In our Facebook forum, the issue of Pentecostal politics was raised recently by a friend of the ministry, Elias Kruger:
I would like to pose a question to this group. While I am greatly encouraged by PCPJ work, I have noticed that Pentecostals (and apostolic movements in general) tend to align squarely with right-wing politics. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the recent election of both Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Living in these two countries and growing up in Charismatic circles, this was a dominant reality. Why do you think Pentecostals tend to align with authoritarian right-wing leaders? Is there something about our theology or praxis that needs to change?
Here are some of the responses that were given:
The problem is that people confuse Holy Spirit power with guys who make a big noise and sound confident. CEO disease. You see how successful Mr. Exceptional President has been with that.
Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century Pentecostalism just adopted many of the theological and ideological stances of evangelicalism. Evangelical theology as a whole is more concerned with individual sin than societal sin. Historically, conservative politics tend to lean toward an emphasis on individual morality. Left wing politics tend to lean toward fighting societal sins. Both sides have some appeal to truth in scripture.
I am a Pentecostal and I couldn’t be further from the right. I believe that many of their policies are hypocritical stances – for example, they tend to be pro-birth, rather than pro-life. They want people to be born, but after that, they’re on their own. Israel and Palestine are at war, and there are huge injustices perpetrated by Israel on Palestinians.
The OT stance of Israel being God’s people has been overruled by the NT in which the Son of God was sent so that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord is His child, not an elite group, just as we are priests to serve our God, while in the OT only certain people from certain tribes could be priests.
I have had enough of people who say they are Christ followers and yet they support lying, narcissism, merciless actions toward the poor and oppressed. For me, a pentecostal is someone who believes in baptism of Holy Spirit for today, not someone who makes poverty a sin and wealth a virtue. Micah 6:8 is the heart of God, and Matt 22:36-39 Anything else is aberrant to the heart of God.
In the US, I think it has a lot to do with prosperity theology (which the big-name charismatic preachers and politicians both teach) and the major cultural issues of today. Most Christians are against abortion and homosexuality, and the Democratic Party doesn’t leave much room for disagreement there anymore. As a result, many default to the Republican candidates (even though Trump is not socially conservative at all).
I think the heart of right-ward political movement in the Pentecostal/Charismatic world ultimately hangs more on apocalyptic eschatology and the presumption (with Israel as a key sign) that we are living in the last of the last days. All the other issues flow out of a worldview that is shaped by this central belief.
Allan Anderson, emeritus professor of Mission and Pentecostal Studies at Birmingham University, also weighed in:
The discussion above reveals the state of present-day western Pentecostalism, especially in the Americas (European Pentecostals are rather different). In the early years most Pentecostals were pacifists during the First World War, and people like Frank Bartleman stood for racial justice and democratic values. Since the “culture wars” of the 1960s onwards and the advent of the “prosperity gospel” everything has changed.
In America the reason that white Pentecostals and conservative evangelicals (very different with most African Americans) support the Republican Party is because of the so-called “biblical” values, pro-life, anti gay rights, and support for the state of Israel (no matter what). Broader issues are never considered, and anyone who does not support the “religious right” is written off as a “leftie” or a “socialist” or “liberal”. These are dirty words in these circles, and sadly, I don’t see the political and social polarisation going away any time soon.
Even more scary is the gun culture in the USA that means that some of these “Christians” will defend their “rights” with guns. I don’t know much about the current Brazilian situation except that Bolsanero is in cahoots with Trump. Marina Silva was a presidential candidate and Afro-Brazilian on the left of Brazilian politics. Another former Pentecostal was another prominent AfroBrazilian woman in the socialist Workers Party, Benedita da Silva.
A Brazilian Pentecostal confirmed:
Allan is correct. Also, the influence of US Pentecostalism (conservative protestantisms in general) in Brazil is, of course, a significant element. This influence has been continuous and aggressive since just a few years after Azusa—and it only grew as globalization and its technologies developed. In the case of Brazil, there are strong indications that the success of conservative Protestantisms will continue to mean the growth of republican-like politics. There is a strong correlation there.
Gutierres Fernandes Siqueira has previously written a very interesting piece for us about the Brazilian case – Pentecostals actually founded an environmentalist party recently, that quickly morphed into a far-right nationalist organization.
This is a really important conversation to have. There was a time when Pentecostalism was not tied to the far-right as it is now. In fact, most Pentecostals around the world are actually promoting peace and justice, making the American and Brazilian cases a minority phenomenon. Before the tide turns, we have to do our best to support Pentecostal independence from far-right political influence.
Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author, and editor for PCPJ.
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!