Paul Freston, who teaches sociology at the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil, is an acknowledged expert in the field of Pentecostalism in Brazil and Latin America. His book Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America aims to be a pioneering “comparative study of the political dimensions of the new mass Protestantism of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.” It contains cases from no less than twenty-seven countries on three continents and reviews literature in four languages. Unavoidably, however, as the author himself notes, the cases are rather unbalanced, depending on the available literature and sometimes on personal fieldwork on location. Freston’s key case is Brazil. “Brazil, as the major Third World democracy with a significant evangelical presence, and the second largest evangelical community in the world, could be a guide to what will happen if conditions are favourable [for evangelical political involvement] in some Latin American and African countries.” For Latter-day Saints interested in the growth and development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Latin America, this book raises important issues about the relationship between church and society.
In only thirty years, the Protestant population in Latin America has gone up from 4.4 percent in 1970 to almost 10 percent in 2000. Almost all of this growth can be attributed to Pentecostalism, which in countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua currently makes up over three-quarters of the Protestant community. Starting in the 1970s, competition was strongest between the Roman Catholic Church on one side and the Protestant churches on the other side. Since the 1980s and especially the 1990s, however, religious competition between the various Protestant churches has increased, most notably among the heterogeneous Pentecostal churches and also among the independent Christian traditions, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Latter-day Saints. My earlier research shows that Latter-day Saint growth in Guatemala started in the mid-1980s, right after the Protestant boom of 1976–83, and culminated in 1988–90. Not surprisingly, Protestant hostility (for example, an occasional stone hurled at missionaries and hate mail) toward Latter-day Saints in Guatemala City also increased after 1985.