Latino Protestants in America

Growing and Diverse

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Editor(s): 
Mark T. Mulder, Aida I. Ramos, Gerardo Martí
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Rowman & Littlefield
    , March
     2017.
     218 pages.
     $38.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781442256545.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse addresses the unprecedented expansion of Latino Protestantism in the US. Masterfully interweaving threads of ethnographic accounts, survey data, journalistic work, historical scholarship, and occasional theological references, three sociologists—Mark T. Mulder, Aida I. Ramos, and Gerardo Martí—depict the colorful tapestry that is Latino Protestantism in the US. As directors and researchers of the Latino Protestant Congregations Project, a national qualitative study covering a broad range of congregations, the authors situate their perspectives on-the-ground.

The book’s treatment of ethnic identities within Latino Protestant congregations is among its greatest theoretical contributions. The stage is set in chapter 2 for understanding Latino Protestant identities, where the authors chronicle Latino Protestantism’s longstanding presence in places such as the Southwest and Puerto Rico. In chapter 3, the contributors forcefully denounce an ethnoracial essentialization prevalent within scholarship on Latino religions. Describing Latino congregational gatherings as “fiestas” exemplifies those concerns. Instead, in chapter 4 the authors discuss how congregations engage the notion of ethnicity, noting diverse approaches across sites. Some Latino Protestant congregations fashion an ethnic identity around initiatives combating racism and inequality. Others downplay particularistic Latino identities, emphasizing a multicultural, multiethnic congregational identity. Still other congregations craft an ethnic identity that centers the experience and preferences of Spanish-speaking, Latino immigrants in an “all-encompassing” manner. Finally, many downplay ethnic distinctions altogether, and instead emphasize a Christian identity. These varied approaches to ethnicity contribute to diverse worship practices within Latino Protestant congregations. The proposed typologies speak not only to scholarship on Latino religions, but also to general understandings of ethnic and immigrant religions.

Rather than present Latino Protestantism as monolithic, the authors consistently parse out differences between Mainline, Evangelical, and Pentecostal streams; chapter 6 on “political and social engagement” is especially detailed in this regard. Reviewing various surveys, the authors note that Evangelicals generally espouse more conservative views than Mainline affiliates, at times mirroring divides in the broader US population. For example, 70% of Latino Evangelicals state that abortion should be “mostly or entirely illegal,” whereas only 46% of Mainline coethnics respond in similar fashion (118). Comparable opposition to same-sex marriage also emerges among Latino Evangelicals—between 66% and 79%, according to multiple studies (115). The authors note that Mainline coethnics who are non-weekly attenders are “more supportive of same-sex marriage” (116). While Pentecostals often function as a sub-set of Evangelicalism, the authors indicate that on some social and political issues a segment of Latino Pentecostals proves to be more liberal than their Evangelical coethnics. The authors compare these varying Protestant streams to their Catholic coethnic counterparts—and to white coreligionists—to locate Latino Protestants within the broader US religious constellation.

The relationship of Latino Protestantism to Catholicism is a critical topic engaged by the authors. Latino Protestantism counts a substantial number of Catholic converts within its ranks and the authors spotlight rationales provided by these converts for leaving their former faith. Religious conversion emboldens a sharp contrast between Evangelicals and Catholics according to the volume. Drawing from their own qualitative data, the authors note that many converts  attribute their detachment from Catholicism to a lack of understanding about Catholic practices and to dissatisfaction with Catholic Bible teaching. Some converts echo previous studies in pointing to Protestantism’s capacity for fulfilling personal preferences toward more emotionally expressive forms of worship. On the other hand, the authors note that some churches—usually Mainline—are more accommodating to Latino Catholic practices. For example, in one case study Latino parishioners reported that they were initially under the impression that their Episcopal church was Roman Catholic. While the authors devote a specific section in chapter 3 to conversion away from Catholicism, contrasts between Latino Protestantism and Catholicism are made explicit throughout the volume. The historical role of Catholicism in shaping Latino ethnic identity is discussed at length.

There are several limitations in the volume that readers should be aware of. The breadth of sources employed by the authors is laudable, but in a few instances, what appears to be first hand ethnographic data turns out to be secondary data; such cases are clearly cited, so this critique is primarily stylistic. In addition, though the study is national in its scope, there are key metropolitan areas meriting further attention. For example, additional congregational case studies from the metro New York City area or from sites in Florida would expand demographic analyses. How might a greater representation of Afro-Latinos add to the conversation of ethnoracial identities, for instance? Furthermore, some of the authors’s points regarding political engagement are worth reconsideration. While the authors argue that Protestants have a higher degree of civic engagement than Catholics, some forms of engagement such as protests and grassroots, neighborhood-based organizing receive sparse treatment. Finally, with much attention given to Protestant growth, little room is devoted to questions of Protestant disaffiliation. Certainly, Protestantism has grown among Latinos, but so has disaffiliation. Though the volume acknowledges these trends as parallel, it would have been helpful reading the authors’ thoughts on Latino Protestantism’s relationship to religious disaffiliation.

Despite any limitations, there is no current text that engages with the wide array of scholarly voices on Latino Protestantism brought forth in this volume. The authors’s engagement in the field makes the book current and timely. While the text does not claim to provide the final word on Latino Protestantism, what it provides is of greater importance: the book makes clear directions worthy of continued and concerted attention in the study of Latino Protestantism. As such, this work is valuable to anyone wading through the numerous opinions on Latino Protestantism and seeking an empirically based, socio-scientific presentation of current research. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jonathan Calvillo is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University School of Theology.

Date of Review: 
March 22, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark T. Mulder is professor of sociology at Calvin College and co-director of the Latino Protestant Congregations Project. He is author of Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure and numerous articles. His writing has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association and the Associated Church Press.

Aida I. Ramos is assistant professor of sociology at George Fox University and research fellow with the Latino Protestant Congregations Project. She has published articles in a range of journals, including the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Gerardo Martí is L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College and co-director of the Latino Protestant Congregations Project. He is the author of several articles and books, including Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation. He is currently editor in chief of the journal Sociology of Religion.

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