The early Baptists that arrived in Chile likely brought with them some strong libertarian tendencies. Virginian Baptists were the first Americans to support Chilean Baptists works in 1917. Accordingly, there was probably a tacit link with to the influential activism of Pastor John Leland, who preached thousands of sermons in Virginia and took an activist role in both the association of Baptists—that would later send missionaries Earl and Mary Davidson to Chile (see page 27 of the missionary list)—and the promotion of libertarian ideals for the newly-formed United States. Indeed, it is unlikely that American Baptists sent socialists or communists to Chile, and surely not any pacifists.
According to Ricardo Becerra Inostroza in Invitando a Conocer la Historia de una Comunidad Cristiana (2006:18-22), (which translates to “An invitation to know the history of a Christian community”), the first Baptists arrived in Chile in 1884 from Hamburg and Berlin, Germany. More followed in 1892, establishing a church in the southern 8th Region in the town Contulmo, and then spread to the western 9th Region, with the second church in “El Salto” (north of Temuco) opening in 1894, with others soon being established in Quillén, Púa, and Victoria. They preached in German and struggled to preach in Spanish, which had to be improved over time. Their main goal ended up being to evangelize German-speaking Roman Catholic immigrants that had settled in southern Chile. Similarly, English-speaking Baptists William (Guillermo) MacDonald and his wife Julia arrived from Scotland in 1888, having been invited by Chilean President Balmaceda to serve as a professor in the English colony in Púa (between Victoria and Temuco). He was paid by the Bible Society in Valparaíso started by Presbyterian (and Mason, Pereira, page 12) Dr. David Trumbull and received a parcel of land in Freire from the Chilean governemnt for his efforts. MacDonald ended up establishing Baptist churches from Victoria to Valdivia, and then jumped further south to Chiloé island.
Of course, before 1925, Chile was an officially Roman Catholic country and, as such, it was illegal to preach the Gospel in Spanish—even though legislation in 1865 y 1883-1885 had permitted private worship by Evangelicals in homes. As usual, the early Chilean Baptists found themselves outside the law for preaching the Gospel illegally, starting perhaps around 1895 when they began to hold Spanish-language services. They also faced other threats. The region was still a wilderness full of hostile Mapuche Indians, and it is likely that the Baptists were armed and ready to defend themselves if necessary—just like all the other European settlers around them from France, Belgium, Italy, Britain, Switzerland, Germany and elsewhere.
My wife Pamela’s maternal great grandfather, Pastor Wenceslao Valdivia (1886-1935), “the first Chilean Baptist,” was converted from Roman Catholicism upon hearing the simple Gospel message from Spanish immigrant (perhaps of French origin) Jorge Canete in Pailahueque (Ercilla province), just north of Victoria (central 9th Region), according to the biography Wenceslao Valdivia: Primer Bautista Chileno (1947). This book was written by his son, Pamela’s maternal great uncle, Pastor Isaías Valdivia Sanhueza in Valparaíso. Wenceslao was baptized in 1896 in the Quillén Baptist church and later went on to pastor thirty-four Baptist congregations in Contulmo, the 9th Region (Temuco) and 14th (Valdivia) Region during his life.
Isaías, who was the founding pastor of the first Baptist church in Valparaíso (1936), eventually went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for further training and never returned to Chile. He and his father were probably close to the core doctrine imported by the Davidsons (and probably the other missionaries from Virginia in Chile at the time: Joe Hart, Robert Moore, Frank Marrs), presumably trained by calvinistic Baptists and libertarians in Virginia, and whom presumably would not have been opposed to employing self-defense against menacing Indians in either the United States or Chile. In a recent blog entry about Pastor John Leland, who ministered in both Virginia and Massachusetts, I concluded:
…early American Baptists like pastors Leland and Backus would not have been opposed to carrying concealed weapons, much to the chagrin of some of their modern progeny in Europe, North America and South American countries like Chile. Were the historical Baptists right regarding taking up arms in self-defense? How different would modern countries in North America, Europe and South America be if Baptists would only adhere to the doctrine of Christ and corresponding Worldview championed by their activist Baptist predecessors?
While the ends do not justify the means, it is quite clear that Baptist prosperity since 1790, including Bible-based seminaries and the enormous missionary surge over the last two centuries—along with similar blessings that spilled over to many other groups—was built on the defensive actions of activist Baptists. The courageous American Baptists of the late 1700s may have originally aligned themselves with Presbyterians (mainly) and others like the “black robe regiment” Lutherans during the battle for freedom in Colonial America, but they later stood alone when insisting on protecting the rights of men generally via the Bill of Rights. Accordingly, libertarians in North America, Chile, Europe and elsewhere around the world owe a debt of gratitude to Baptists, the most libertarian and neoliberal of all the branches of Christianity.
I do not know for certain what the Davidsons or Canete believed, but given what I do know about the history of Virginian baptists (in the tradition of Leland), and other southern baptists of that 1880-1920 era in North America and Europe, it is likely that the missionaries from Virginia brought a relatively libertarian and calvinistic perspective to the Valdivias and other Chileans. Nevertheless, modern Chilean Baptists generally know little of the Valdivias, close to nothing of Leland, or even much about the support from the Virginian Baptists initially given a century ago—bolstering Chilean Baptist churches. Looking at how weak Chilean Baptist churches are today, replete with their theatrical acts, charismatic tendencies, arminianism, pacifism, and women in leadership or coordinating the services, one can imagine the Valdivias turning in their graves.
Are Chilean Baptists anything like John Leland and their libertarian-minded, calvinistic Virginian forefathers? Or are they courageous like the Valdivias, Canetes or Davidsons? When considering a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, we see that the hen sacrifices a lot (her egg), but the pig is committed to the ultimate sacrifice to get the job done. The American Founders were committed like “pigs” are, especially the Baptist ones. Are Chileans more like “hens” or “pigs” in this sad scenario today, wanting to fight for liberty and historic Baptist doctrine? The question is rhetorical. The obvious implication is that Chilean Baptists would do well to learn their libertarian and calvinistic roots, reconsider the biblical doctrine that makes them distinct and their message powerful, thereby moving forward once again to transform their culture.
John Cobin, Ph.D. Twitter
Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country. Non-wealthy immigrants to Chile should also create a portable income by signing up to be a 51Talk online English teacher. Read more details about the job in my previous post on the subject.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged 2015 book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights (somewhat outdated) found in the larger book. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com: