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Most Hispanics believe they can influence public affairs, but only 22 percent receive encouragement from their religious leaders to get involved in specific social, educational, or political issues, according to a recent study.

"Our research found that 62 percent of Latinos want their churches or religious organizations to become more involved with social, educational or political issues, but only 22 percent had actually been asked by their church, religious organization or leaders to participate in these kinds of activities," study project manager Gaston Espinosa says.

There is therefore a disconnect between what Latinos are willing to do and what their leaders are asking them to do, he says. "This represents a tremendous opportunity for Latino religious leaders if they are willing to seize the moment."

In the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life (HCAPL) study, released last month, shows 58 percent of surveyed Latinos expressed interest in politics and public affairs, and 54 percent said they believe they have a say in government decisions.

"Many people think that because Latinos come from countries where the governments are often repressive that they would thus shy away from social engagement here in the United States," Espinosa says. "This is not the case. In fact, Latinos want their churches to become more involved in social, educational and political issues, although less so in politics."

Not that Latino church leaders are unaware of the potential in their pews. Preliminary findings announced last summer indicated most Hispanic religious leaders would like their congregations to be more active in public affairs. Jesse Miranda, founder of Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos ...

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