When you arrived in Brazil, years ago, my friend from Rio told me: “The new Pentecostal Evangelical Churches that were created to control the population, their behaviour, their habits and, above all, the vote. The powers that have been conceived and managed are not from within the country and the stakes are high: petrol, and more so the geopolitical rule of Latin America.”
My friend was right (partly, at least). After ten years of living in Brazil, during some of which I infiltrated myself “clandestinely” in many Evangelical churches, I believe however that the phenomenon is more complex. In fact, two realities exist – the pastoral and the political – extremely connected with each other.
To understand it, however, one must take a dive into the past. With the affirmation of the Portuguese colonialists, the religious streak was destroyed and the spiritual traditions of the Brazilian population and in the men who, being converted into slaves, were brought to life by the Africans in South America. In this way a heavily classist and racist society was born in which a large part of the population is – still today – marginalized.
The majority of the evangelicals is in fact composed of afro-descendants who live in the favelas. But it is not only them. When I went to an indigenous village for the first time, right in the hear of the Amazon, excited, also for the possible and hoped contact with spiritual and traditional animalistic realities, with great amazement and delusion I discovered that Pentecostal evangelicals could even be found there. The Pajè, authorises and guides the spiritual presence in each community, he was like an evangelical shepherd.
In two decades, the evangelical churches convinced almost a quarter of the population to convert. The shortage of medical and social facilities causes Brazilians to turn elsewhere, in search of a cure, for easy solutions, and perhaps also for some magic or miracle.
When you cannot be part of a great collective, because you have been excluded, you become part of a Church, to receive reassurance and comfort. It is precisely for these needs that the evangelical Churches and their secret organisers founded their fortunes.
Well defined rules define the relationship between the Pentecostal Churches and the faithful: the obligation of 10% minimum tax, for example. The followers, however, in their psychological fragility, are induced more times, during the functions, to give more money to the shepherd, in exchange for him curing their physical problems.
Other rules, however, appear to be more positive: the pentecostal Churches do not accept the use of alcohol or drugs and, for this, in the evangelical families there is less violence considering the Brazilian records. The Churches also fill the void of the state with voluntary action in hospitals, in prisons and for the recovery of drug addictions.
The general impression, however, is that behind this activity is hidden the true interest of money and control over people. Often these Churches are closed to civic and juvenile issues. When, however when the interest goes towards morals and principles, everything comes up, like “Igreja para todos” for homosexuals, where they allow gay marriage or liek “Bola de neve”, a church for young surfers where the altar is a surf board.
A number are scandals that have targeted these organisations: the Deus and Amor church were for example accused of recycling and money laundering on behalf of the Hernandes family – owned by Renascer, the Church which was part owned also by the ex-Milanist Kaka – in which members, a few years ago, were arrested by the authorities of Miami whilst they were crossing the border with a lot of unreported money, hidden, as has been rumored, inside a Bible. It seems that the Hernandes family brought around 300 million dollars every month illegally into the United States.
Many shepherds became politicians thanks to their ability to persuade the population. “Political” sermons are on the agenda in the churches.
There are two parties that declare themselves as evangelicals in Brazil, even though there are 90 parliamentarians who are considered part of the “evangelical stand”, 15% in total of these are in charge of the assignment. These parties are however so strong that, if they were to join they would represent at least a third of the country’s voters.
The political position is right or extreme right, in the case of the discussions between Feliciano and Bolsonaro, famous for proposing the “cure for gays” through a “religious conversion”.
In the last years, in the name of governability, the pentecostal parties made up part of the local and national government of PT (Partito dos Trabalhadores). Josè Alencar, evangelist, deceased a few years ago, often visited the “Universal” church and was vice president in the two Lula governments. The director of the operation to drop the executive Dilma Rousseff, with a mistrust for another great controversy, was Eduardo Cunha, the former chamber President, who went to the evangelical Church “Assembleia de Deus” and friend of Temer’s party (PMDB), the ex vice-president of Brazil who was as subsitute in Dilma. Cunha today is in jail and was sentenced for 15 years for money laundering and corruption.
In a country as extravagant as Brazil, anything can happen, even if a politician like Marcelo Crivella, minister and “bishop” of the evangelical Church “Universal do Reino de Deus” has just become mayor of Rio de Janeiro, a city known throughout the world for its own not very evangelical customs.