Tending the 'Stolen' Sheep in Latin America's Booming Bible Belt

For most of the past century, almost all (more than 90%) of Latin Americans were Catholics. But decades of attrition have resulted in a record 1 in 5 Latinos now identifying as Protestants.

Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua lead the way, where Protestants constitute 4 in 10 residents of each nation. But Protestants in those 3 countries diverge on many measures of orthodox belief and practice, according to a detailed survey of 19 Latin American countries and territories by the Pew Research Center.

Guatemala’s Protestants arguably seem the most mature. They are the most likely of all 19 surveyed groups to evangelize weekly (53%), to believe only Christ leads to eternal life (74%), and to exhibit high commitment (75% pray daily, attend services weekly, and consider faith very important). Even their millennials are the most religious (71% are highly committed).

Protestants in Nicaragua and Honduras are more varied. Only 1 in 3 share their faith on a weekly basis. About 6 in 10 are highly committed to church attendance and prayer. On Christianity’s exclusive access to eternal life, only two-thirds of Hondurans and half of Nicaraguans agree. And only 45 percent of Nicaragua’s millennials are highly committed to their faith.

Further, Honduran Protestants are among Latin America’s most syncretistic, with 42 percent exhibiting medium to high engagement with indigenous beliefs and practices (a figure that’s higher than Catholics in most Latin American countries). Nicaraguan Protestants exhibited similarly high levels (35%), but only 24 percent of Guatemalan Protestants are similarly syncretistic.

Demographics don’t explain the differences. On syncretism, for example, only 7 percent ...

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Tending the 'Stolen' Sheep in Latin America's Booming Bible Belt
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January/February 2015

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