It’s not about the ships.

The important thing is how cargo gets from one part of the world to another.

Sometimes the best way is on a ship that passes through the Canal.  But not all cargo stays in ships as it goes through the Canal.   The canal administration understands that is a node in a flow of global commerce from everywhere to everywhere.  The canal is an important part of Panama’s brand:  “Bridge of the World, Heart of the Universe.”

Panama is about connectivity between humans.   But the Canal doesn’t produce the Continue reading “PANAMA”PUENTE DEL MUNDO, CORAZON DEL UNIVERSO””

Latin America as mission field: Postcards from the Hotel Tivoli

I went to Panama for the Global Consultation of the Mission Commission, of the World Evangelical Alliance.

To help the participants from 80+ countries who will meet in Panama, October 3-7, 2017, I wrote this little piece as background from a previous Consultation: the Panama 1916 Congress on Christian Work in Latin America

The  2016 Global Consultation of the WEA Mission Commission took place in Panama City October 3-7, 2016, around the theme of “Polycentric Mission”.  The place chosen for this major missions consultation invokes the memory of an earlier event in modern mission history: the Congress on Christian Work in Latin America (CCWLA), held in February 1916 at the Tivoli Hotel, pictured above. Continue reading “Latin America as mission field: Postcards from the Hotel Tivoli”

Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Oakland, CA

A few weeks ago my student Mario invited me to the ninth birthday celebration for his church in Oakland where he is a leader in training.


The church is made up of immigrants from just one village in Guatemala:  Todos Santos Cuchumatán.

That Sunday at Iglesia Eben-Ezer, I thought about the meaning of the gospel in light of a gathering of 800 Mam speaking Christians in Oakland.  Their story signals a surprising and dramatic reversal in the direction of Christian mission and it should affect how we understand the gospel. Continue reading “Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Oakland, CA”

Representing Protestantism in Latin America

Representation is a way of structuring knowledge.  A recent report on Religion in Latin America, the Pew Research Center does just that, by structuring a story of religious change in Latin America as if the fundamental move Latin Americans is from Catholic practices to Protestant beliefs.  This representation was also published in Spanish and Portuguese.

As far as doing what a representation should do, this report is already “structuring knowledge” as is evident by the many citations in magazines and newspapers. Christianity Today entitled its blog post Here’s What Protestants in 18 Latin American Countries Believe and Practice.  AP place on the newswire information that Latin America Catholics steadily leave faith.  Some Latin American evangelicals and some American missionaries have used it as if it is a call to a victory celebration.

Knowledge of phenomena is necessarily limited and includes with in it, the perspective from which it is viewed.  Representations are like photographs.  Only part of the scene is captured, and only from the perspective of the lens.  What is left out, how much the picture was posed or staged, why the particular part of the event/scene was chosen, are lost.  Other photographs may portray an event in an entirely different, maybe even contradictory, light.  Neither is false, but neither is true, either.  Representations do have real effects, though.  So the work of structuring knowledge can be evaluated as to whether it is done responsibly as much as it is evaluated by how accurate it is.

Pew’s representation of Religion in Latin America is structured to portray a knowledge to US Americans who suffer from the idea that Latin America is monolithically Roman Catholic.  That idea was never really really true, and it is less true today than it ever was, despite the selection of a Latin American as Pope Francis.   The structure of the knowledge presented in the report is aimed at people who are woefully uninformed about religion in Latin America.  It is aimed at correcting American myths and misconceptions.  In that sense the report takes its responsibility seriously.

But the way it also structures the information in ways that promote many more misconceptions.

A more complete reflection of the issues and dynamics that move Latin Americans religiously might have been more accurate and more responsible at the same time. The use of the identities “Catholic” and “Protestant” is where the report’s problems begin. The only indication it gives that Catholic and Protestant might not actually reflect the full spectrum of religion as actually lived and engaged by Latin Americans was a “tip of the hat” to Afro-Caribbean practices. The report does not even acknowledge the huge new movements that are neither Catholic nor Protestant: IURD — Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, for example, the veneration of Guadalupe, or the resurgence of pre-colombian spiritualities.

It is lacking in criteria for answering “What drives religious practice and change in Latin America?”  More useful might be an answer the question: “what difference does Latin American Christianity make for the world?”

In this report, Latin America is portrayed as a continent in the process of adapting to global categories, rather than a continent that creates new categories and has a voice in the religious experience and commitments of all humanity. This bias is particularly evident when it uses “US Hispanics” in a way that implies that Latin Americans realign their beliefs when they come to the USA, rather than exploring the influence of Latin American Christianity on the religion of all in USA.