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`fit would be a mistake to assume that Hispanic evangelicals will follow their Anglo brethren and join the Christian Right. BROWSE the website of El Shaddai at 6296 of Evangelical Hispanics say their religious beliefs are “very important” in deciding how to vote, compared with 3696 of Catholic Hispanics. AT EL SHADDAI PENTECOSTAL CHURCH in Austin, the congregants believe in miracles and hard work. On a recent Wednesday night, the parking lot is packed with dozens of pickup trucks and cars. Inside, only around 70 people gather in the sparsely decorated chapelwhite walls, a few fake plants, no crosseswhile Adrian Alarcon preaches from the pulpit. A trio of musicians provides a soft-pop instrumental foundation to his rousing Spanish-language sermon. Alarcon is one of many volunteer preachers at the church, but he’s as fluid and earnest as a pro, his words of forgiveness, prayer and the importance of following la palabra becoming a fervent chant. Soon people begin silently prostrating themselves at his feet. He silently lays his hands on their heads while the band lays down a smooth backbeat. After the service, I approach one of the pastors and ask why there are so many cars in the parking lot, yet few people in the pews. He informs me that most of the people at the church aren’t worshiping; there are another few dozen attending a youth group in the basement and still more taking English and computer lessons in a sprawling facility behind the chapel. Like many Hispanic evangelical churches, El Shaddai offers a one-stop shop to immigrants hungry for community and needing help navigating a new culture. Combine that with an appealing theology that emphasizes a direct connection with God and a service that promises to heal the sick, and it’s clear why evangelical churches are attracting Hispanics. The Catholic priest and scholar Andrew Greely wrote about the trend in 1988, predicting that half of American Hispanics would leave the Catholic church in 25 years. If it weren’t for the influx of Catholic immigrants from Latin America and a high birthrate among Catholics, his prediction would almost have come to pass. According to a 2006 survey, around 20 percent of Hispanic Americans are Protestant, and 70 percent of those consider themselves born-again or evangelical. A 2000 survey showed that around one in three third-generation Hispanic Americans is Protestant. There aren’t data showing the number of Hispanic evangelicals in Texas. But assuming that national trends hold true, there are almost 2 million in Texas, and at least 750,000 of them are registered voters. Hispanic evangelicals already have the numbers to swing a statewide election. This transformation has been happening gradually and largely under the radar, but it has the potential to upend many assumptions about how Hispanics will transform Texas politics over the coming generation. The conventional wisdom is that the Hispanic electorate, the so-called “sleeping giant,” will start voting en masse and sweep the Democrats back into power. Hispanic voters may not play along. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic evangelicals are twice as likely to identify as Republicans as Hispanic Catholics or mainline Protestants. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Hispanic evangelicals will follow their Anglo brethren and join the Christian Right. For one reason, they are going to different churches. The vast majority of Hispanics, both Catholic and Protestant, attend churches with Hispanic clergy, Spanish-language services and mostly Hispanic congregations. Hispanic evangelical churches also tend to be more flexible than Catholic churches in how they worship, bringing in Spanish pop music, video screens, mariachi bands and whatever else it takes to make members feel at home. “There’s two dynamics happening in evangelical churches,” says Paul Barton, director of Hispanic Church Studies at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. “They provide a familiar space, with familiar music, food, language and people. But they also provide English classes and other services to help members function in society. The church both preserves the culture, [and] at the same time aids assimilation.” At El Shaddai, many members are recent immigrants, so it’s not surprising that the ones I spoke with seemed removed from politics. Jimena Ibanez, a director at the El Shaddai school, told me that “we don’t talk politics, but we will pray for politicians.” Instead, people look to the church to meet basic needs. For example, many new-immigrant members lack health care, and the church provides free faith healing. It’s not hard to find people here who say they were cured by prayer. Church member Angel Martinez says that he used glasses for 15 years and needed them to see 30 feet across a room. “One day I went to the front of the church, started praying and put my hands in the air,” he says matter-of-factly. “I felt a burning in my eyes. I was driving home, took off my glasses and have been able to see without them ever since.” Martinez is not just a member. He’s also the head computer teacher at the church school, the Escuela Superacion Personal. Around 25 volunteers here work to teach new immigrants English and the skills they need to get a better joblike how to write and e-mail a resume, use PowerPoint, or take advantage of social networking. Many students are women. Day care is provided. Students don’t have to join the church, but they have to commit to a 10-month program. They get a healthy dose of proselytizing along the way. ‘We work on spiritual recovery and healing,” says Ibanez. “We try to attract people who need help, whether it’s with addiction, divorce, domestic violence, or just lonely or depressed. We don’t just talk about God. We also help people. They need jobs, need to learn English.” Evangelic churches are particularly tuned to the challenges facing Hispanic youth, something Catholic churches are incorporating as well. “Most Latino Protestant churches really target teenagers,” says Gaston Espinosa, a religious studies professor at Claremont-McKenna College in California. “They will have a dedicated youth pastor that works with at-risk youth. They focus on literacy and education, but also give them things to do, like dramas, skits, camps and retreats.” The emphasis on counseling youth was the main factor that attracted 21-year-old Austinite Susanne Alsina to her nondenominational evangelic church. “At my church, around 200 youths get together once a week,” she says. “We go camping or to the movies, just like regular people. And then we have retreats where we really deal with things. People talk about being abused or raped or even having abortions. Some churches make you feel ashamed of your past, but we really peel back the onion and get to the root. If you don’t deal with your problems, they won’t go away.” Ibanez and Martinez, like most Hispanics, grew up in Catholic families, but left the church for similar reasons. DECEMBER 10, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1 27