Followers of the New Faith: Culture Change and the Rise of by Emílio Willems

By Emílio Willems

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Page 21 6 Basic Structural Aspects of the Native Societies The two other major characteristics of American Protestantism lie in the field of social organization and ethics. The organizational components concern the position of the laity within the church, especially vis-à-vis the clergy; the moral autonomy of the individual, particularly his right to dissent; local autonomy of the congregation, hence its freedom from superior ecclesiastical domination; the denominational system instead of the parish system and consequently the need to share the same community with other denominations.

The missionary shares with other agents, such as merchants, administrators, doctors, nurses, teachers, and technicians of various kinds, a common characteristic: they all intend to change certain aspects of what they perceive to be the ''native'' way of life. Singling out the aspects with which they are prepared to deal, these innovators are more or less convinced that they have something to offer that the natives "need": tractors, a new fiscal policy, soil conservation, scientific forestry, washing machines, child care, or a different approach to the supernatural.

Attempts to verify this hypothesis will be made in the first part of this volume. In the course of our field work it became abundantly clear that Protestantism, particularly its sectarian varieties, were thriving in those areas of either country where exposure to cultural change had been long and intensive. Statistical data on the distribution of Protestants confirmed that industrialized modern metropolitan areas and, to a lesser extent, rural frontiers had indeed the largest Protestant populations.

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