Doing the Lord's Work & Finding True Liberation

In Brazil in the 1980s, I saw evangelicals and Mormons establish churches, often in poor areas, and fill them with enthusiastic parishioners. Experts called it a passing trend w/o local roots. Liberation theology was the future, they said. They were wrong. Evangelical Christianity exploded in Latin America and Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religion in the world, especially in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. We hardly notice one of our most significant trends.

Despite bingo and bake sales, traditional churches are having trouble filling the pews. Meanwhile, the charismatic preachers down the road continue to expand. We have seen it happen in the U.S., but we don't really expect it other places, but it is happening in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The center of Christianity is rapidly shifting from what is essentially a post-Christian Europe to the Southern Hemisphere and Asia. That is where the population growth and coverts are coming from. (To compete, the next pope should be Latin or African)

It will probably be a good thing.

Let me quote from Donald Miller from the source mentioned above:

"One of the first things that happens to a new convert to Pentecostalism, particularly to the men, is that they give up, or at least are told to give up, womanizing, gambling, alcohol, drugs - if they're using drugs - and so forth. What is the impact of that, particularly in relatively poor communities? One result is that people actually end up having surplus capital, at least when compared with their neighbors who are continuing those practices. Where does that surplus capital go? It ends up being invested in their own small businesses - and I could give a lot of examples of that. It ends up being invested in the education of their children. In short, Pentecostals - and this also certainly applies to Mormons and other groups, so it's not exclusive to Pentecostalism - end up having a competitive economic advantage when compared with those who are not abiding by these particular prescriptions.

"There are other interesting angles. Pentecostals very much believe that one should not be involved in promiscuous affairs, that young people should have sex only in marriage and that young women, in particular, should delay sexual debut and delay having children, which often results in their having more education, allowing them to be involved in better employment. And that also, I believe, is one of the reasons we're witnessing upward social mobility in a number of Pentecostal communities."

That was my observation twenty years ago and it seems to be the case more and more. I don't want to lean too heavily on Max Weber, but it does make sense that discipline and a community is useful and particularly important to the poor. Add in protection of property rights and this is the true liberation theology.

We expect rapid change in the U.S. and we talk incessantly about our protean society. We forget that others are catching the same waves. The world will be very different a generation from now, but parts of it might seem sort of familiar to anyone who drives through the American countryside on a Sunday morning.

Posted by Jack at June 30, 2006 9:42 PM
Comment #163789

With the teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic comes internal moral control of behavior. That is the foundation of conservatism.

John adams-
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” —October 11, 1798

It is also why the left works so hard to destroy Christian influence in American society.
If people are controlled internally they are immune to the authoritarian mindset of the busybodies who would regulate every aspect of human existence.

Posted by: traveller at June 30, 2006 10:18 PM
Comment #163792


I’m not so sure that your statement about traditional churches is accurate, depending on your definition of traditional. If you look at a ‘movement’ like that of Saddleback Church, pastored by Rick Warren, you see immense growth. Warren’s book, “A Purpose Driven Life” has been selling grandly.

Perhaps this is a less traditional church, in that it uses contemporary music etc in its worship. But this kind of Christianity seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at June 30, 2006 10:41 PM
Comment #163797

A few comments.

1) “Penecostalism [sic] is the fastest growing religion in the world.” That’s a cheap statistic. Is it “fastest growing” only because Islam and Catholocism, for instance, are already so big that their gains/losses seem small on a percentage basis? Long term, pentecostalism can’t survive because educated classes will reject its overt mysticism. If the developing countries are headed off in a pentecostal direction, what will happen when the emerging middle class tries to unbury itself from a pentecostal society? Maybe we should promote a solid secular development instead.

2) “Pentecostals very much believe that one should not be involved in promiscuous affairs, that young people should have sex only in marriage and that young women,” etc. Sounds like Islam, yet Islam doesn’t always translate into peace and tranquility. Frankly, I’d again prefer to have a bunch of godless Scandinavian prototypes than a pentecostal revival.

3) “Wouldn’t more capitalism be great?” (My paraphrase). Pinochet gave Chile a fair dose of capitalism. Didn’t turn out so well. History suggests that developing countries don’t fare well in laissez-faire environments. The birth pangs are terrible. I think developing countries benefit to the extent they avoid autocratic rule, but it is overly simplistic to equate capitalism with anti-autocracy — of course, laissez-faire = anti-autocracy by definition in the short term, but I’m more concerned about long-term consequences. Capitalist overload exacerbates rich/poor gaps, breeds future terrorists, and discourages folks from relying on non-governmental solutions.

Posted by: Homer at June 30, 2006 11:12 PM
Comment #163798

I guess that would be “catholicism,” not “catholocism.” Don’t tell my wife I can’t type it.

Posted by: Homer at June 30, 2006 11:17 PM
Comment #163799


Scandinavian conversion is not among the options.

Re Chile, it is very much a success story. It is one of the countries that is breaking out of the Latin doldrums.

I don’t see how the statist policies followed by most Latin American states have done very well. That is the long term conseqences.

Read De Soto’s article about property rights. Latin America doesn’t protect them enough. Of course that is off topic a bit.

The fact of the religious transformation is the interesting part. It may be true that in the longer term people will drift from the charismatic religion, but in the short term it will probably benefit the local economies.

Liberation theology and more state run solutions are not the way to go.

Posted by: Jack at June 30, 2006 11:23 PM
Comment #163803

I agree that neither liberation theology nor autocratic solutions are desirable. But “pentecostalism” is hardly a solution, either. A) It can’t be imposed. B) Even assuming that pentecostalism has some short-term economic benefit (which I doubt, and it will take a hell of a lot more than airy anecdotes and wistful remembrances of Max Weber to convince me otherwise), the economic gains would be the seeds of pentecostalism’s own destruction.

The real solutions are those that help developing countries manage the development. Of course, the difficulty is in “managing” without “dictating,” because dictatorial power corrupts just as much as excess capitalism corrupts. I’m just saying that the efforts — and they need to be long-standing, grueling efforts — should be on promoting managed development, rather than on crackpot theories of pentecostal revivalism.

Posted by: Homer at June 30, 2006 11:41 PM
Comment #163804

P.S. On Chile, Pinochet’s brand of capitalism was a horrible failure. He catered to the rich and the banana crowd and it was a mess. Chile’s best years have been after reforms were implemented which contributed to educating the masses of lower- and middle-class Chileans.

On de Soto, I don’t have anything particularly against what he says. Market solutions are proven to be the best, most flexible, and most responsive. Again, they just have to be “managed” to curb capitalism’s excesses. I don’t hate markets, just free markets.

Posted by: Homer at June 30, 2006 11:52 PM
Comment #163806

The Pentacostalism is coming from below. The discipline of the religion and the The mutually helpful community helps progress. It is hard for a person to remain poor, if he gives up those bad habits mentioned above, works reasonably hard and is a member of a supportive community.

Latin America’s great problem has been statism and lack of secure property rights. The authorities have always felt free to seize what they want and the poor almost never have a clear title to anything they own. The redistributive solutions do not work and in fact make things worse because they perpetuate uncertainty.

In Latin America, many of the poor “own” businesses in everything except in the legal sense because government makes it nearly impossible for them to legally establish a business. The government could give them title to what they already own by their work. And then let them sell if they so please. The free market, which includes market mechanisms, the rule of law (including property rights) and reasonably democratic government, is what works best.

Posted by: Jack at July 1, 2006 12:01 AM
Comment #163808


Brazil is third world country that is predominately Catholic. Are saying converting from Catholicism to Pentecostal will raise them out of poverty, strengthen capitalism, educate people and build communites. Just converting from one Christian Faith to another?

Posted by: Stefano at July 1, 2006 12:07 AM
Comment #163809


We are writing at the same times.

Re Chile, Pinochet privatized many of the state firms and made the rest run according to market principles. It was the wrong way to create a free market, but it did create a free market and that has been a great benefit.

All markets are managed. The should be managed, however, through rule of law and not subject to the caprices of politics. Beyond that, durable and transferable property rights are the key to most progress.

I do not use the word “capitalism” because that does not describe any system we have. The term is largely used in opposition to communism. But the two are not counterparts. The Free market is pragmatic. If the market works, a good free market guy uses it.

Posted by: Jack at July 1, 2006 12:09 AM
Comment #163811


I believe the competition among faiths and the choice it gives people will be a good thing for Brazil and other Latin Countries. It will make everyone sharper.

I would not want to change everything. Parts of Brazil and parts of Latin America are very well run and there has been much progress in many places. One of the best run cities in the whole world is Curitiba in the Brazilian state of Parana and Brazilian firms such as Varig and CVRD are superbly managed. But the poor are left behind. These kinds of religions help the poor find discipline and community.

BTW -I am glad that liberation theology went into the garbage pail. That was really retrograde.

Posted by: Jack at July 1, 2006 12:16 AM
Comment #163815

“The free market, which includes market mechanisms, the rule of law (including property rights) and reasonably democratic government, is what works best.”

With the exception of the “free market” part, I agree. I only add that societies do better when the middle class is taken care of. The critical point being that the middle class is not taken care of in a “free market,” and was not taken care of in Chile until after Pinochet’s economic crises in the early 80s. In any event, notice that the keys to societal success involve economic policies and a fair and broad distribution of national wealth. They have nothing to do with some glib hope about getting the right religion in place.

Finally, you want markets managed through the “rule of law” but not “the caprices of politics.” Sounds like a mighty fine distinction. “Rule of law” must refer to programs enacted by the politicians you like; the other guy’s programs are capricious.

Posted by: Homer at July 1, 2006 12:27 AM
Comment #163819


Caprice for me just means changing the rules too often or changing rules to benefit or harm particular groups or individuals. Laws should be predictable and broadly in tune with society, i.e. you should have some idea that you are breaking the law w/o having to check the statute books in great detail. When governments enact foolish laws, people are invited to break them.

Re market - No government has been able to repeal the law of supply and demand. Market forces constrain government policies. It is not a matter they can choose. I think of it like water running down hill. If you recognize that it must run down hill, you can probably divert it somewhat to the left or the right, but making it run up hill is a real problem.

The point is that a good free marketer figures out what is possible and then figures out how he can make it work more the way he wants. A statist figures out what he wants and then tries to impose it whether or not conditions warrant.

Posted by: Jack at July 1, 2006 12:39 AM
Comment #163823

Well said, but there is nothing “free market” in what you just wrote. The true free marketer would just let the water run, even if all the water ended up in John D. Rockefeller’s personal pond. We’d just have to hope we could buy a sip from time to time.

Posted by: Homer at July 1, 2006 12:48 AM
Comment #163829

Faith makes poverty, ignorance, and exploitation tolerable for billions of people on the face of this earth. Keep the faith, keep the poverty, ignorance and submission to exploitation as well.

It is when people lose faith in divine intervention, and grow violently angry at their deceivers and exploiters, that people actually move to free themselves instead of waiting on providence.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 1, 2006 1:05 AM
Comment #163848


Sometimes that can be true. But in Jack’s original post, he showed that behavioral change can lead people to free themselves of the chains of bad decisions.

In Africa, AIDS is spread in part by behavioral patterns that involve sex. In some parts, newfound religion causes people to change their behaviors and the behavioral changes lead to a reduction in the spread of AIDS. The behavior changes dont seem to happen as often without the change of the heart.

Faith can be misused, in a sense, if it allows one to simply tolerate exploitation, with no gain. Christ toleration mistreatment, but for a higher purpose. I’ve found my faith allows me to tolerate things that are unfair—it does not mean that I am compelled to simply accept them.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at July 1, 2006 5:45 AM
Comment #163867

Makes you wonder how all those heathens in India, athiests in China, and Shintoist in Japan do it. Some of the fastest growing capitalist societies have little to do with Christian theology. Could it be that any group that decides to work together for mutual benefit does better than those that don’t?

“with the teaching of the Judeo-Cristian ethic comes the internal moral control of behavior. That is the foundation of conservatism”

That is pretty selective interpretation of what it means to be a Christian. I don’t see how “consevatism” as it is practiced in america comes close to being christian.

I thought conservatism was based on the country’s founding documents?

but wait those aren’t christian either:

Sorry to be the fly in the ointment.

Posted by: 037 at July 1, 2006 10:26 AM
Comment #163875


I have no problem with much of what you are saying here. There is no doubt that any influence to become more disciplined, more thoughtful, more reasoning and mature in daily practices could help most all of us.

However, I also see a parallel with the Scrooge/Cratchit dichotomy. “…having surplus capital, at least when compared with their neighbors” is not always an admirable goal. Watch out for excesses, in either direction.

Posted by: myles at July 1, 2006 11:26 AM
Comment #163878


Your Bible link has pretty good points. But the Republican party was formed to help end slavery. The Democratic party was slit between North and South. Conservatives support women’s rights as long as they are not radical feminazis designed to change the way men are.

Posted by: stubborn conservative at July 1, 2006 11:47 AM
Comment #163888

There is good and bad in all faiths. We live in a society today where people want to candy coat what faith is all about. People don’t want to hear that you can’t do something that feels good. We live in a society tody that dictates if it feels good do it. This is the type of thinking that is hurting society. I believe In God and Jesus Christ and His teachings, but whatever God others believe in except satanism model their faith after the ten commandments and the teaching of Christ Moslems consider Christ a great profit

Posted by: Rich at July 1, 2006 12:13 PM
Comment #163891

Jack, Homer, et al. Great Post and back and forth. I confess I had to look up protean. This is the kind of posting I love about Watchblog.

I wanted to make a joke about the name Homer, but I was torn between epic writing and “Doh!”

Posted by: gergle at July 1, 2006 12:18 PM
Comment #163895


Discipline, community and purpose in life are important. For many people, that comes through their religion. Very often the poor lead chaotic and undisciplined lives. That is one of the reasons they remain poor.

We are currently witnessing an experiment to see whether a particular religion and attendant behavioral changes will improve the prospects of the poor in Latin America and Asia. Preliminary results seem to indicate a favorable outcome. This is good. That is it. It provides another option.

Speaking of religion and faith, I think people need to find their own way. But clearly some people are undisciplined and rudderless. The world is better off with people of faith. Many of today’s maladies (including AIDS, poverty and violence) are behavioral based. If people abstain from sex outside marriage, they have almost zero chance of contracting aids, for example (if the blood supply is kept secure.) Much domestic abuse is related to drug and alchohol abuse. How to get people to behave better is an age old problem. Religion sometimes addresses it.

Posted by: Jack at July 1, 2006 12:39 PM
Comment #163904

The recent emphasis on evangelical religion has created a more divisive climate to our social network and community. It seems that somehow the conservative right wing element of the Republican party has captured the leaders of the evangelical movement to the exclusion of democrats and others who prefer to adopt and adhere to a more enlightened self governing teaching of morals and religion.

Posted by: john at July 1, 2006 1:10 PM
Comment #163910

It was Christian revival in the 1700’s that kept Great Britain from having the social and polical upheaval that occurred in France. John Wesley and others took religion to the people with outdoor preaching. The results, aside from a whole generation of new Christians, was a culture that created a new middle class, less crime in areas where Christianity took root, more personal income. It was almost all good change! It had less impact on second and third generations, but you’d expect that.

Posted by: Don at July 1, 2006 1:22 PM
Comment #163913


You don’t have to believe in your concept of a diety to be a moral/religious person. The concepts aren’t even mutually exclusive.

I’m a pious Buddhist, and my values are not radically different from my Christian peers.

Posted by: iandanger at July 1, 2006 1:41 PM
Comment #163931


“with the teaching of the Judeo-Cristian ethic comes the internal moral control of behavior. That is the foundation of conservatism”
“That is pretty selective interpretation of what it means to be a Christian”

It’s a statement of Christianity’s effect on the individual, not an interpretation of its meaning.

“I thought conservatism was based on the country’s founding documents?”

It is.

“but wait those aren’t christian either:”

Yes, they are.

Posted by: traveller at July 1, 2006 2:35 PM
Comment #163935


I agree, but America was founded by Christians, not Buddhists.

That Buddhist ethical teachings are very similar to Judeo-Christian ethical teachings doesn’t change the fact that America is grounded on Judeo-Christian morality.

Posted by: traveller at July 1, 2006 2:44 PM
Comment #163975

Great discussion and topic. And yes Rick Warren is held in high regard by Pentecostals and may be one for all I know.

Its indeed his type of church that is growing and the Unitarians and other “liberal” churches that are afraid to offend their menbers, that whither and whither till they are barely still around.

The Homer fellow is something eles, success is failure, failure is success, black is white wrong is right, poverty is prosperity, etc is his motto.

Posted by: Darp at July 1, 2006 5:13 PM
Comment #163991

This may be off topic, but I have always found the Founders’ take on religion most enlightening.

Take, for example, Benjamin Franklin’s response to Thomas Paine upon being asked to critique Paine’s “Age of Reason.”

After considering Paine’s ability to live a moral, virtuous life in the absence of organized religion (Paine was a Diest), Franklin said the following:

“But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from their vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it until it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security.”

I don’t think mankinds changed much over the last 200-plus years.

Posted by: ulysses at July 1, 2006 6:28 PM
Comment #164044

What you say may actually be happening. But it’s not the only religion where it happens. There are many communities that take care of their own that are not Christian, never mind Pentecostal.

Posted by: womanmarine at July 1, 2006 10:31 PM
Comment #164208

But do you see the flaw in your logic? Adams didn’t say you must know the salvation of Jesus Christ in order for our government to function. He simply meant that people must be moraled to the point that they don’t try and take advantage of the natural flaws of democratic government. Remember, since the people can make any law they want, there is danger in losing sight in general ethical concepts.

I have no problem looking on what the founding fathers had in mind when they set up the government, because the concept of sepperation of church and state was intended to prevent the government from favoring any relgion, be it Christianity or any other.

As long as we are still a moral people, we can continue to follow the constitution, Christ, Abraham and Mohammad aside. So I say leave the relgious talk out of politics, and lets talk in empirical terms of potential good. You can talk about how it is somehow immoral for gays to marry, but by the Judeo-Christian bible, so is the consuming of shellfish. Does the success of Long John Silver’s and Red Lobster mean that we are an immoral people, or is the archaic code not entirely applicable to modern society? I say, if eating shellfish is immoral, but it makes those people happy, and doesn’t do any physical harm to others around them (besides the poor shellfish, but i cannot operate my reasoning on the concept of animals being equal to people in all respects, which is what I believe), it is more detrimental to the general good than the harm that is done to those people by not eating the shellfish.

Now, if you could prove that eating shellfish, okay lets call a spade a spade, having consentual sex with and marrying a member of the same sex, actual did harm to society, there would be a case to stop people from pursuing happiness as they find it. But until such a study exists as proves that homosexuality causes other problems, you cannot limit and regulate those people’s choices. That is the whole point of limited government in general, and the 14th amendment in particular, you cannot deprive someone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. And as for the marriage thing, I don’t believe the government should be allowed to tell different religions who’s union they can and cannot consecrate, that is up to each church.

So, if our constitution is based on the judeo-christian theology, it is really only in the fundamental moral principles which are possesed by all moral people, and nearly universal in the mainstream religions of the world. If you believe that Judeo-Christian rules, from their theology, should be allowed to be implemented, then why would those law NOT be written into the constitution. The founders sepperated the constitution from the bible and church because they had seen first had the dangers of religion mixed with politics in England and in the colonies.

So I say, if eating pork is what makes you happy, then go against the Bible. If you are Jewish, feel free to marry someone who isn’t Jewish, even though thats against the rules. Be moral in how you treat other people, but don’t indefinately tie our secular government to a several thousand year old document with social rules for a specific tribe built into it.

Posted by: iandanger at July 2, 2006 12:30 PM
Comment #164300

The posts in this blog are some of the best I have ever read. It’s good to see such honest and open conversation going on.
Just one thing to point the Mormon religion is not a christian religion as we know it. They don’t believe in the same God as Christians. They claim to believe in multiple God’s, and that you to can become a god and rule your own world. They have a famous quote “As man is God once was and as God is man shall become”.They claim that if you follow all of the teachings of the church then when you die you will have your own world to rule over and be the god of it.

Posted by: skypilot at July 2, 2006 4:27 PM
Comment #164360

The statement that America is founded on Judeo-Christian morality comes from the words of the founders themselves.
You’re right that Adams didn’t say the people must know the salvation of Christ, but that they must be moral and religious. People who subscribe to other creeds are also moral.
As I said before, America was founded by Christians, thus, her moral underpinnings are Christian. This simple historical fact doesn’t lessen the worth of other creeds. This is acknowledged in the First Amendment.
Judaism is the foundation on which Christianity rests. Christians are not Jews, however. Christians follow the New Testament, not the OT.
Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, removing the dietary restrictions and other requirements of the OT. Your shellfish and pork analogies show that you don’t understand the Bible or Jesus’ role.
The founders wrote the First Amendment to protect religion from the corrosive influence of government, not the other way round.

Posted by: traveller at July 2, 2006 8:01 PM
Comment #164413

Good post. Traveller, you’re on the mark in your assessments. Liberation Theology is like Grape Nuts. Just as that cereal is neither grape nor nut, so is Liberation Theology neither liberating nor a theology at all. I went to college at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and the crackpot professors we had there (several of whom are on the Vatican’s blacklist for teaching heresy) loved liberation theology. It is nothing more than Marxism with the trappings of Christianity thrown on almost as an afterthought. Statism and the infiltration of communist ideology is the true problem of South America. Despots like Chavez try to dictate a state solution to problems without instilling any level of self control in the population.

I don’t know if Pentecostalism is the solution, but it if it works, then so be it. This is coming from a Catholic. I don’t buy into some of the more extreme forms that Pentecostalism has taken, such as holding snakes or speaking in tounges, but Christian morality, if lived truly as Christ intended, leads to happiness.


Great point about the candycoating of religion nowadays. Religion is despised by moral relativists because religion offers absolute morals. The fact that these morals lead to behaviors that are positive is of no concern to secularists.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 3, 2006 3:32 AM
Comment #164471


You will have to provide me direct scriptural evidence that Jesus abolished dietary codes, because I have never found any. Jesus did change the mark of the covenant of the lord from a physical convenant marked by circucision, to a spiritual covenant. He also remedied the necessity of sacrifices, but these were not originally G*d’s law, they were give to the Hebrews because they were disobedient.

No where in the New Testament does Jesus say the dietary laws of G*d are removed, and since Jesus and G*d are the highest sources, I do not believe the law against eating unclean meats was ever removed.

Bring me your quotations, I’ll bring you mine.

Posted by: iandanger at July 3, 2006 12:06 PM
Comment #164504

The ancient Hebrews divided law into three categories-ceremonial, civil and moral.
The dietary codes were ceremonial laws. Their purpose was to prepare the people for the Messiah. These laws, therefore, were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Since the Messiah has come and Christians aren’t Jews, Christians aren’t bound by Jewish law.

Posted by: traveller at July 3, 2006 1:59 PM
Comment #164674

You are wrong about this, the dietary codes were moral, not ceremonial.

It is demonstrated by the fact that the early church under saint peter practiced the dietary codes. Also by the fact that revelations makes specific reference to violating gods dietary codes as one of the things which will anger god into the end times.

What is your proof they were ceremonial?

Posted by: iandanger at July 4, 2006 3:57 AM
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