- Guatemala, the ancient center of Mayan civilization, was conquered by Spain in the 16th century Roman Catholicism remains the religion of the majority of descendants of both the Mayan and the Spanish colonists.The struggle for independence in the 19th century was accompanied by anti-Catholic sentiment. Anticlerical legislation had the side effect of allowing the introduction of Protestantism. In 1882, President Justo Rufino Barrios (1835-85) invited the Presbyterian Church (USA) to come into Guatemala, ostensibly to counter the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to his reform policies. The Presbyterians sent John Clark Hill, who with a Spanish-speaking assistant in 1885 opened the first Protestant church in Guatemala City. Numerous schools were soon established.In 1899, the Central American Mission (now CAM International) opened work in Guatemala City. Its work grew even faster than the Presbyterians, and in its first generation CAM founded an average of two congregations per year. In 1926, CAM founded the Central American Bible Institute (now the Central American Theological Seminary), which became the major educational institution for Evangelical groups in Guatemala and neighboring countries. The 20th century saw the founding of numerous missions from the whole spectrum of American Protestantism. Guatemala became an attractive site for the operation of missionary agencies, the founding of indigenous Protestant/Free Churches denominations, and the exportation of Christianity to other Latin American countries.Pentecostalism began in 1934 with the conversion of a primitive Methodist minister, Charles Furman, who then brought 14 Methodist congregations into the Church of God (Cleveland,Tennessee). Over the next half century, the church planted over 650 additional congregations. The Assemblies of God opened work in Guatemala in 1937, and eventually outstripped the Church of God. In the 1950s, the cause benefited from evangelist T. L. Osborn's healing revival. The Assemblies of God experienced a major schism in 1956, when José Maria Munoz organized the Prince of Peace Church. These three churches, the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, and the Prince of Peace Church, with a combined membership of more than 600,000, spearheaded a Pentecostal Charismatic movement that now includes more than 2 million Guatemalans, though many (especially Roman Catholics) remain members of their non-Pentecostal denominations.Non-Pentecostal Protestant churches have also grown, including a variety of indigenous Evangelical bodies. Alone among liberal Protestant churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA) remains an active force. No Guatemalan-based church is a member of the World Council of Churches, and there is no national council of churches. The Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala, affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance, includes approximately 20 church bodies.A major obstacle to Protestant growth was Efrain Rios Montt. A brutal dictator, Rios Montt massacred thousands of citizens of native extraction. His brief reign (1982-83), coupled with his public self identification as an Evangelical, blemished the image of Evangelical groups, even though prominent Evangelical leaders had distanced themselves from Rios Montt as his crimes became known. He has remained a power in Guatemalan politics in the years since his removal from office, and is pastor of the Word of GodEvangelical Association, a denomination affiliated with the American-based Pentecostal sending agency Gospel Outreach (aka Verbo Ministries), based in Eureka, California.See also Central America.Further reading:■ Clifton L. Holland, ed., World Christianity: Central America and the Caribbean (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC-World Vision International, 1981)■ William R. Read, et al., Latin American Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1969)■ Reporte Preliminar: El Estado de la Iglesia Evagélica en Guatemala, 2001 (Guatemala City: Servicio Evage-lizadora para America Latina [SEPAL], 2001).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.