About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vodka and Visions: Zoning Hispanic Pentecostals

Tooele, Utah, (pronounced too-WILL-uh) has a problem. And, yes, I do mean beyond being the site of the US Military chemical weapon storage and disposal facility. Tooele can't seem to get their Hispanic store-front churches and their alcohol-licensed establishments worked out. What?

Hispanic pentecostal churches in Latin America and the United States tend to use homes and small rental properties, usually in crumbling down town areas, as places of worship. From the Azusa Street Revival of the early 1900s to modern-day East L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley, pentecostal and evangelical churches rely on cheap rents in high working-class Hispanic zones for sacred space. Being affordable is an issue, but so, too, is the convenience of being near a population that may not have access to private vehicles for traveling to Sunday and mid-week services. Pick a decaying down town area and watch the pattern: first come the lawyer's offices, then the pawn shops and check loan offices, and finally, the churches.

In Utah, this is a problem because apparently you cannot sell alcohol within so-many feet of a religious establishment. However, because of the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act you cannot ban a religious institution from land use. Thus, as Toole is trying to revitalize a crumbling down town with restaurants, it is running up against a wall of pentecostal Hispanic churches that have occupied the so-called "prime" real estate of the area.

I think this raises an interesting side issue of the religious right in the United States. While crying for the absolute freedom of business to do what it wants, there is a simultaneous cry for the absolute freedom of religious practice (well, WASP practice), and I think this issue points out one of the problems of the "big tent" the Republicans are trying to create. How can you protect the explosive growth of Hispanic evangelicals and Pentecostals in the US - natural moral allies of the religious right - while at the same time promoting immoral (by their own definition of practice) business. This is like trying to have Liberation Theology curates and the United Fruit Company in the same party.

Thanks, Tooele, for an interesting thought point of the day.

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