The Evolving Role of Evangelicals in Brazil's Political Landscape

Thati

Hatched by Thati

Mar 12, 2024

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The Evolving Role of Evangelicals in Brazil's Political Landscape

Introduction:

In recent years, the influence of the evangelical community in Brazil has grown significantly, particularly in the political and social spheres. This article aims to explore the reasons behind this transformation and shed light on the unique characteristics of the evangelical movement in the country.

Defining Evangelicals:

To understand the evangelical movement in Brazil, it is essential to clarify what being an evangelical means. According to Juliano Spyer, a researcher on the subject, being evangelical involves a personal connection with God through the reading and interpretation of the Bible, as well as actively participating in evangelization efforts. The term "evangelical" is often used to refer to the poorer Protestant population, while "protestant" is more commonly used among the middle and upper classes. Additionally, many individuals within these communities reject the label of "believer" or "evangelical," instead identifying simply as Christians.

The Face of Evangelicals in Brazil:

According to a 2020 Datafolha survey, the typical face of evangelicals in Brazil is young, black, and female. The study revealed that 58% of evangelicals are women, 59% are black or mixed-race, and over 60% are between the ages of 14 and 44. These demographics highlight the diverse and inclusive nature of the evangelical community in Brazil.

Factors Contributing to the Rise of Evangelicals:

To understand why evangelicals have become a political and social force in Brazil in the 21st century, it is crucial to consider several key factors. According to Peruvian sociologist José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, the first factor is the recognition, within the evangelical churches, of the need to claim a legitimate place in society and defend religious freedom while advocating for Christian values. The second factor is a significant theological shift from a focus on waiting for the second coming of Jesus to actively working towards the establishment of God's kingdom on Earth. This change in perspective, known as post-millennialism, encourages evangelicals to engage with the world and seek social and political change.

Influential Theologies:

In addition to these factors, various influential theologies within the evangelical movement have shaped its political engagement. The prosperity theology, prevalent in the neo-Pentecostal branch, emphasizes material and financial blessings as rewards for religious devotion. This belief has been instrumental in attracting poorer individuals to evangelical churches, as it promises improved socio-economic conditions. On the other hand, the historic Protestantism emphasizes a more austere lifestyle and sees economic progress as a consequence of disciplined work and education.

The Role of Politics:

The third factor identified by Guadalupe relates to the political landscape in Brazil. With the decline of traditional political parties and ideologies, the evangelical movement saw an opportunity to fill a vacuum of representation. This led to increased political activism and engagement with politicians, business leaders, and the media as a means of evangelization and influence. By aligning themselves with conservative values, evangelicals have been able to establish themselves as a significant force in Brazilian politics.

Common Ground with Conservative Catholics:

While the rise of evangelicals in Brazil's political landscape has been significant, it is important to note that they are not the only religious group driving conservative ideologies. Catholic leaders and followers often share similar conservative positions on issues such as sexuality, abortion, and women's rights. However, evangelical leaders have been more active in political engagement, while Catholic leaders have become more cautious in positioning themselves politically.

The Bolsonaro Effect:

The recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil's president can be seen as the culmination of the conservative wave within the country, with evangelicals playing a central role. Researchers Paulo Gracino Junior and Carlos Henrique Souza argue that Bolsonaro's candidacy effectively synthesized and vocalized conservative sentiments related to family, education, morality, and security. This allowed evangelicals to rally behind him, resulting in his election victory.

The Role of Resentment:

According to researchers Gracino Junior, Mayra Goulart, and Paula Frias, resentment played a crucial role in the identification between Bolsonaro and the evangelical electorate. Over the past three decades, evangelicals have transitioned from a marginalized group to an organized social and political force. This newfound empowerment has led to a sense of abandonment, which Bolsonaro's populist rhetoric effectively tapped into. The belief that the "humbled will be exalted," a popular biblical verse among evangelical Pentecostals, resonated strongly with this group.

Beyond Religious Identity:

Despite the growing influence of evangelicals in politics, studies have shown that religious identity plays a lesser role in their voting decisions than other social, political, economic, and religious factors. Ana Carolina Evangelista, a political scientist, suggests that the so-called "moral agenda" serves more as a tool to mobilize fear and panic among voters, particularly in relation to left-wing ideologies. This highlights the complex and multifaceted nature of evangelical political engagement.

Conclusion:

The rise of evangelicals as a political and social force in Brazil is the result of various factors, including a redefinition of their role within society, theological changes, and political opportunities. The unique characteristics of the evangelical movement, such as its inclusive nature and focus on personal transformation, have contributed to its growth and influence. Moving forward, understanding the motivations and aspirations of evangelicals will be crucial for comprehending Brazil's political landscape.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Foster dialogue and understanding between different religious groups to promote tolerance and cooperation.
  • 2. Encourage critical thinking and analysis of political discourse, regardless of religious affiliation.
  • 3. Promote education and access to resources as a means of empowering marginalized communities and reducing socio-economic inequalities.

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