Brazil: The Dangerous Rise of Evangelical Fundamentalism


Not as it seems

Brazil. The land of white sandy beaches. A place of persistent sunshine. The land of carnival, and a place where the party never stops. This is the impression a great many people have of Brazil – however, what lurks below the surface is not as bright. Brazil may seem like a country in harmony, but the rise of religious fundamentalism over the last fifteen years threatens to shatter that delusion. Brazil, although predominately Roman Catholic, is imbued with a diverse mix of religions. Due to Brazil’s mixed cultural heritage, religions originating from Africa, such as Candomblé and Umbanda find a place in the state. Judaism and Buddhism are also two religions that have a notable albeit small-scale presence in the Latin American nation. However, a different form of Christianity has caused a surge in religious fundamentalism, and has affected politics and society in the process.

Filling the void

Evangelical churches have risen exponentially, and has become ideologically and politically powerful. Evangelism is a form of Protestant Christianity which focuses in sharing its message by convincing others to convert. As the Catholic Church declined in some areas, Evangelicals sprung up to fill the void. This is particularly the case in the most deprived areas of Brazil. In rural areas, and the poor outskirts of cities, Evangelical churches have established strongholds. However, they have not stayed limited to the lower socio-economic classes.

Marketing and media

os-dez-mandamentos-2[via Oportal da TV]

Evangelism is based upon spreading its message. In order to grow, many Evangelical churches have used aggressive marketing strategies. Mass media is key, particularly radio and television. More recently, the internet has been a key platform for the spread of evangelical ideas. The media reach of Evangelicals is astonishing. Record TV is one of the largest television networks in Brazil. It is also owned by Edir Macedo, a founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. A recent soap opera (or telenovela) launched by the network ‘The Ten Commandments’ (Os Dez Mandamentos) became the second most watched scripted TV series in Brazil. However, more direct techniques are often deployed.

The Evangelical preachers state that only they hold the key to God’s truths. It is not difficult for this to form as a unified message across channels. Central to its funding and allowing its continuous spread is the ‘theory of abundance’. They preach that if one has enough faith and donates ‘enough’ money to the Church, then one will be rewarded. In a key difference to other ideologies, the Evangelicals promise earthly rewards – and immediately. In a country which such abundant poverty and hig levels of socio-economic segregation, this message is extremely attractive. The final key to their techniques is demonisation and scape-goating. The charge of being the source of all the world’s evils is directed at religions of African origin, women, and, chiefly, the LGBT community. This dangerous rhetoric is already creating real and devastating consequences. Earlier this year, a 12-year-old girl in Rio was injured when leaving a Candomblé ceremony with her family. Seeing them dressed in white clothes typical of the Candomblé, attackers pelted them with stones. Other attacks on venues where are the religions of African origin ceremonies take place are already becoming a common place – something that previously was almost unheard of.

How religion took over the Brazilian Congress

Eduardo-Cunha-by-Clayton-de-Souza-Estadao[via Cerea em Pauta]

As the population became more enamoured with the Evangelical movement, pastors and others from the Church began to run for political office. Many were successful and have won seats in Congress. Today the ‘bancada evangelica‘ or ‘evangelical caucus’ has 75 of the 512 seats in the lower house of Congress, hundreds of state legislators and city councillors, and is in control of one ministry. Current Brazilian politics cannot be explained without Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Lower House of Congress, and an evangelical Christian. His religious views have undoubtedly informed his political actions. Cunha proposed a bill that would make abortion illegal in all instances. Currently, abortion in Brazil is already restricted. However, there are exceptions for rape, if the mother’s life is in danger, and for anencephalopathy, a condition in which a foetus develops without part of the brain or skull.

This proposed legislation would set back hard-fought reproductive rights by decades, requiring women to  undergo forensic tests. Cunha has also proposed a bill to create a day for ‘Heterosexual Pride’, to oppose Gay Pride, and “discourage anyone to the ‘gay ideology’.” Further laws to denigrate civil rights have also been tabled by the evangelical caucus. A bill which ended up being approved by Congress was the ‘Estatuto da Familia‘, which established that only a union between a man and a woman could constitute a family. This dismisses same-sex parents, as well as single-parent families, children raised by grandparents, and other family arrangements. Undoubtedly, any form of religions fundamentalism can be a slow and dangerous weapon on any individual’s freedom. As a Brazilian, I am saddened that my population could elect such regressive politicians. Despite this, I still like to believe that we, as Brazilians, are a tolerant country. Hopefully it will stay this way.


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