Amid Crisis in Brazil, Evangelicals Emerge as the Main Conservative Power

Amid Crisis in Brazil, Evangelicals Emerge as the Main Conservative Power, by Julio Severo.

The American Left is keeping an eye on the increasing influence of conservative evangelicals in Brazil. “The Nation,” the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States since 1865, produced this month a special article, titled “Amid Crisis in Brazil, the Evangelical Bloc Emerges as a Political Power,” about the political power of evangelicals in Brazil. …

If the American Left, which is the most powerful Left in the world, is worried about evangelicals in Brazil, it is an excellent sign for Brazilian evangelicals.

In the world’s largest Catholic country, a rival Christian movement could select Brazil’s next president. By Omar G. Encarnación.

Although the country remains the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, in recent decades a massive swelling in the ranks of Protestant evangelicals has challenged Catholic hegemony. In 1970, the percent of Brazilian Catholics stood at 90 percent; today, it barely clears 50 percent. During that same time span, the percentage of Protestant evangelicals has risen from 5 percent to roughly 30 percent. Across the country, evangelical leaders are struggling to keep up with the growth of their flock. Abandoned shopping centers, X-rated theaters, and strip clubs have all become unlikely places of worship. …

The expansion of Protestant evangelism didn’t happen overnight. …

A third and final wave came in 1977 with the rise of the “neo-Pentecostal” movement, led by the homegrown Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God or IURD). With branches in places like India, the US, and South Africa, the IURD is a global leader of prosperity theology, which asserts that devotion to God is rewarded with material gain. Founded by Edir Macedo, known throughout the world as “Bishop Macedo,” the IURD is a testament to excess. Forbes magazine estimates that Macedo is “the richest religious leader in Brazil, or perhaps in the world,” with a fortune estimated at $1.3 billion. …

Macedo’s influence on national politics cannot be overstated. The opening of IURD’s new temple was an obligatory appointment for the entire political class, with both Lula and Rousseff in attendance. At election time, Macedo’s political endorsements, which he dangles like pieces of candy and spreads around various political parties, are some of the most sought after in the country. The value of his endorsement resides not only in Macedo’s fame, but also in the reach of his vast media empire, which includes radio and television stations, newspapers, and a sophisticated social media operation. …

Like the rise of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the early 1980s, which ushered in the emergence of the American Christian right, Brazilian evangelical leaders have entered the political fray motivated by a sense of moral outrage. These leaders point to the moral decay that has taken place in Brazil under Lula and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). They condemn the rise in secularism; the advent of gay marriage, imposed by the Federal Supreme Court in 2011; the growing acceptance of abortion (although illegal, an estimated 1 to 4 million abortions are performed every year); and the ubiquity of pornography. …

Despite their shared origins and mutual admiration, the Brazilian evangelical community is not a carbon copy of the American one.  … In Brazil … evangelicals are at war with the Catholic Church over the issue of “Catholic privilege.” Evangelical churches want the government to grant them the same tax breaks and benefits traditionally given only to the Catholic Church, such as support for Catholic schools, monasteries, and seminaries. Many Brazilian evangelicals also aggressively target Catholics as their main source of converts.

Additionally, while evangelicals and Catholics are on the same page when it comes to homosexuality, they can differ on abortion. For the Catholic Church, abortion is an absolute abomination, regardless of the circumstances. For many Brazilian evangelicals, however, there’s some wiggle room.