- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

U.S. Hispanics are changing the country’s religious landscape through a unique worship style that is ethnically focused and linked to the spirit-filled Pentecostal and charismatic movements, according to a report released yesterday.

The majority of U.S. Hispanics are Catholic, but a significant number fall under what the study calls the “renewalist movement,” states the report by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The umbrella term includes traditional Pentecostal Protestant denominations such as the Assemblies of God and charismatic Christian groups that do not belong to Pentecostal denominations but embrace many of the movement’s spirited worship practices, such as speaking in tongues and divine healing.

The report also says the movement has implications beyond religion and the Hispanic population, the fastest-growing in the United States.

“Latinos are in the process of transforming the nation’s religious landscape,” said Roberto Suro, the center’s director. “It is a process that is still under way and a transformation that may be closer to its beginning than its end.”

The report also found that Hispanics’ religious and political beliefs are closely connected and that they expect the same from their religious leaders.

The “Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion” report is the result of more than 4,600 telephone interviews conducted from Aug. 10 to Oct. 4, 2006, and is billed as one of the largest efforts to collect data on Hispanic religious beliefs and political thinking.

Nearly half of the country’s estimated 42 million Hispanics are renewalist Christians, according to the study. Of the 49 percent of all Hispanics who fall into that category, 7 percent are Pentecostal Protestants, 6 percent are charismatic Protestant and 36 percent are charismatic Catholics.

The study also found that 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatic, compared with the much lower 12 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics who consider themselves charismatic.

The trend suggests that renewalist Christianity, though still a minority compared with mainline denominations, will play a larger role in the country’s religious future.

“There will be a process of change,” Mr. Suro said. “There would seem to be enough Latino Catholics who practice this distinctive form of Catholicism … to represent an important strain of Catholicism in the United States.”

Hispanic Catholics’ growing identification with the renewalist movement is at odds with traditional Catholics but does not undermine orthodox church teaching. Hispanics who are charismatic Catholics are not replacing traditional Catholic teaching with Pentecostal Protestant doctrine, but are incorporating renewalist features into their worship, according to the study.

The renewalist movement “seems to be strengthening rather than weakening Catholic identity,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “Latino Catholics who become charismatic tend to have an even closer relationship with the church.”

Another trend among Hispanic worship practices is the tendency to belong to churches with Hispanic clergy and congregations and that offer Spanish-language services. While foreign-born Hispanics are most likely to attend what the study calls “ethnic churches,” a significant percentage of native-born Hispanics — including those who are fluent in English — who do so suggests “a broader and more lasting form of ethnic identification,” the study states.

Among the other findings:

c Among all Hispanics, 43 percent identify themselves as Democrats and 20 percent as Republicans, with the rest split among the categories of independent, other and no answer.

c About 37 percent of Hispanic evangelicals identify themselves as Republicans — twice the 17 percent of Hispanic Catholics who do so.

c About 48 percent of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as Democrats, compared with 32 percent of Hispanic evangelicals.

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