A Cold War Perspective of Religions: The Catholic and LDS Churches in Chile, 1973-1990
Marianne Bristow Evans
Utah State University
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol III.
The recent selection of the first Latin American pope as the head of the Roman Catholic Church draws attention to the deep scars left in South America by the Cold War. The Cold War was an iconic period in history, one of great religious conflict when the faith and democratic ideology of Christianity stood in direct opposition to the Marxist atheism and totalitarian dogma of communism. The U.S. government led the world struggle against what it saw as repression; indeed, many of its leaders believed that the U.S. government had a divine mandate to rid the world of communism. Against the backdrop of this sociopolitical struggle, President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, decided that it was in the United States’ national interest to intervene in Chilean politics. The U.S. government abetted a coup d’état in 1973 against Chile’s socialist government led by President Salvador Allende, justifying the installment of the dictator General Augusto Pinochet as a necessary step in the Cold War battle against communism; democracy became an unfortunate casualty in this global contest. Organized religion played its role in this holy call to combat communism, but different sects interpreted their moral obligations in contrasting ways. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS Church, felt a sacred responsibility to serve and comfort the Chilean people in a time when oppression and terror were widespread. But while the Catholic Church took an active position in response to human rights violations during Pinochet’s reign, the LDS Church chose to refrain from taking any official stance against the policies of the government’s military forces. The Catholic Church offered fundamental legal defense, international condemnation, and service to victims as it challenged the Chilean government. The LDS Church’s socially conservative position in not actively opposing the Chilean government can best be understood by examining church documents from this period along with personal stories from the people who lived through this tumultuous time. The actions taken by LDS Church leaders, missionaries, and Chilean members during Pinochet’s rule serve to illustrate the Church’s doctrine regarding the Cold War; peace comes through personal development and correction, not by directly opposing corruption and oppression by groups or nations. The LDS Church viewed itself as acting from an eternal point of view, while the Roman Catholic Church worked from a more immediate perspective.