by Gutierres Fernandes Siqueira.
How can I explain Brazilian politics to the foreign public? This is not a simple task. The famous Bossa Nova’s musician, Tom Jobim (1927-1994), said once that Brazil is not for beginners.
The same thing can be said about the complex relationship of Pentecostal evangelicals with national politics. Since redemocratization in 1985, Brazilian politics has gone beyond the traditional division between conservatives and progressives.
For example, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who ruled Brazil between 1995 and 2002, was a Marxist sociologist early in his career in the 1960s and later became a Social Democrat in the 1980s. However, his government in the late 1990s had an economic management marked by classical liberalism.
Another example is President Fernando Collor that governed Brazil between 1990 and 1992. He was himself elected as a right-wing leader, but his administration confiscated investments in a disastrous economic plan, something unthinkable coming from a conservative politician. The last example that we can give is President Lula da Silva. This President, that governed Brazil from 2002 to 2010, is a leftist leader, but several right-wing parties have supported him, including most evangelical politicians.
The division between right and left in Brazil has been always very nebulous. This started to change in 2018. The last Brazilian election was very similar to the North American electoral model.
Evangelicals, including Pentecostals, came to support right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro while the cultural elite supported left-wing candidate and university professor Fernando Haddad. Candidate Jair Bolsonaro looked like a typical Republican candidate and went on to advocate for the release of arms, supported restricting abortion, advocating free-market and a foreign policy closer aligned with United States and Israel.
Brazil, for the first time in its democratic history, debated more “cultural warfare” than health policies and education policies. Just as in the United States, the televangelists came to support the conservative candidate. Besides that, the wife of Jair Bolsonaro is evangelical and a member of a charismatic church. In fact, the marriage of Jair Bolsonaro was celebrated by Pastor Silas Malafaia, a well-known Brazilian tele-evangelist who belongs to the Assembly of God.
The first victim of the “cultural warfare” was Senator Marina Silva, who tried to run for president for the third time without success. Ms. Silva is an evangelical and a member of the Assembly of God, but her political party, known as REDE, has a very liberal platform and for this reason many evangelicals were dissatisfied. Marina Silva didn’t oppose abortion and gay marriage in a clear way.
Catholic candidates like Geraldo Alckmin of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB), a member of the more conservative wing of the Catholic Church, didn’t get the evangelicals’s support and lost space for candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Another Christian evangelical candidate was Benevenuto Daciolo Fonseca dos Santos, known as Cabo Daciolo, a former military firefighter. Daciolo was a candidate for the “Patriota” party and became known for his fiery speeches where he quoted the Bible and conspiracy theories. In one of the televised debates of the election, the Bible was cited by three candidates (Bolsonaro, Marina Silva and Daciolo), something unprecedented in Brazilian TV.
The Partido Patriota (Patriot party) is an interesting case. This party was founded by Congressman Adilson Barroso, an environmentalist from the state of Minas Gerais and a member of the Assembly of God. The party was born under the name of Partido Ecológico Nacional (National Ecological Party), and the party’s purpose was to defend Christian social democracy and environmentalism.
The environmental political party was born in 2012, but in 2018 it changed the name for Patriota (Patriot). Earlier this year candidate Jair Bolsonaro quickly joined the party and soon left. Before the affiliation of Jair Bolsonaro, the ecological party took a right turn and so it changed its name. In addition, the party began to adopt classic right-wing flags, such as the defense of the liberation of arms.
A foreigner may be surprised by such a radical change, but the change of posture and even of ideology is a mark of Brazilian politics. In Brazil, it is very common for politicians to change parties, even if the new party is, in theory, completely different from the old party.
Today, Brazilian evangelicals, including Pentecostals, are very close to President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, the “Donald Trump of the Tropics”. Nonetheless, maybe in a few years these same evangelicals voters will support a candidate like Bernie Sanders.
The good news is that the young Brazilian democracy is very solid. We can see this when notice that this country has an independent judiciary, a strong congress and a president who needed to moderate the speech to win the election. Brazilian institutions and local press are both strong.
Another positive factor is that evangelical influence does not threaten the Secular State. In general, in Brazil the religions live in harmony. Although there are cases of violence against religions of African origin, these cases aren’t common, being vehemently condemned with by Brazilian institutions.
Very probably Brazil will be a Pentecostal majority nation in the next decade. The mission of Pentecostal Christians in Brazil is to use this influence to increasing responsibility and commitment to the values of the Kingdom of God.
Gutierres Fernandes Siqueira holds a degree in journalism and is a member of the Assembly of God of Brazil. Author of the book “Revestidos de Poder” (“Coated with Power”) and editor of the Pentecostal Theology Blog (www.teologiapentecostal.blog).
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!