The Rise of Evangelicals in Brazil: Exploring the Factors Behind Their Political and Social Power

Thati

Hatched by Thati

May 13, 2024

5 min read

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The Rise of Evangelicals in Brazil: Exploring the Factors Behind Their Political and Social Power

In recent years, the evangelical movement in Brazil has gained significant political and social influence. This phenomenon has raised questions about what it means to be an evangelical in Brazil and why they have become a political force in the 21st century. To understand this transformation, we need to examine various factors that have contributed to the rise of evangelicals in Brazilian society.

What Does It Mean to Be Evangelical in Brazil?

The term "evangelical" is often used to refer to poor Protestants, while "protestant" is more commonly used to describe middle-class and upper-class individuals. Some individuals within these groups reject the labels of "believer" or "evangelical" and prefer to identify simply as Christians. According to a 2020 Datafolha survey, the typical face of evangelicalism in Brazil is female, black, and young. The majority of evangelicals in Brazil are women (58%), black or mixed-race (59%), and between the ages of 14 and 44 (over 60%). These demographics provide insights into the social composition of the evangelical community in Brazil.

Factors Behind the Rise of Evangelicals

  • 1. Claiming a Legitimate Place in Society

One significant factor in the transformation of evangelicals in Brazil has been the realization within the evangelical churches that they have a legitimate place in society. They began to advocate for religious freedom and actively engage as citizens guided by Christian values. The maturation of these churches led to a shift in their perception of worldly matters. Previously, the dominant mindset rejected involvement in "mundane" activities like politics, as life was seen as a waiting room for the second coming of Jesus Christ. However, the rise of a different theological perspective, known as post-millennialism, challenged this view. Post-millennialism emphasizes the active participation of Protestants in improving their lives and restoring the Kingdom of God on Earth.

  • 2. Influential Theologies

Several influential theologies have shaped the political engagement of evangelicals in Brazil. The Prosperity Gospel, for example, promises financial rewards for religious conversion and adherence to religious practices. This theology encourages believers to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to overcome life's challenges. The Protestant historical tradition, on the other hand, emphasizes austerity and the production of wealth through labor. It rejects the idea that conversion should be motivated by a desire for material prosperity but acknowledges that improved conditions may result from a disciplined life and the influence of the church.

  • 3. Political and Societal Vacuum

The decline of traditional political ideologies and parties, particularly the decline of communism, created a political and societal vacuum. Evangelicals saw an opportunity to evangelize the masses and gain influence over politicians, business leaders, and media personalities. By engaging in politics, they could promote their religious message and effect social change. This political activism has been a driving force behind the growing power of evangelicals in Brazil.

The Impact of Evangelical Political Engagement

The conservative wing of the evangelical movement has played a significant role in shaping public debates in Brazil. They have focused on moral issues such as abortion, sex education, and the rights of women. The discourse of order, family values, and a less interventionist state in social and economic affairs has also been prominent. Additionally, they have demonized political and religious opponents, particularly left-wing ideologies and non-Judeo-Christian religions. This conservative agenda has resonated with many Brazilians and contributed to the electoral success of politicians like Jair Bolsonaro.

However, it is crucial to note that conservative voters in Brazil are not exclusively evangelical. Catholics and evangelicals often share similar conservative views on issues related to sexuality, abortion, and women's rights. While Catholic leaders have become more cautious about engaging in politics, evangelical leaders have become more politically active. This increased political engagement by evangelicals aligns with their theological mission and has contributed to the growth of the ideological right in Brazil.

The Role of Resentment and Identity Politics

Resentment has been a driving force behind the rise of conservatism in Brazil, particularly among evangelical voters. This resentment stems from a sense of abandonment and humiliation experienced by many evangelicals in the past. However, as they gained social and cultural representation over the past few decades, this resentment has transformed into a desire for recognition and empowerment. The election of Bolsonaro, who symbolizes this desire for empowerment, has further intensified this sentiment.

However, it is essential to move away from a politics of resentment and focus on strategic thinking and representation through the democratic process. Identity politics, by assigning blame and targeting privileged groups, can hinder progress. It is crucial to recognize that the struggle is not about resentment but about class struggle. By shifting the focus from resentment to genuine representation, Brazil can foster a more inclusive and productive political landscape.

Conclusion: Moving Forward

While the rise of evangelicals in Brazilian politics has been influenced by various factors, it is crucial to recognize the complexity of this phenomenon. Evangelicals' engagement in politics is not solely driven by religious identity but also by social, economic, and political factors. To navigate this landscape effectively, it is essential to move away from polarization and embrace a more inclusive and strategic approach.

Here are three actionable pieces of advice for Brazil to move forward:

  • 1. Foster dialogue and diversify paths: Instead of resorting to humiliation and aggression, prioritize conversation and explore diverse solutions to societal challenges.
  • 2. Focus on representation through the democratic process: Rather than perceiving certain groups as threats, embrace the power of representation through voting and democratic participation.
  • 3. Emphasize class struggle over resentment: Shift the narrative from resentment to a focus on addressing societal inequalities through a class-based analysis.

By following these steps, Brazil can bridge the divide and build a more inclusive and prosperous future for all its citizens.

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