Saturday, March 07, 2009

The candidates and the churches

One aspect of the campaigns of El Salvador's presidential candidates is their interaction with the country's churches, particularly the evangelical churches which are the fastest growing segment of churches in the country.

Rodrigo Avila meeting with evangelicals in Santa Ana.

Funes meets with 600 evangelical pastors.

From what I can observe, the FMLN appears to be more intentional in its outreach. This may reflect the fact that at least some observers felt the evangelical vote in El Salvador went primarily to Tony Saca and ARENA in the 2004 elections. I recently received a copy of an FMLN document distributed to the country's churches. The document is titled "Moral Rescue Plan" with a subtitle "God as the center and engine of the change that is coming. Without morality, there is no hope." The objective of the plan is described as joining hands with the moral forces in the country to confront the evils that afflict the society. The plan describes efforts to work with the churches for rehabilitation of gang members, to stem the disintegration of families as a result of migration, and to combat HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy through teachings of abstinence and sexual fidelity.

The conservative parties stumbled in their relationship with ELIM church, the largest evangelical church in El Salvador. One of the associate pastors at the church, Jose Tomas Chevez, was the presidential candidate for PCN. Yet after the January 2009 elections, the PCN and ARENA cut a deal in which the PCN leadership threw its support towards ARENA and Avila and jettisoned Chevez over his objections. In a statement following the PCN/ARENA deal, the pastors of ELIM church decried the betrayal by the PCN of its presidential ticket. This week, Chevez threw his support behind Mauricio Funes, breaking with the PCN leadership.

At least some churches are resisting being lured into presidential politics. On its website, the ELIM church has a statement noting that the political preferences of evangelicals vary in pretty much the same way as the rest of the Salvadoran population and the opinion of one pastor or another was not going to alter that fact. In November 2008, the Catholic bishops of El Salvador called on the priests in the country to stay out of politics during this election season. Contrast those positions with the politicized religiosity which David Holiday noted from some churches (supporting the FMLN) in the days before the 2004 elections.



The most prominent religious leader in Salvadoran history, Archb. Romero, said he wanted the church(es) to contribute from their autonomous voice as church, yet a lot of his followers are unable to parse the Christian social message from a purely political message -- I agree with Holiday. This year, the right got a taste of that "autonomous voice" in the person of Pastor Chevez. I think his abortive foray into politics will probably top my religious stories this year. It seems that Chevez has fulfilled the vision of Archb. Romero, of a truly independent church conscience, and everyone ought to take note and realize it's a delicate balance when you try to say "deus vult" -- 'God wills' this or that political outcome.

Solavá said...

I read with surprise and some amusement the FMLN's "Moral Rescue Plan" until I read Mauricio Funes' letter to the evangelical pastors included with it. In it he says, literally, that this plan is "a great project which is, without a doubt, SUPPORTED BY GOD HIMSELF" ("un gran proyecto que, no tengo la menor duda, es respaldado por Dios").

Not since Moses...

Anonymous said...

Elim Church is not just the largest evangelical church in El Salvador, but at one time was one of the largest evangelical churches in the world, with a congregation some put at over 180,000 members. It is a somewhat legalistic church whose members are taught to be in submission to it's pastors. It is probably not a good idea to make them part of your opposition.

Anonymous said...

Religion should stay out of politics and Politics should stay out of religion. Each has a different and separate mission.

The only time the two should cross is in social programs.

Jeannette said...

I personally hate when I see christian representatives in TV supporting any of the candidates. As Annonymous said: "Religion should stay out of politics and Politics should stay out of religion". Now I understand why the Catholic Church stayed out of the political field, and I admire that position, because I really believe that salvadorean people is as naive as to believe that their priest or pastor's (how you translate that?) opinión is the word of God, and that if that man believes Funes or Ávila is the president chosen by God, they will believe so, too.
Politics is a rational excersise, not a faith issue.