Title

"Let your minds be remade": Protestants and politics in Mexico

Date of Award

1998

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

Advisor(s)

Michael Barkun

Keywords

Mexico, Politics, Protestants

Subject Categories

Political Science | Religion

Abstract

Protestants are a rapidly growing sector of Mexican society. If their numbers continue to increase at current rates, Protestants will soon be a potentially significant political force, yet little is known about Mexican Protestants as citizens. This study employs qualitative methods, especially in-depth interviews and participant-observation, to examine Protestants and politics in Mexico. The fieldwork was conducted in the southern state of Oaxaca. The substantive focus is justice. It addresses two main questions: where do Mexican Protestants stand on issues of justice, especially distributive justice? What can be said about Mexican Protestants' propensities to act in the face of perceived injustices?

Protestants' conceptions of justice fall within one or more of three interwoven narrative strands. The most commonly and clearly articulated is the "just deserts" strand, which is rooted in classical philosophy. The second-most common conception is that of "divine and human justice," which is based in the Bible and in evangelical theology. In the third strand, Protestants think of justice in terms of "fairness" or "equality." Regardless of their conception of justice or their location within the larger narrative of Mexican Protestantism, Protestants perceive their society as essentially unjust, and most express concerns about the unjust distribution of economic rewards.

This raises the issue of whether Protestants will be agents for transforming Mexico into a more just society. Clearly, they face constraints on their entry into the political arena. Some constraints, such as incomplete democratization, constrain the activities of all Mexicans. Others, such as those posed by doctrine and theology, are unique to Protestants. Based on biblical interpretations, Protestants say their role is not to judge or criticize their rulers, but to obey them and pray for them. It thus appears that Mexican Protestants will be politically quiescent "pray-ers and obeyers." This initial impression is, however, belied by two factors. First, Protestants participate in neighborhood-level activism, and a minority is working to establish an evangelical political party. Second, Protestants understand themselves as agents of change. Protestants have primarily responded to perceived injustices by praying for justice, and they believe in the ability of prayer to "re-make" people and society.

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