Over the past 12 years, Argentina has passed laws allowing same-sex marriage, recognizing gender identity and allowing abortion. Some of this legislation was unprecedented in Latin America and positioned Argentina as a regional pioneer in respecting diversity and gender equality.
But access to these rights has not been easy and has required years of consensus building between opposing socio-political elements. Among the prominent players who took part in these debates were groups linked to evangelicalism – a branch of Christianity which is experiencing enormous growth globally and exerting increasing influence in social and political spheres.
If its presence in Argentina is still weak compared to other countries in the region, such as Brazil, its territorial expansion is palpable. This has sparked questions and concerns across the country among people fearful of the possible impacts of rising evangelicalism.
The recent reversal of Roe v. The 1973 Wade in the United States further alarmed many people in Argentina about the possible link between the reversal of established rights and the influence of religious entities on the government.
A Growing Religion
According to a 2019 Second National Survey of Religious Beliefs and Attitudes in Argentina, 15% of the country’s population identifies itself as evangelical. This is a notable spike from the previous decade, when only 9% subscribed to this faith.
In Patagonia and the Northeast region, the percentage of Evangelicals exceeds that of the rest of the country, while the Northwest is the most Catholic region.
The survey, which was conducted by a team of social scientists from the Labor Studies and Research Centerfound that the majority of people identified as evangelicals did not have access to higher education.
The study also indicates that the percentage of Catholics in Argentina has fallen from 75% to 62%; 18% of respondents said they had no religion.
The expansion of evangelicalism began in the 1960s and 1970s; its members have since become increasingly dominant in politics around the world.
This is explained by Ariel Goldstein, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires who studies the radical right in Latin America in his book Poder Evangelical.
“Although evangelicals are generally pragmatic and align themselves with both left-wing and right-wing governments, ideas related to the prosperity theology professed by Pentecostal groups in particular, go hand in hand with free market policies. “, Goldstein told FairPlanet in an interview.
“At this point, an affinity with the radical new right appears,” he added. “The clearest case is Brazil, where there is a union between the evangelical movement, the military right and the free market, but the phenomenon is recorded throughout Latin America.”
In Argentina, evangelical churches have registered territorial growth, but their political influence has not yet been felt.
“So far, there have been only isolated instances of lawmakers coming close to the ideas of these groups, mostly in relation to the debate over decriminalizing abortion,” Goldstein said. “It is linked to the defense of the family that these sectors promote, with very traditional ideas in which gender issues come into conflict.”
He added that the situation in Argentina is still far from that of Brazil, where the evangelical churches have direct links with 200 parliamentary deputies and possess a whole media apparatus. But he nevertheless warns that the presence of such groups in the Argentine political system could increase significantly in the years to come, and that such an advance could very well lead to the erosion of acquired rights.
“That seems a long way off, considering that feminism currently seems to be a strong political sector in our country,” he said. “However, we also know that advances in rights can be reversed, as we saw recently in the United States with the reversal of a 40-year-old ruling that made abortion rights possible. “
The sociologist believes that building consensus will be a crucial factor in limiting the alliance between the right and evangelicals. “Within these groups, there are representatives who can have visions close to the defense of a plural, diverse and more tolerant society, which is distinguished from fanatical sectors,” he said. “It will be essential to establish agreements to build a broader dialogue.”
The role of women in consensus building
In an attempt to bring about change within religious institutions, the Network of Women Theologians, Pastors, Leaders and Christian Activists of Latin America and the Caribbean (red tepali) was relaunched in 2018.
The group brings together women of Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic and other faiths who are trying to integrate a gender perspective into their religious practices.
Claudia Florentín Mayer, who belongs to the evangelical community, is one of the Argentinian theologians at the head of this network.
“Our main contribution is educational,” she told FairPlanet. “We use the tools that feminist methodology allows us to construct new biblical and theological rereadings.”
“It’s not an easy task,” she added, “because many churches see women in gender as a problem because they see that as feminists we don’t respect what is considered the norm, which has to do with the supremacy of the male, as some biblical texts say.
Red Tepali leaders joined with women from other churches and joined the feminist movement that advocated for the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina. The movement’s advocacy finally materialized in 2020 with the approval of a law allowing the termination of pregnancy within the first 14 weeks.
“Others are on the margins of institutions, while some have left,” explained the theologian. “It does not mean that they lost their faith, but rather that they rebuilt it and redefined the religious field in their lives.”
Commenting on the close ties between right-wing political parties and certain religious groups, Florentín Mayer said she believed Argentina’s long tradition of defending civil and human rights would help halt the advance of radical sectors.
“Unlike other Latin American countries, there is still a strong social mobilization here,” she said. “I think that could be a protection against the strong advance of the right, but we should not be confident because they attack laws which were designed by progressive political leaders but which, in many cases, have not been embraced by society as a whole.
“There’s a high percentage of Argentine society that still doesn’t look favorably on many of these rights.”
For Florentín Mayer, education is one of the most crucial safeguards against the risk of a possible revocation of rights.
“Understanding the timing of faith communities is critical because not all of them can learn and address gender issues at the same time,” she said. “It does not mean accepting opposition to rights, but knowing that for many people it is strongly rooted in education from childhood. So what has entered at this stage of life in the religious field occupies a predominant place in our psyche, in our decisions and in our emotions.
“We should also not consider those who question these rights as enemies, but try to find avenues of dialogue and show that rights have to do with Christianity,” she added. “They have to do with the domain of those of us who worthily defend […] and full lives.”
Picture by Rosie Sun.