Peruvian artist Maximo Laura draws on Wari culture and methods inherited from five generations of weavers in his family, teasing out:
his own gods,
his own ghosts
voices in the wind,
and horizons made of a thousand colored fibers.
In dreams and visions, the condor lends its sight and courage to those who will meet with it. And, as I discovered in the Nazca desert, for some Peruvian Christians, it has become a powerful symbol of the holy spirit.
This week's class reading was from Bernardo Campos (2002) Experiencia del Espíritu: Claves para una interpretación del Pentecostalismo, Quito: CLAI. He is a Peruvian theologian, researching pentecostal and indigenous religious movements. What interests me most is the variant connections (total rejection to syncretistic acceptance) between the spirit-focused Pentecostal movement and indigenous religious traditions that make space for communication with spirits, ecstatic experiences, trances, shamanism and prophecy.
I know very little about the Latin American Pentecostal movement. Here's what:
1. Pentecostalism has experienced tremendous growth on the continent. There has also been significant 'drop out' rates as well. It is a dynamic social movement:
Pentecostalism thus expresses a religiosity in mutation, a "culture movement" in constant transformation...Its dynamic lives in a constant process of "evolution and involution" and we find it now in a "charismatic" stage, now in an "institutional" one, or again "latent" in bureaucratic religious societies, and "manifest" in religious societies open to change or in process of transformation. (Campos in WCC discussion group, 2005/6)
2. Political and economic crisis have contributed to the growth of Pentecostalism as a way of escaping and/or dealing with poverty and political oppression. At the same time, some strands of Pentecostalism preach the prosperity gospel (faith will lead to material wealth). While it has traditionally been socially conservative (due to an apocalyptic world view and subsequent rejection of the world, and a suspicion of the predominately Catholic liberation theology movement), there are many sectors that are actively engaged in grassroots social action.
3. The evangelism of North American Pentecostal churches has generated suspicion. Some see Pentecostalism as a tool of American capitalist expansion, others as a genuine force for authentic self-expression and discovery. Many Pentecostal churches retain strong ties with their founding churches in the USA, some are effectively run from North American offices.
4. In some countries, such as Guatemala, Pentecostal churches were manipulated and set against Catholic communities during the civil war. Campos also acknowledges this:
In Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, for example, some local Pentecostals have been used by U.S. neo-conservative and fundamentalist groups to escalate and/or control the political tensions of the region. Often ideological battles are carried out under the guise of religious conflict. What is really at stake is the defense of social identities, political power, and the attempted consolidation of old and new hegemonies. (Campos 1996)
5.In most parts of Buenos Aires, and many other Latin American cities, it is possible to walk past a number of enormous shiny new church buildings paid for in American dollars. The nearest one to me is four blocks away and the glossy posters advertise groups for children, young couples and women's prayer meetings, mimicking the design of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or Harry Potter book.
6. Pentecostal churches tend to be socially and religiously conservative, for example regarding the roles of women and men. At the same time, their focus on lay participation creates spaces for women to speak and participate.
6.There is a general belief that Pentecostals are marginalized in the wider church community and political sphere. In the classrooms and churches, the tradition is often (gently) mocked or stereotyped. And in our discussion, it was only after many generalizations that someone thought to ask the one Pentecostal student present to offer her views.
7.While some conservative Pentecostal churches reject any form of indigenous spirituality, other smaller (and poorer) independent churches have embraced popular religious practices. Campos sees it as a creative movement, liberating Christians from restrictive Western religious practices and hierarchies.
Pentecostalism is the only branch of Protestantism rooted in Latin American "popular religiosity." Witness, for example, the new movement that I call "iso-Pentecostalism" in that it takes its image from Pentecostalism but has a different form of organization. Antonio Gouvea Mendonça in Brazil calls it the "movement of the divine cure." "Iso-Pentecostalism" does away with ecclesiastical organization, teaching of the Bible, the participation of the faithful in worship, even hymnals, in order to focus exclusively on healing, and the sale of "healing objects," quite common in popular Afro-Brazilian religiosity, whence it comes. (Campos 1996)
8. Community and experience are central to Campos’ interpretation of Pentecostal theology. The experience of the presence and work of the holy spirit sustains the life of the community and individual believers. Campos suggests that such ecstatic experiences take the worshiper out of everyday life, but not as a form of escape. Rather, as with mystical prophetic traditions, the dizzying awareness of God’s presence becomes a sustaining, motivating force in the everyday reality of the believer. This intense experience of love offers a new vision, but the path towards the vision is firmly on the ground.
Pentecostal spirituality is the everyday faith experience of real communities whose very identity is wrapped up in the Pentecost. In Latin America, these communities' daily experience is born of crisis, the product of a long process of economic, political and cultural domination; however, this same crisis is perceived as the starting point of a process of hopeful transformation. (Campos 1996)
Back in the desert church, I take a last look at the condor. God's spirit strong and true, nurturing us under soft wings and with piercing vision.
Further resources: Bernardo Campos has a blog but it's in Spanish and has not been updated recently. There is an overview of Pentecostalism in Latin American by Campos on the World Council of Churches website, and a chapter "Pentecostalism, Theology and Social Ethics" by him at religion online - the complete book on Pentecostalism in Latin America, In the Power of the Spirit, Dennis A. Smith and B.F. Gutierrez eds.(1996) is available.