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Friday, 23 September 2011

In Brazil, rising Christian evangelism behind LGBT rights pushback

Brazil-0013292Image by Jerrold via Flickr

Walking through the streets of Jardim São Luís, or many other neighborhoods on the outskirts of São Paulo, a Sunday afternoon is an experience. At every turn, succeed evangelical ceremonies, music and shouting. There is no denying the explosive rise of evangelical churches, especially in poor neighborhoods, who have managed to win with an attention to social problems that the Catholic Church in Brazil had neglected.

This year, the Assembly of God, the largest Pentecostal evangelical church in the country, is celebrating its centenary, and has much to celebrate. While Brazil remains the largest Catholic country in the world by number of faithful, devout evangelicals are growing every year and now total around 24 million and some estimates are that by 2045 they will be half of the population.

In recent years this influence has moved into the Congress of Deputies. In elections last October, the evangelical candidate, belonging to a dozen parties but grouped in the so-called evangelical caucus, got three senators and 73 deputies elected, not far from the Workers' Party (PT) of President Dilma Rousseff and allied Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). They include bishops, pastors and worshipers with policies framed in different centuries. Of those, 19 are deputies to the Assembly of God, to which also belongs Senator Marina Silva, former presidential candidate for the Green Party which had 20 million votes.

The Evangelical Parliamentary Front got 22 of the 30 pastors and evangelical leaders who were on their lists elected, a proportion higher than the PT, which won the election of 88 of its 334 candidates.

The evangelists are recovering well from their position in the 2006 elections, when they were punished by the voters for their involvement in scandals such as the famous mensalão (vote-buying scheme in Congress) and fraud in the purchase of ambulance cars.

Their priority is to fight against gay marriage and abortion

Evangelical parliamentarians belong to 14 different parties with different economic policy orientations, but vote as a block when it comes to moral issues. They are particularly active in rejection of gay marriage and legalised abortion. A few months ago their pressure made it impossible to introduce, as proposed by the Government, an "anti-homophobia kit" to schools - in a country that carries the sad honor of having the highest rate of violence against homosexuals in the world .

The Evangelical Parliamentary Front blog makes it clear that their priority is to fight "projects such as the legalisation of abortion, marriage between same sex, the concept of family change, the National Human Rights Plan and projects that criminalise pastors and others who dare to protest against the sin of homosexuality. "

Its force was felt already in the election campaign. Many analysts believe that it was the strong opposition to the legalisation of abortion of the Evangelists, while campaigning for the presidential elections of 2010, which prevented the first-round victory of Dilma Rousseff. At the time, Rousseff saw her popularity tumble and she summoned the bishops to an emergency meeting in which she won some support. And found the power the Evangelical Church has accumulated, which has a number of television broadcasting licenses.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is the best proof of that. It is, along with the Assembly of God, the most influential church in the streets and in Parliament. Its founder Edir Macedo owns Rede Record, the second most watched television station in the country with a 16% market share, second only to Il Globe. It also controls 30 radio stations, two newspapers and a magazine.

Present in 40 countries

The enormous power of the media that Macedo holds probably explains why he has survived numerous scandals and accusations in the past two decades. Since the early nineties, he has been investigated for fraud and embezzlement, but was acquitted. At the end of that decade came the claim that The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God's network of 2,000 churches in Brazil had helped launder money from the Cali cartel, one of the most powerful drug trafficking groups in Colombia.

And there is still Macedo, watching his empire grows, its four million members, its 10,000 pastors. Some estimates suggest revenues of up to one billion dollars annually. The Universal Church stands with pride and magnanimity on the Avenida João Dias, in the south of São Paulo, the 'Casa de la Moneda' as more skeptical paulistanos sarcastically refer to it. The truth is that the church founded by Macedo in 1977 in Rio de Janeiro is now present in over 40 countries. And scattered, always, by controversy.

They say the secret to Macedo's success was to convince the faithful that both spiritual and material improvement will not come in the afterlife but on earth. It's called prosperity theology. But to achieve this, the faithful will continue to disburse the, almost mandatory, and expensive, tithes. A mixture between the commercial and the divine.

[Via Google translate]

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  1. In Australia we are seeing changes towards LGBT people in Pentecostal circles with Ministers signing an apology to LGBT people for the way the church has treated then and the worlds first Pentecostal mega church welcoming LGBT people into the congregation. I trust that sanity will prevail in Brazil.

  2. Thanks Anthony, that's very interesting. I hope you are right.


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