continent, Protestants—the majority of them Pentecostal, poor and neglected—are leading the formation of new political parties.
This topic was debated in the continental consultation on "The Participation of Evangelicals in Political Power in Latin America," in October 1991 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There were at least three basic perspectives: those who defend the formation of religious evangelical parties; those who promote insertion into current parties, demanding ethical values and quotas of power; and those who believe that broad parties of evangelical inspiration should be created, taking advantage of the image, leadership and representativeness Protestants have as a social sector. This latter position seems to be the prevailing line in Nicaragua's recently-formed evangelical National Justice Party.
Only time will tell.