This is an election month in Colombia and megachurch pastor Cesar Castellanos is mixing religion and politics. Castellanos leads the huge International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, an independent, Pentecostal congregation he founded in 1983 with eight people that has grown to more than 100,000 today. But Castellanos is not content merely to be pastor at Bogota's largest evangelical church. On March 8, he became an elected member of the Colombia House of Representatives.
Public service carries considerable risk for Castellanos. Media will closely scrutinize his integrity. In a country where drug trafficking is a major industry, corruption scandals have tainted the reputations of numerous government officials, including that of President Ernesto Samper, who will relinquish the office following presidential elections on May 31. Forecasters expect 60 percent of the nation's voters to stay away from the polls that day because Colombians have come to believe that politics is powerless to solve the country's enormous problems.
Powerless or not, politics in Colombia is incredibly bloody. As happens every election year, numerous candidates campaigning for office have been assassinated. Just as the March congressional race wound down, a pitched battle ignited between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas (FARC) and the Colombian army for control of the southern Caqueta Province. The first three days of combat claimed the lives of 80 soldiers and a like number of guerrillas. The rebels seem to have two objectives: sabotage the electoral process and protect Caqueta's cocaine industry, which helps finance their army.
Why would Cesar Castellanos, one of Colombia's pre-eminent religious leaders, want to get mixed up in a ...1