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Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Religion News Service

Study Tallies Where Hispanics Worship, How They Vote

By Ted Parks

May 14, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All Rights Reserved.

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- In a landmark study of the religious affiliations and practices of U.S. Hispanics, researchers have found that while more Hispanics are becoming Protestants, their spiritual conversion does not translate into a political one, with evangelical and Roman Catholic Hispanics sharing similar voting patterns.

Zeroing in on the connection between religion, politics and other aspects of public life, the findings represent the first phase of a three-year project, "Hispanic Churches in American Public Life," funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trust. Preliminary findings were presented May 4 at Vanguard University, near Los Angeles.

Bridging the divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the project "marks a historic milestone, especially the partnership of ethnic, of ecumenical relations," said the Rev. Jesse Miranda, Vanguard professor, longtime leader in the Assemblies of God and project co-director.

The study's Roman Catholic co-director, the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, founder of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, said he marveled at the revelation of a common social vision among Hispanics that transcends denominational barriers.

"There's . . . very little significant difference in the way we relate to the social and civic life of this country," Elizondo said. Referring to a finding shared across confessional lines that government must respond to fundamental needs like health care, whether immigrants are legal or illegal, Elizondo added, "You might say that blood and ethnicity is much, much stronger than anything else."

Among the specific conclusions of the study's initial phase:

* About 70 percent of the country's 35.4 million Hispanics are Roman Catholic, and 22 percent are Protestant. Hispanic Protestants have gained ground from the 18 percent of the Hispanic population they represented in the late 1980s. Elizondo said churches in both groups were growing because Hispanics identifying themselves as Catholic but who were only nominally so were becoming more active in their parishes.

* Among non-Catholic Hispanics, the majority (61 percent) are evangelical Christians. Sixteen percent belong to mainline Protestant denominations.

* Religious bodies outside traditional Protestant circles, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons, have a considerable presence among Hispanic believers. Researchers said more Hispanics are Mormon than United Methodist.

* Even with the growing number of evangelicals, Hispanic Protestants tend to mirror the political party affiliations of their Roman Catholic counterparts more than of traditionally conservative Anglo evangelicals. The study found that about 49 percent of Hispanics are Democrats and only 15 percent Republicans. The rest said they were politically independent, increasing the group's tie-breaking potential in key swing states, including Florida.

The survey was based on 2,300 telephone interviews of Hispanics in the United States and Puerto Rico conducted during August 2000. The survey sampled opinions among both urban and rural populations and has a 3 percent margin of error.

Researcher Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Latino think tank that helped elicit and crunch the data, underscored the differences in attitude between generations of Hispanics.

Pachon spoke of a "U-shaped curve" in church attendance, with the percentage of Hispanics attending services declining in the second generation, only to resurge in the third.

"You're going to have that giant second generation that is going to be really at a moral and religious quandary," Pachon said. "That may be where your Protestant faiths have been making such a large inroad."

Pachon also warned against the temptation to view all Hispanics the same. "There's a tendency . . . to paint the Latino community in a single brush stroke," he said. "Beware of the broad brush stroke. Beware of the stereotyping of Latinos as one homogenous group."

The Hispanic Churches in American Public Life study is part of a broad look at the impact of religion among a variety of groups, including African-Americans, Jews and Muslims.

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