Sunday, February 06, 2011

Growth of evangelical Christianity in El Salvador

In an article this week, The Economist magazine writes about the growth of evangelical Christianity at the expense of the Catholic church in El Salvador:

More recently, the Catholic church’s conservatism has shrunk its flock. Edgar López Bertrand, the founder of the Friends of Israel, says he could not become a Catholic priest because his parents were divorced. Now, the crowd outside his church includes teenage couples and not a few miniskirts. (Should relationship problems arise, the church offers a book called “Help! I’m married”.) The gospel of prosperity, recklessly preached by some evangelical outfits, goes down well in poor countries: Costa Rica and Panama, twice as rich as their neighbours, remain strongly Catholic.

Proximity to America has spurred the churches’ growth. “Everything we know comes from the United States,” says Edgar López Bertrand Jr, who runs Friends of Israel with his father. Media savvy is one useful import: his church broadcasts on television and radio, and sells DVDs alongside religious books.

The United States provides missionaries too. Across the region, groups in matching T-shirts build schools and lavatories in the name of God. Honduras alone receives 50,000 a year.
The decline in membership in the Roman Catholic church in El Salvador and the growth of evangelical Christian churches has been reported before. A comprehensive public opinion poll by the University of Central America in 2009 looked at that trend and many others reflecting the practice of religion in El Salvador. At this point, barely half of Salvadorans identify themselves as Catholic.  Despite the drop in regular worshipers in the Catholic churches, its influence is still significant. The archbishop of San Salvador's press conferences each Sunday are reported in all the media, and the church's views still impact public policy.

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