The Evangelical Alliance of El Salvador says the statements given to a French newspaper should be reconsidered. Pastors are registered with the state and have licenses, the evangelical body says.
The Evangelical Alliance of El Salvador issued a statement on 22 August in response to statements made by the Vice President of the republic, Félix Ulloa, who told French newspaper Le Monde in an interview that eight in ten evangelical pastors in El Salvador were involved in pandillas (gangs).
Ulloa spoke about the harsh policies President Nayib Bukele is implementing in the fight against organised crime in El Salvador. Images of the overcrowded prisons of the country have been seen around the world.
Asked by the journalist about testimonies of young people who claim they have been detained without evidence of involvement in gangs, the Vice President responded: “According to whom [they do not belong to gangs]? According to themselves? Their mothers? Evangelical pastors? Because 80% of the pastors belong to these structures”.
In March, the parliament declared a state of exception to fight the violence of gangs, a decision that has been extended four times. Human rights groups said the suspension of fundamental freedoms and the detention of over 40,000 people until July was making the situation of El Salvador untenable.
The Evangelical Alliance of El Salvador responded to the words of Ulloa. “We consider the statements made by the vice-president that 80% of the pastors are part of gang structures to be outrageous... We respectfully request that such statements be reconsidered as they do not coincide with reality”, the Alliance denounced.
“Each of the institutions that make up the Evangelical Alliance is legitimately constituted and registered with the Ministry of the Interior”. Additionally, the Evangelical Alliance “accredits their pastors with a credential that certifies the role they play, and also as having the backing of the evangelical institution to which they belong”, they explained.
The Alliance also underlined that they reject the conduct of any pastor proven to have committed a crime or to have been an accessory to a crime. The evangelical body underlined that evangelicals have 126 years of history in the country and respect all legitimately elected governments of the country, both past and present.
Another reaction came from the head pastor of Misión Cristiana Elim (one of the evangelical denominations in El Salvador), Mario Vega, who said in an interview that evangelical churches are under attack for being dissonant voices for the current government.
“I am very interested to know where he (Félix Ulloa) got the data from, because to make such a statement and talk about specific percentages as he did, it is because there surely is a basis. I think the vice president is an educated person, he has been an academic and he has contributed a lot to the field of law. Would a person with those qualifications make a statement without having a basis? I would like to know what that basis is”, Vega said of the vice president’s remarks.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador also disputed the claims of Félix Ulloa. Cardenal Gregorio Rosa Chávez said the accusation of the government against evangelicals churches were made “with no basis”.