The sale of U.S. arms to Iran, and the subsequent funneling of profits to aid the contra rebels in Nicaragua, returned that Central American nation to the front pages of newspapers across the United States.

But then, Nicaragua has been capturing headlines since 1979, the year dictator Anastasio Somoza was toppled by the Sandinista revolution. Some observers predicted the Sandinistas’ Marxist orientation would lead the country into totalitarianism, similar to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Others, citing the prominent involvement of Christians in the revolution, said the overthrow of Somoza was a true people’s movement. As a result, they said, the Sandinista leaders would respect human rights.

An Unclear Future

However, it is still unclear today where the revolution is headed. Of major concern to Christians outside Nicaragua is the way the Sandinistas have treated the church. While three Roman Catholic priests serve in the nine-member Sandinista national directorate, Nicaraguan Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo and Pope John Paul II both have been at odds with the revolutionary rulers. Nicaragua’s Catholic hierarchy has accused the government of trying to co-opt Christians to help consolidate the Sandinistas’ power. Indeed, a segment of Nicaragua’s Catholic church has aligned itself with the “popular church,” which is strongly pro-revolution.

Divisions exist as well within the Protestant community. The Evangelical Committee for Aid and Development (CEPAD), which includes representatives of 46 denominations, cooperates with the government in development work. CEPAD head Gustavo Parajon points to the growth of the church since the Sandinistas took power, saying Protestants now make up 15 percent ...

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