Latin American charismatics adapting and adopting Jewish practices in diverse ways

The adoption of Jewish practices and strong support of Israel are increasingly prominent and taking on new expressions in Latin American evangelical and charismatic churches. Amy Fallas, in the online magazine The Revealer (September 9), notes how the adoption of Jewish worship elements in many Latin American churches since the 1990s, such as the use of prayer shawls, sounding of the shofar horn, and adornment of buildings with the Star of David, has led to their increasing engagement with and support of Israel. This can be observed in the recent formation of groups pressing for Latino Christian support of Israel, such as the Latino Coalition for Israel and Philos Latino. Latino evangelicals are also being targeted by pro-Israel lobbies such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel. In 2019, the Latino Coalition for Israel organized a summit in Jerusalem that brought together 200 Hispanic evangelical leaders. Fallas focuses on Central America and particularly El Salvador, where it is largely charismatic and Pentecostal churches that have brought together Jewish practices and support for Israel. She argues that these churches’ embrace of biblical prophecies believed to give Israel a prominent place in the return of Christ, as well as the teaching that Jews are the chosen people, has leant them spiritual power.

In her new book, Becoming Jewish, Believing in Jesus (Oxford University Press), Manoela Carpenedo looks at a more recent movement of former Pentecostals who have gone a few steps further in claiming a Jewish identity than their evangelical counterparts, eschewing centralChristian teachings. Carpenedo notes how this movement of what she calls “Judaizing” evangelicals has expanded in Brazil and other countries of the global South by distancing themselves from their former charismatic churches, with their emphasis on supernatural gifts and prosperity teachings. Based on interviews and in-depth participant observation among ex-evangelicals in the approximately 10,000-member movement in Brazil, she finds that they defy the stereotypes of Christians seeking to evangelize Jews or playing out an end-times scenario with Israel. Rather, they have gradually moved away from historic Christianity, disavowing belief in the Trinity and Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, while believing that Jesus was a messiah for the Jewish people. She finds that these converts (and most of her interviewees were women) have often been disenchanted by the worldliness and lowering of moral standards they saw in evangelical churches, while also viewing themselves as intellectually superior and more historically and culturally rooted than their charismatic counterparts.

Carpenedo argues that Judaizing evangelicals are not interested in gaining acceptance from other Jews and are unlikely to discard their distinctive identity to move closer to Orthodox Judaism (even as they become increasingly Orthodox in lifestyle). She identifies them as a syncretistic Jewish-Christian renewal movement that seeks mainly to win over evangelicals to their synagogues and Jewish observances. The widespread interest of people in finding their “Jewish” roots is fully shared by the Judaizing evangelicals in Carpenedo’s study, all the more so because Brazil was the destination for many Jews who were exiled from Portugal during the Inquisition. As to why a group of ex-evangelicals would choose to embrace this unique and demanding synthesis of Judaism and Christianity when there are so many options on offer in Brazil’s vast religious marketplace, Carpenedo argues that their new faith provides a distinctive cultural identity and affinity group. As the Brazilian (and Latin American) ideal of mixed racial identity, known as metissage, has faded from the national consciousness as a unifying force, new policies of multiculturalism and identity politics have encouraged such quests for strong ethnic and religious belonging and community, she concludes.

(The Revealer, zionism/)