Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and politics
Harvard University Press £25.95
Church Times Bookshop £23.35 (Use code
THIS magnificently researched book about the Latino contribution
to the American Assemblies of God (AG) brings to public
consciousness a minority whose history has been overlain by what
Gastón Espinosa calls the European-American history of
Pentecostalism in North America, including Puerto Rico.
The research has been difficult, because Latino Pentecostals
were not interested in history, and the material was fragmentary.
Moreover, Espinosa had to set the scene in the constant fissures
within early Pentecostalism, beginning with its origins in variants
of Methodist holiness traditions, and dealing with the black
preacher William Seymour, as well as the segregationist and British
Israelite Charles Parham.
Any movement with paradigmatic origins in California has to be
more than a fusion of white and black revivalist traditions. It is
bound to include Hispanics or Latinos among the early converts and
carriers of the message, and Pentecostalism, especially faith
healing, was always likely to resonate in Hispanic, especially
Mexican, culture. Moreover, the AG has of recent years expanded
among Hispanics rather than whites, and it reflects "the browning
AG Hispanics pursue proper representation inside the
denomination, and recollect "Gringo" leaders, such as Henry C.
Ball, back in the inter-war period, who promised more recognition
than they were willing to deliver. Nevertheless, Hispanics proved
their competence, and Espinosa endorses the view that participation
in the AG leads to empowerment and leadership.
In national politics, the AG is big enough, especially in the
south-west, to be courted by both Democrats and Republicans. It
resembles the black constituency in inclining to the Democrats,
especially on migration issues, but differs from the black
constituency in that a prevailing moral conservatism among AG
members made significant numbers responsive to George Bush's
overtures in 2000 and 2004. Barack Obama wooed them back, but they
remain politically labile enough to warrant cosseting and
conspicuous acts of public recognition.
The failure of John McCain and Mitt Romney to follow up
President Bush's overtures cost them AG support, but President
Obama wobbles between recognition and disappointing performance.
The AG constituency rejects the liberal moral agenda, on, for
example, gay marriage. But AG women, though unresponsive to
middle-class feminism (in spite of facing gender marginalisation in
Latino culture), have a sense of "liberation", and of some progress
in the denomination. They were granted full ordination half a
century before their sisters in mainstream Protestant
The Revd David Martin is a Fellow of the British Academy,
emeritus professor of sociology at the LSE, and a non-stipendiary
minister at Guildford Cathedral.