Slouching towards the “American Jesus” – part II

19 11 2009


Up from the rancho, straight into heresy

It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about “Jesus and heaven and being good.” But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is “really important,” and besides, “we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!” That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

Pastor Garay, 48, is short and stocky, with thick black hair combed back. In his off hours, he looks like a contented tourist, in his printed Hawaiian shirts or bright guayaberas. But he preaches with a ferocity that taps into his youth as a cocaine dealer with a knife in his back pocket. “Fight the attack of the devil on my finances! Fight him! We declare financial blessings! Financial miracles this week, NOW NOW NOW!” he preached that Sunday. “More work! Better work! The best finances!” Gonzales shook and paced as the pastor spoke, eventually leaving his wife and three kids in the family section to join the single men toward the front, many of whom were jumping, raising their Bibles, and weeping. On the altar sat some anointing oils, alongside the keys to the Mercedes Benz.

-Hanna Rosin, from the December 2009 issue of the Atlantic

The narrative popular amongst those who reflect on the phenomenon of Christianity in Latin America is that while Catholicism was imposed by Spanish colonialists as the mandatory religion of the people, “Jesus” was never preached to the natives there. Thus, Latin American Catholics, especially the rural, “ignorant” type, were not really Christians, but “Christo-pagans”. Even many Catholics in this country, aghast at the prevalence of “superstitions” among the “brown peoples”, cannot but secretly breath a sigh of relief when such people finally leave Catholicism altogether to enter into the broad movement of Protestant evangelicalism. “At least they are moving past their superstitions and closer to the Jesus of the Gospels” is the thinking behind such a paternalistic attitude.
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