Latino Pentecostals in America

Faith and Politics in Action

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Gastón Espinosa
  • Cambridge, MA: 
    Harvard University Press
    , August
     2014.
     520 pages.
     $35.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780674728875.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The 2016 US presidential primaries placed Latinas/os at the center of the political conversation regarding immigration and racism. Considering the evangelical vote and the number of pentecostals as an important and growing subgroup, many continue to wonder about the political leanings of the Latina/o constituency within these churches. Due to the perception of a seemingly otherworldly spirituality that is disinterested in secular issues, Latina/o pentecostals have often been misjudged as apolitical. Gastón Espinosa’s Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and Politics in Action challenges this flawed assessment by providing a portrait of the leading Latino pentecostal denomination: the Latino Districts of the Assemblies of God (AG).

Espinosa intends to fill the lacunae in studies of Latino/a pentecostalism by providing a long-awaited history of Latina/o ministries within the Assemblies of God. Indeed, the AG Latino Pentecostal church has grown immensely since the printing of Victor De Leon’s self-published The Silent Pentecostals in 1979, which for a long time was the only history of Latino ministries within the denomination. To understand the big boom in AG membership, consider that AG Latino districts grew from one in 1956, to four in 1971, but today stand at fourteen. Furthermore, their congregations multiplied remarkably from 65 in 1930 to about four hundred in 1971, but then to 2,665 in 2014! This of course coincides with the phenomenal growth of Latinas/os in the US in general, but more significant is the fact that in the last twenty years, half of the total growth in membership within the AG church has been Latino (5). Witnessing this huge demographic shift and the lack of a full-blown published history of the movement, Espinosa aims to document how this community has “struggled over the past 100 years to exercise voice, agency, and leadership in the Assemblies of God, in Latino Pentecostalism, and in American public life” (13).

Aside from being an important and much-needed history of a leading Latino pentecostal denomination, this book provides a microcosm of Latino Pentecostals in the United States by highlighting their social and political dimensions. Thus, although the title seams like a misnomer in that a single denomination is studied, this is a case study that is broadly representative of the wider Latino pentecostal community. Three valuable contributions this book makes in this regard are: (1) establishing the transnational origins of AG Latino pentecostalism; (2) documenting the significant role of women in AG Latino ministry; and (3) demonstrating the ongoing involvement of AG Latinos in politics and immigration reform. Given the presence of Latino pentecostals within the greater evangelical community, this book makes a great read for anyone desiring to understand the historical origins, numeric growth, civic engagement, and political attitudes of an increasingly important sector of the United States’ demographic.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Sammy Alfaro is Assistant Professor of Theology at Grand Canyon University.

Date of Review: 
July 24, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gastón Espinosa is Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College.

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