Religion in Latin America appears to be taking on some aspects of European secularity and U.S. culture wars, according to two reports.
In the Christian Century (March 12), historian Phillip Jenkins writes that increasingly several countries in Latin America show a drift in religious affiliation and values that bear some similarity to the U.S. and even Europe. Jenkins acknowledges that there are conflicting signs about the vitality of religion in most Latin American countries. A country such as Brazil has experienced a Pentecostal upsurge, but at the same time there is a growth of the non-affiliated (up to nine percent), with the percentage of “nones” being highest among those under 20.
Jenkins writes that several Latin American countries’ liberalizing family patterns, seen in their falling fertility rates to below replacement levels (including Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and in the near future Argentina), mirror this trend in secular Europe. Likewise, the advance of gay marriage (already legal in Argentina and likely to be accepted soon in Uruguay and Brazil) and pro-choice policies on abortion (al-though this is a more mixed picture) suggests that churches may soon be engaging “rear-guard actions” to fight such liberal reforms.
Jenkins adds that countries such as Colombia and Brazil are a long way from European secularization, but “we can foresee the emergence of a triangular political setup involving Pentecostals, Catholics and secularists and a constantly shifting balance of coalitions and alliances.” The issues surrounding gay marriage and abortion in Brazil have increasingly taken on the tone of American-style “culture wars”—both among the secular left and the evangelical right.
Public Eye (Winter), a left-of-center newsletter that monitors the religious and political right, reports that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has recently opened a Brazilian branch after opening offices in Eastern Europe and Africa. Along with supporting human rights and religious freedom, the ACLJ has sought to defend the rights of Christians in terms of pro-life and anti-gay rights activism.
The opening of the center takes place at a time when the Brazilian gay rights movement has taken the offensive in promoting a bill that would make “homophobia,” or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, an aggravating factor in hate crimes, assaults, and hate speech. While many Latin American evangelicals lean left, even on issues like gay rights (compared to U.S. evangelicals), they have viewed the anti-discrimination movement as a threat to their freedom of expression and religious freedom in preaching on homosexuality and other controversial issues—one reason why the ACLJ branch has been formed. Writer Jandira Queiroz notes that that both sides of the conflict over gay rights in Brazil accuse each other of undue U.S. influence.
(Public Eye, 1310 Broadway, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144)