Chilean Evangelicals As Cultural Citizens

Reception: May 20, 2020

Acceptance: August 13, 2020


Since the return of democracy, the Chilean evangelical world has undergone important changes, such as the reconsideration of its relations with the military regime, an increase in its socioeconomic and educational level, and the consolidation of its status as a recognized actor in political life. social of the country. These transformations determined the formation of evangelicals as "cultural citizenship" that was clearly aware of their demands, specific rights and the new political activism. At the same time, the Chilean religious field is in a permanent process of diversification, deinstitutionalization and individualization, giving rise to multiple non-traditional ways of expressing beliefs: intradenominational movements, Christian study centers, “Christians without religion”. These new forms of non-Catholic Christianity and their links with the interests and needs of the population demonstrate that their characteristics and identities go beyond the usual division of social actors into right and left, and require the elaboration of a broader conceptual apparatus.

Keywords: , , ,

Chilean evangelicals as cultural citizens

Since the return to democracy, the Chilean evangelical world has undergone important changes, such as the reconsideration of its relationship with the military regime, increase in socioeconomic and educational levels, the consolidation of its status as a recognized actor in the country's political and social life . These transformations determined the formation of evangelicals as “the cultural citizens,” who were fully aware of their demands, specific rights and the new political activism. At the same time, the Chilean religious field is undergoing a permanent diversification, deinstitutionalization and individualization process, giving rise to many non-traditional ways of expressing beliefs: intradenominational movements, Christian study centers, "Christians without religion." These new forms of non-Catholic Christianity and their links to the population's interests and needs show that their characteristics and identities go beyond the usual division of social actors into the left and right, and require the creation of a wider conceptual apparatus.

Keywords: Evangelicals and politics, Christian right, cultural citizens, Christians without religion.

Lhe reading of the article by Dr. Joanildo Burity suggests that, with all the diversity of contexts and theological, political and social particularities that differentiate the “evangelical peoples” in different countries of Latin America, we cannot rule out that there are certain common tendencies among the evangelical-Pentecostal movements of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile. Likewise, it can be observed that during the last ten years in different national contexts, under different socio-political circumstances, a kind of political "awakening" of an anti-liberal evangelicalism has emerged that, in alliance with Catholics, conservative lay people and right-wing political parties, has influence the political-legal agenda in their respective countries and try to expand their supposed monopoly on "absolute moral truth" at all levels of society. It is no coincidence that the arrival of J. Bolsonaro to the presidency in Brazil, supported by a certain sector of evangelicals, not only attracted much attention from his Chilean co-religionists, but also gave rise to some attempts to imitate and perhaps repeat the Brazilian experience.

We share with the author the observation that "evangelicals have become an increasingly attractive movement for broader sectors of social and political, religious or secular conservatism." However, when the researcher talks about Latin American evangelicals as a people, "evangelical people-nation", which seems to be a solid, homogeneous and united actor, he makes us doubt this statement. In the same text, Dr. Burity maintains that "The 'evangelicals' emerge from a profound process of social and cultural pluralization that has changed the face of Latin American societies." We believe that the process of constant “religious movement”, in terms of Hervieu-Léger (2004), division and pluralization of the Latin American evangelical world allows us to refer to this sector not as a “people”, but rather as a “cultural citizenship ”.

In this context, we would like to recall R. Rosaldo's definition, according to which citizenship is not necessarily a universal concept, but is often exclusive: current citizenship has to do not only with the relationship between the individual and the State, but also with the citizen-citizen relationship (1999). For Rosaldo, the main demand of cultural citizenship is the demand of respect: “Cultural citizenship attends not only to the dominant exclusions and marginalization, but also to the aspirations determined by the definitions of citizens' rights, that is, by the needs to be visible, to be heard, to have a feeling of belonging ”(2006: 260).

In the same perspective is the reflection of E. Dagnino, who redefines the concept of citizenship from the cultural dimension, arguing that it should incorporate the contemporary "concerns" of new groups and social minorities: subjectivity, identities and right to freedom. difference. In this sense, in full agreement with the commented text, the demands of minorities for the right to recognition can also be considered as a political act of "non-citizens", in their struggle to build citizenship "from below" (Dagnino, 2006: 89). When Dr. Burity speaks of the evangelical people having their own “demands, voices and agendas”, he clearly agrees with the definition of this religious minority as “cultural citizenship”.

Since the return of democracy (1990), the Chilean evangelical and Pentecostal world has undergone important transformations under the influence of at least three trends. On the one hand, he has experienced the process of mea culpa for the silence that the majority of the churches have maintained on human rights violations during the military dictatorship. On the other, the socioeconomic and educational levels of evangelicals increased significantly. Finally, the trend of increasing pluralization, fragmentation, individualization and deinstitutionalization of churches, forms of belief and ways of expressing religiosity grew, expanded and deepened. For their part, these processes determined the emergence of at least two phenomena that are important for the analysis of the political-social behavior of evangelicals. First, the formation of a great debate about what it means to be a true Christian. Second, the impossibility of making all kinds of generalizations in evangelical studies. As Dr. J. Burity argues in his article, "the evangelical identity is untouchable."

Historically, Chilean Pentecostals (the majority of evangelicals) stayed “outside society”, being one of the poorest, most discriminated and invisible sectors of the country. They considered the political world as false, corrupt and sinful, threatening to "contaminate" with its amorality the "true Christians"; they held apolitical and antipolitical positions, hidden in their own socially and politically passive “refuge”. For its part, Chilean society did not want to “see” Pentecostals, discriminating against them, and they rejected society, discriminating and condemning “worldly Chileans” from their hiding place.

This situation changed after the 1973 coup. An important sector of evangelical and Pentecostal pastors, in their 1974 letter to Pinochet, expressed their gratitude for "having saved Chile from communism" and declared their support for the military regime. Since the Catholic Church moved away from the dictatorship, this evangelical segment, led by the Council of Pastors, filled the legitimation gap, which allowed it for the first time to receive visibility in public space and be heard by the government to demand the same rights and status as the Catholic Church. The letter of support for Pinochet became the first public expression of Chilean evangelicals as a cultural citizen, aware of their demands and their rights.

The support that the Council of Pastors gave to the military government allowed the entire evangelical world as a whole to win its place in the public space. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches achieved their common goal: to obtain the same legal status that Catholicism possessed. They succeeded in 1999, when the Law of Freedom of Worship was approved, which allowed evangelical churches to obtain legal personality under public law. Another sign of the recognition of evangelicals as cultural citizenship has been the declaration of October 31 as the National Day of Evangelical and Protestant Churches (since 2008).

At the same time, the increased recognition and increased presence in the public space increased the political ambitions of certain evangelical leaders. At the beginning of the 90s, some of them expressed that in today's political world there was a niche to represent and defend evangelical interests. To fill this “void”, they insisted on the need to “change our mentality”, “to think that we can actively participate in electoral elections, in addition to the mere vote” and to reach parliament with several deputies and senators, as is the case in Brazil , as held by the Evangelical Magazine in 1993 (Fediakova, 2004).

Those ambitions sparked various signs of "mind-shifting," ranging from attempts to form his own confessional political party (following examples from Brazil and Peru), to the launching of evangelical candidates in presidential elections. This was the case in 1995, when the National Christian Alliance (anc) was declared as an evangelical political party, whose main objective was to obtain the approval of the Law of Religious Freedom. However, in municipal and parliamentary elections the anc It did not act as an autonomous political party, as it presented its candidacies in alliance with the National Renovation, a center-right party1. In 1999 the anc tried to present Pastor Salvador Pino as an evangelical presidential candidate, but, after realizing the unfeasibility of this candidacy2, he transferred his support to the right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín.

These failed political experiences have shown that the evangelical world was too divided to form a confessional party that represented the totality of currents and churches that made up this religious minority. The individualism and personalistic ambitions of pastors and lay candidates have been another obstacle to evangelical unity and its transformation into an autonomous and consolidated political actor. The very diversity of churches made it difficult for them to obtain a single leadership and create a consensual program. The approval of the Law of Freedom of Religion in 1999 took away the raison d'être from the anc and at the same time this ceased to be the only source for the unification of evangelicals. On the other hand, in that decade, the particularity of the Chilean political system, with solid parties and a long historical trajectory, left no space for the formation of new political references that had no experience or recognition. Finally, evangelical candidates in electoral campaigns at all levels failed to convince Chilean public opinion that they had a broad national project that transcended confessional borders, and acted defending only their limited corporate interests (Bastián, 1994, 1997; Cleary and Sepúlveda , 1998). Since the approval of the long-awaited Law, the evangelical world has continued to be very divided, without generally legitimized leaders and, fundamentally, without the ability to form a pole, an idea, a common project. They were not a "people" with established demands and agenda.

Everything changed when a new factor broke into the national agenda that could give impetus to the eventual evangelical unity: the debate on values. In 2004 the Divorce Law was passed. As of this date, the controversy grows over the changes in Chilean legislation regarding the approval of the right to marriage for people of the same sex, the decriminalization of abortion, community rights lgbt, among others. This legislative "liberalization" not only led to a greater consolidation of the evangelical world against the "common enemy" of "amorality", but also caused the unprecedented politicization in the last 15 years of the most conservative evangelical sectors, especially Pentecostals. and neo-Pentecostals, and their approach to the more radical right-wing Catholic and secular political actors.

It is worth mentioning that the "ethical debate" divided the entire national Christian world, both Catholic and Evangelical. But, as we have said, the latter finally found a common cause to act together: to fight against the new laws, "incompatible" with the imperative of being a "true Christian" and to end the "moral crisis" unleashed in the country. From there arose the new possibility of building their own political identity, elaborating the program of Christian conservatism and, possibly, forming new political referents that are different from the traditional parties. This context recalls the political scene in the United States of 1979, when the leaders of Protestant fundamentalism diagnosed a "deep moral crisis" in the country and broke with their apoliticism to form the Moral Majority political movement. The movement's leader, Pastor Jerry Falwell, makes it the cornerstone of the broader formation, the Christian Right, the most dynamic and radical wing of the Republican Party. Considering the influence that American Pentecostal theology has on national evangelicals and the similarity of diagnosis that conservative evangelicals make of the moral situation in Chile, the question arises: is there the possibility that a similar Christian Right is formed in the country?

The “value” agenda had repercussions on the configuration of Chilean political groups and on the process of pluralization of the party system, and reached its maximum expression in the 2017 presidential campaign. For this process, the evangelicals tried to form at least four political parties : Nuevo Tiempo in the North of the country, the Christian Citizen Party and United in Faith, in Santiago, and the National Christian Unity Party in the South, with the intention of presenting the presidential candidacy each. None of these electoral projects were successful and the evangelical political groups failed to register. At the same time, more than twenty evangelical candidacies to the National Congress and one presidential candidacy were raised, all with programs of conservative values.

As we already mentioned, a growing rapprochement between evangelical conservatism was observed3, right-wing politicians with a Catholic spirit such as the Independent Democratic Union (udi) and the conservative wing of the Christian Democrats (dc), based on a strong agenda of traditional values. As in the 1990s, the evangelical candidates established alliances with right-wing parties such as Renovación Nacional and the udi, and they got three seats in parliament, where they formed, always keeping in mind the Brazilian experience, the so-called “evangelical bench”. After the approval of the decriminalization of the Gender Identity Law (September 12, 2018), said sector declared itself “deeply dissatisfied” with the Executive's legislative agenda, rejecting all changes in the legislation on ethical issues. In a similar way to the situation in Brazil, evangelicals for the first time in the history of Chile can obtain the possibility of “postponing legislative changes”, act at another level of political authority and influence the national public debate (Ramírez, 2019) .

Today (July 2020) the national situation is more complex. The social outbreak of October 18, 2019 showed that old political divisions and concepts do not work for Chilean society in general, nor for the analysis of religious groups in particular. The terms "left" and "right" were already insufficient to explain the scale of the transversal crisis unleashed in the country, the dimension of social inequalities and the deinstitutionalization of all traditional structures: political parties, churches, unions, parliament. The fundamental essence of the October explosion was expressed in a word little used by political science: dignity. A concept that turned out to be excluded from the neoliberal economic system and that brought back the demands of social justice.

This leads us to analyze other changes taking place in the Chilean evangelical world that go beyond the left-right dichotomy.

We have already mentioned that one of the main transformations that Evangelicals and Pentecostals have experienced is the marked increase in their educational level. If decades ago in Chilean Pentecostalism aversion to education prevailed and the university was called “the devil”, now pastors send their children to do university and postgraduate studies in Chile and abroad; 40% of evangelical students are the first generation of college students in their families. This has important consequences both for the internal life of the churches and for the ways in which new evangelical and Pentecostal generations express their religiosity.

The entrance to the university constitutes a hard shock for a young “religious”. In this diverse and pluralistic world, evangelicals learn to speak and debate reality not only from the biblical perspective, but from all the diversity of analytical, ideological and philosophical narratives that exist in academia. Therefore, unlike their parents and pastors, young people no longer have trouble “translating religious language” into secular language, which helps them defend and explain their religious identity and life projects. At the same time, the very dynamics of university life encourage evangelicals to strengthen their participation in society, express their demands in student marches (although not all support them), and learn to dialogue with other social, political and religious actors. In the university world they participate in student centers, in interdenominational movements, and learn that the society outside their church is by definition “interdenominational”.

On the other hand, the appearance of first “enlightened” evangelical generations can create problems within the churches. Evangelical college students may express dissatisfaction with the paternalistic climate that exists within their community, question the authority system within their religious institution, the role of the evangelical woman, the lifestyle of their pastor, and possible probity issues. Sometimes educational changes lead to changes in the churches and positions of pastors, but many times they lead to conflicts, bankruptcies and expulsions of protesting university students from their communities. As we have mentioned, the third great trend in the development of the Chilean evangelical world is its increasing fragmentation, individualization and multiplication of ways of expressing its religiosity.

The very concept of "temple" begins to change its meaning. The walls, the solid structures are being challenged by other ways of constructing the religious space: softer, more flexible, aesthetically different. The temple remains standing, but the internal space is no longer enough, just as it is no longer enough to have only religious language. The new evangelical generations seek to "reject" their religion to renew their faith and overcome the limits established by the walls of the sacred building. The church is no longer the only way to express faith, and Evangelicals and Pentecostals increase their participation in Christian study centers, ngo, social networks, multi-denominational movements and electronic magazines. For now, in the process of constant multiplication and diversification of all traditional institutions, the temple remains the main concept that identifies religious identity, but now the church is no longer a building, but the entire world.

Of course, these renovating trends are too recent and in the minority to turn their supporters into social actors of greater weight among the evangelicals themselves. Traditional churches and their groups continue to predominate in the Chilean evangelical-Pentecostal world, and are the main channels of dialogue between the Protestant and the political-governmental sphere. However, we believe that traditional Pentecostalism has to face the challenge of answering the question about the nature of "true Christianity" if it is to maintain its leadership, gain greater public approval, and retain its status as a cultural citizenship capable of expressing and defend your own claims. However, with the political strengthening of conservative evangelical sectors, when in the “post-democratic” context democracy itself is questioned for its “amoralism”, religious cultural citizenships can lead not so much to enriching pluralization and respect for minorities, as for greater fragmentation, cultural isolationism and rupture of the social fabric.


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