by Fidel "Butch" Montoya
This coming election has to be one of the most analyzed by pundits and religious scholars as they look at the margins for potential voters and as to what “religious groups” might make a difference.
William McKenzie, the Dallas News editorial columnist has joined the fray with a column about a recent revival held the last night at the Reunion Arena. The arena will no longer play home to professional basketball.
On the last night, Reunion Arena played host to a revival meeting for a large group of Latino worshipers. The crowd was estimated at 13,500, with half of those in attendance being Latino Pentecostals.
McKenzie believes the Latino Pentecostal is worth watching this election as a potential “margin voter” that could play a significant role for either Obama or McCain. As most already know, Latino Pentecostals believe strongly in divine healing, miracles, and speaking in tongues.
Latino Pentecostals count themselves with the larger group of Latino Evangelicals, but not all Latino Evangelicals are Pentecostals, as not all agree on the proposition of speaking in tongues. Still, there are more issues, which this group of believers have in common, and will unite if their conservative values are threatened.
Most Latino Pentecostals have remained away from the political mainstream throughout the years partly because politics seemed corrupt or worldly. Nevertheless, as with all things, change is in the air. There is a growing awareness, particularly among younger Pentecostal families that involvement in the political arena is not only necessary, but also consistent with Biblical teaching of opposing “unjust laws” and public policies that do not treat all persons with dignity, justice, and respect.
Pentecostals in general are potentially election “swing voters” that can make a difference for McCain or Obama if they look carefully at this “old marginalized voter” making a move to be counted as a group of voters worth listening to.
In a New York Times survey, it found Pentecostals in some swing states having the influence to changing the outcome in the election. For example, in West Virginia, Pentecostals are 14% percent of West Virginians. That could make or break it during an election where every vote is going to count for the candidate that works this side of the church.
McKenzie writes, “John Green, who studies religious voting patterns for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, says Pentecostals' political views are in flux.
They still emphasize traditional families and the sanctity of human life. However, young Pentecostals are looking at a broader range of issues, like reducing poverty.
That's been the message I've heard in talking to Pentecostal pastors. They describe younger Pentecostals as being both pro-life and pro-women's rights. Or, as Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference told me, they combine a social conservatism with an economic populism.”
Pentecostals who hold to strong conservative values would probably find a McCain a candidate to their liking. McKenzie makes the case that if McCain can show he is not what I call “the ugly Republican,” on immigration; he can claim a stronger share of the Latino Pentecostal vote.
While not all Latino Pentecostals agree on what steps need be taken on immigration reform, most if not all Latinos deplore and despise being depicted and treated by white Evangelical believers as “criminals or aliens”. With most white Evangelical voters being Republican, the “white church” has a tough road to hoe if it wants to change the belief that Latinos are not welcome and are fellow believers in the same Jesus Christ preached from each others pulpit on Sunday morning.
On the other hand, Obama has not really shown any interest in the Latino Pentecostal voter either. While they could hold the key to success or failure in some of the swing states, it does not appear Obama has taken steps to appeal to Latino Pentecostals.
Right now Latinos in general say they favor Obama over McCain. That will be the case until they look a little closer at Obama’s position on some of the values held dear to Latinos. I believe Obama is venerable on that score…too liberal for a very conservative group of voters.
Pentecostals who are only now realizing they hold their future in their own hands depending on who they cast their votes for President, it would be wise for both candidates to work and listen to this marginalized voter.
McKenzie ends his column by saying, “Pentecostals, especially the Latino Pentecostals who can fill up arenas like Reunion, are going to be a fascinating niche vote to follow.”
Pentecostals are always waiting for the “Spirit to move them, and empower them with power from on high,” and it would not hurt Obama or McCain to pray for a little help from the Pentecostal power waiting to be revealed.
Fidel "Butch" Montoya
H. S. Power & Light Ministries - Latino Faith Initiative
Denver, Colorado 80212