Current influence of Evangelicals on politics

. Apr 25, 2018
evangelicals brazilian politics Brazilian Evangelicals are a political force

As Brazil gears up for its most contested election since democratization, pre-candidates are clamoring for endorsements. But one particular group is being courted for its sizeable influence: the Evangelicals.

As a demographic, they’re one of the fastest-growing groups in Brazil, cutting into the world’s biggest Catholic population. However, Evangelical representation in Congress and the Senate means their influence over policy turns a political endorsement into coveted election currency.

In 1940, 95 percent of Brazilians declared themselves Catholic – and while there are still more Catholics in Brazil than anywhere else in the world in straight numbers, they had fallen to 60 percent by 2014. Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians, who made up just 4 percent of the population in 1970, represented one-quarter of the population according to the last census.

But the Evangelical bloc has its own election aims. At present, it has 93 members in the Lower House. With 25 political parties represented in parliament, but none taking up more than 11.5 percent of the seats, the Evangelical bloc’s 15 percent of the chamber means it currently has the largest united front within the Lower House.

</p> <p>Not that this curbs the bloc’s ambition: in October, it hopes that its total in the Lower House will rise to at least 150 representatives. It also hopes to have five times as many Senators, from the present three to a total of 15 (out of 81). The argument is that as Evangelicals compose just over a quarter of the population, they should also be represented in this proportion in Brazil’s political houses.<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Religion in Brazil</a><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Infogram</a></p> <h2>Political agendas</h2> <p>“There’s serious concern for rescuing traditional values – and so parliamentarians assume very hostile positions towards agendas concerning LGBT populations, women’s rights, abortion,” explained Bruna Suruagy, a psychology professor at Mackenzie University. According to Suruagy’s research, the Evangelical bloc uses a banner of ‘moral crisis’ to bring in conservative voters – a group which is now approximately 54 percent of the population.</p> <p>But, Suruagy’s research shows, these ideas are just a small part of the issues that the bloc pushes in Brazil’s political houses. “These parliamentarians are also defenders of liberal or neoliberal economic policies,” she says. “They usually defend the idea of a minimal state, which doesn’t interfere with economic questions and which deregulates markets.”</p> <p>Individual wealth generation fits within the well-documented prosperity gospel – that is, that material wealth is a moral aspiration – followed by many Brazilian Evangelical Churches. But the wealthiest members of these Churches are often their founders, who would stand to benefit from liberal economic stances and are heavily involved in high-level politics.</p> <p>Silas Malafaia, an influential televangelist pastor and former leader of the Assembly of God, Brazil’s biggest Pentecostal Church, is one such figure. When a judge ruled that a psychologist was allowed to perform “conversion therapy” for homosexuals who voluntarily sought out the treatment in September 2017, Malafaia’s Twitter feed spent 22 consecutive hours spitting out attacks at negative press coverage.<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Rise of evangelical politicians</a><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Infogram</a></p> <p>“It’s the patient who decides what they want, not the therapist,” he said in a <a href="">video</a>, where he also says that there is no such thing as a ‘cure’ in psychology.</p> <p>However, Malafaia has actively pushed for legislation to allow conversion therapy via Congressman Marco Feliciano in 2013 and 2015, and a congressman known as Pastor Eurico in 2014. Some left-wing voices have <a href="">speculated</a> that this would serve Malafaia’s crack cocaine rehabilitation clinics well, alleging that they would offer the ‘therapy’ and that Malafaia’s pockets would subsequently be well-lined.</p> <p>But Malafaia’s economic agenda follows the same pattern demonstrated by Suruagy’s research: Malafaia is most outspoken on LGBT matters, but celebrated the Labor Reforms, calling them “the end of the unionist empire”. Of course, Malafaia’s protection from a law which is accused of making it harder to stop modern slavery comes in the form of an enormous net worth – approximately 150 million USD, according to Forbes Magazine’s 2013 estimations. Malafaia could not be reached for comment.</p> <h2>Evangelicals: 2016 success</h2> <p>Two years ago, Rio de Janeiro elected as mayor Marcello Crivella, an Evangelical bishop member of a controversial church.</p> <p>It is safe to describe Rio’s mayor as a political chameleon. When he started his term in the Senate back in 2003, Crivella presented himself as a moderate. He promised to respect the secular state and kept radical televangelists at arm’s length. It worked, as he became an ally of former President Lula, and named Minister of Fishing and Aquaculture (yes, there is such a thing in Brazil).</p> <p>These high-profile alliances helped him overcome public mistrust of his church, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and especially for its founder, Edir Macedo, who happens to be Crivella’s uncle.</p> <p>But the moderate Crivella is something new. The politician has a past of bigotry and intolerance. During the 1990s, he published <em>Evangelizando a África</em> (loosely translated as “Evangelizing Africa”) about his time as a missionary in Africa. In this book, Crivella stated that the Catholic Church preaches “demonic doctrines,” that Eastern religions are all about “filthy spirits,” and African traditions allow “all sorts of immoral behavior, even with children.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone wp-image-3874 size-full"><img loading="lazy" width="768" height="511" src="" alt="marcelo crivella evangelical" class="wp-image-3874" srcset=" 768w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 768px) 100vw, 768px" /><figcaption>With Marcelo Crivella, Evangelicals reached power in Brazil&#8217;s most-famous city</figcaption></figure> <h2>Agendas advance under Temer</h2> <p>Some of the Evangelical bloc’s low-profile causes have advanced under current President Michel Temer’s watch, according to Christina Vital, a sociology professor at the Federal Fluminense University.</p> <p>“Indigenous lands are an important question, because [the Evangelical bloc] has a connection to the agribusiness lobby,” she said. “There’s also an interest in the public security agenda, as well as labor reforms. It’s the type of legislation that interests certain businesses in Brazil, as well as agribusiness.”</p> <p>President Temer’s proximity to the agribusiness lobby is far from secret. The day before a key vote on whether he should be tried for corruption, he had lunch with the group; meanwhile, his government has passed reams of legislation that favor agribusiness interests.</p> <p>Temer also recently dismissed the head of FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous Foundation, at the request of the agribusiness lobby. Meanwhile, 2017 was the deadliest year for land rights defenders since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission’s most recent study. The Evangelical bloc’s strategic links to the agribusiness and munitions lobbies – the three forming the ‘Beef, Bullets and Bible Caucus’ – means that common interests of certain parliamentary groups have strong parliamentary representation.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-full wp-image-3875"><img loading="lazy" width="680" height="453" src="" alt="Evangelicals protest House" class="wp-image-3875" srcset=" 680w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 680px) 100vw, 680px" /><figcaption>Evangelicals protest in the Lower House against Pride Parade</figcaption></figure> <p>“When Eduardo Cunha became the Lower House Speaker, the Evangelical bloc started to feel more powerful and was able to propose projects,” said Suruagy. Previously, the bloc had mostly restricted itself to defensive moves, hitting out against proposals that could protect LGBT populations or provide greater access to abortion. But with Cunha, and his proposals including a day to celebrate heterosexual pride and to combat ‘heterophobia’, Suruagy’s research found that the bloc began to legislate more aggressively.</p> <p>Though Cunha is currently serving time in jail for corruption, and his national heterosexual pride day was shelved, these ideas are still having an effect on communities today. In December 2017, legislators in Bahia established <a href="">a state-wide national day for heterosexual pride</a>. And despite 2017 being the <a href="">deadliest year on record</a> for LGBT Brazilians, last week city councilors in Manaus <a href="">voted against measures</a> that would combat homophobia.</p> <p>While Brazil’s population is becoming increasingly conservative, researchers still believe that a growing Evangelical bloc in Congress doesn’t necessarily represent the interests of Evangelical voters.</p> <p>Obviously, the Churches have grown, they have economic and symbolic power. Their communication channels are extremely important to guarantee their voter base, but voters aren’t effectively reflected by their representatives,” said Suruagy. “There are some projects, in my view, that are anti-democratic, because of the way in which they attempt to eliminate the rights of some social groups.”

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Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.

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