Upwardly mobile Hispanic evangelical converts?

Darn you, paywall. Earlier this month, Time magazine published a 3,500-word cover story on what it dubbed "The Latino Reformation." But the full text of the article is available online only to subscribers.

As a journalist who wants to see this industry survive, I'm OK with that. But it makes a critique in this kind of format a little awkward since most of you can't access the full story. For those who do subscribe to Time and read the piece, I'd love to know what you thought.

The summary at the top of the story caught my attention:

Seeking a break with the past, a quicker assimilation into the middle class and a closer relationship with God, Latinos are pouring into Protestant churches across the U.S.

A break with the past? A quicker assimilation into the middle class?

Both those reasons for going to church struck me as, well, a bit strange. I immediately wondered if Time would provide evidence to back up those assertions. The short answer: Not really.

In fact, I suspect that an editor — and not the reporter who spent so much time on a thorough, nuanced presentation — came up with that quick and unproven assessment.

Unless I missed it, only a single paragraph of the actual story addressed the upward mobility claim. The source of that paragraph? No, it was not an actual Hispanic evangelical. How about an Ivy League theologian?:

Like an earlier generation of immigrants from Europe, Latino Christians often see Protestantism as the path to a more genuine, more prosperous "American" life. "They see the move to Protestantism, particularly evangelicalism, as a form of upward mobility, and very often I think they associate Catholicism with what they left behind in Latin America," says Randall Balmer, the chair of Dartmouth's religion department. "They want to start anew."

But another part of the story itself seems to contradict that notion:

Latinos are turning not just to Protestantism but to its evangelical strain for a variety of reasons. Above all, Latinos who convert say they want to know God personally, without a priest as a middleman. More than 35% of Hispanics in America call themselves born-again, according to the Pew Forum, and 9 out of 10 evangélicos say a spiritual search drove their conversion. "People are looking for a real experience with God," says Paredes. That direct experience comes largely from exploring the Bible. "We do the best to preach with the Bible open. When they read the Bible, they find a lot of things they didn't know before. They may have had religion, but they did not have an experience."

Alas, I just scratched the surface of the details contained in the story. I'd urge you to read the whole thing, but if you'd like to do so, you better have your credit card number handy.

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