City of God

City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala

Kevin Lewis O’Neill
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppt2v
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  • Book Info
    City of God
    Book Description:

    In Guatemala City today, Christianity isn't just a belief system--it is a counterinsurgency. Amidst postwar efforts at democratization, multinational mega-churches have conquered street corners and kitchen tables, guiding the faithful to build a sanctified city brick by brick. Drawing on rich interviews and extensive fieldwork, Kevin Lewis O'Neill tracks the culture and politics of one such church, looking at how neo-Pentecostal Christian practices have become acts of citizenship in a new, politically relevant era for Protestantism. Focusing on everyday practices--praying for Guatemala, speaking in tongues for the soul of the nation, organizing prayer campaigns to combat unprecedented levels of crime--O'Neill finds that Christian citizenship has re-politicized the faithful as they struggle to understand what it means to be a believer in a desperately violent Central American city. Innovative, imaginative, conceptually rich,City of Godreaches across disciplinary borders as it illuminates the highly charged, evolving relationship between religion, democracy, and the state in Latin America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94513-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-XII)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. XIII-XXX)
  5. City of God: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    I could make out julio’s skeleton. His ocular cavities were slightly more pronounced than usual and his cheekbones were no longer padded by fat. Julio was literally starving. The emptiness of his belly mixed with fatigue and weakness to produce a rather dramatic sight that did not distract me from the interview so much as color his comments to me. Dressed well, with a tie and pressed shirt, Julio would lean in toward me when making his bigger claims about personal renewal, about the power of Jesus Christ to restore Guatemala—to bring peace and prosperity to this long-tortured country...

  6. ONE Shouldering the Weight: The Promise of Citizenship
    (pp. 31-59)

    The promise of citizenship lines the streets of postwar Guatemala City. As commanding as the volcanoes that frame the city and as ubiquitous as the squat, broken architecture that defines the capital’s cityscape, citizenship campaigns print, paste, and post the promise of postwar citizenship on every conceivable surface that the city has to offer: billboards, buttons, placards, T-shirts. They announce thatyouare the city, thatyoumust love Guatemala, and that God has chosenyou. Flyers marked with this promise—with a catchphrase as well as a cue to participate—can often be found balled up and pushed into...

  7. TWO Policing the Soul: The Cellular Construction of Christian Citizenship
    (pp. 60-86)

    At first i thought estela was being silly—maybe even a little bit critical of the exercise. In a Guatemala City living room with a group of ten neo-Pentecostals, each thumbing through what are called moral manuals, Estela scribbled the number 8.33 into her workbook. The number—in all its strange exactness—was Estela’s evaluation of her own level of honesty on a scale from 1 to 10. Others in the room gave themselves 3s, 5s, and 9s; Estela felt deeply satisfied with 8.33. Later she would explain to me: “Well, I’m not a 9 when it comes to honesty....

  8. THREE Onward, Christian Soldier: Solitary Responsibility and Spiritual Warfare
    (pp. 87-114)

    A young neo-pentecostal pastor surprised his mega-church congregation early one Sunday morning. Deep in the heart of Guatemala City, he dimmed the lights during a church service, making his four thousand parishioners sit expectantly in the dark. Unafraid to mix theater with theology, the pastor, dressed in army fatigues, rappelled from the towering ceiling to the church floor. Once safely landed and behind his pulpit, the pastor proclaimed: “We are going to be Kaibiles for Christ!”¹ The congregation erupted with applause, meeting this bold announcement with unbridled bravado. The Kaibiles are the Guatemalan military’s most elite commando unit. Modeled after...

  9. FOUR The Founding Fathers: The Problem of Fatherhood and the Generational Imagination
    (pp. 115-142)

    The pastor sat on a stool at the very center of the mega-church. One spotlight shone on him as thousands of young men and women sat in the dark. They had all assembled for an event whose theme proved attractive: “The Fatherhood of God.” Their interest had been piqued earlier in the week by small booklets. Serving as the event’s invitation, the booklets presented six black-and-white photos of young fathers and stated: “As a child … I wanted to learn from dad … feel close to dad … play with dad … walk like dad … and even though I...

  10. FIVE Hands of Love: Christian Charity and the Place of the Indigenous
    (pp. 143-169)

    I thanked maria for the glass of water as I took a seat in her office. The photographs on the walls displayed some of the mission trips that her organization had completed in Guatemala’s rural highlands to help poor, indigenous communities with basic social services, such as medical and dental care, building projects, and educational programs. As the assistant director of El Shaddai’s philanthropic wing—Manos de Amor, or Hands of Love—Maria exuded an earned sense of pride in her work. At a time when the Guatemalan nation-state continues to relax its commitment even to the most basic of...

  11. SIX Cities of God: International Theologies of Citizenship
    (pp. 170-198)

    The young man lay prostrate in El Shaddai’s prayer room—his feet facing the door, the top of his head pointing toward an oversized map of the world. He was weeping, screeching at times, pushing his words out in such a way that they bounced from the room’s linoleum floor to its aqua blue walls in what seemed like 101 different directions. Modest, windowless, and cramped, the room houses an assortment of mismatched chairs as well as three wall hangings. The first is the map of the world to which the man supplicated—his laments so distorted by the room’s...

  12. Disappointment: A Conclusion
    (pp. 199-214)

    More than fifty politicians, activists, and party workers were murdered and dozens more seriously injured during the heated months leading up to Guatemala’s 2007 general elections. One candidate from San Marcos was shot, wrapped in left-leaning political paraphernalia, and then stuffed in the trunk of his car. The Guatemalan press argued that the bloodshed represented the continued influence of organized crime, a seemingly unstoppable perpetrator of violence.¹ Terror fostered impunity and resignation. As one international observer remarked: “It’s sad to say, [but] Guatemala is a good place … to commit murder.”² A little more than ten years after the 1996...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 215-242)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 243-270)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 271-278)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)