Brazil politics: Evangelical church expands influence

Stress on “traditional values” and “adherence to Bible” as people search for new direction in scandal-stricken country.

Sao Paulo – Brazilians are gearing up for Sunday’s local election, which has seen more and more people turning to evangelical leaders for political as well as spiritual guidance.

In the city of Sao Paulo, Celso Russomanno is vying for the mayor’s post, running on his record as a defender of consumer rights.

While he emphasises that he is a political and not a religious candidate, the fact that he is a devout Christian and a dedicated family man may appeal to some voters.

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“My party is not owned by any evangelical church. Almost 80 percent of those in the party come from different religions,” Russomanno told Al Jazeera.

No one church dominates Brazilian politics. But as the evangelical movement grows, its messages of what it calls “traditional values and strong adherence to the Bible” increasingly permeate society.

“I believe that over the years, evangelical Christians realised they should get involved in politics in order to set some principles, to offer society those principles we share as a Christian community,” Paulo de Carvalho, a pastor, said.

The growing influence of evangelicals is causing concern among some Brazilians [Al Jazeera]
The growing influence of evangelicals is causing concern among some Brazilians [Al Jazeera]

Carvalho’s congregation may interpret those principles differently, but generally agree that with Brazil mired in a scandal that has sucked in politicians and business leaders, the country needs a different direction.

“When voting, yes, I take into consideration religion and the values shared by the candidates. They don’t need to be Christians but they need to have ethical values,” Daniela Cruz, a secretary and member of Carvalho’s church, told Al Jazeera.

Anti-Rousseff vote

Evangelical politicians largely voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for mismanagement of funds, but also because her generally secular Workers’ Party, in office for 13 years, supported same-sex marriage and discussed abortion.

There are many reasons why the evangelical church – and its influence on mainstream politics – is growing in Brazil.

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Among the common threads are an emphasis on the importance of the family and the belief that many of the values they hold dear are being undermined by their politicians.

Evangelical followers donate a percentage of their income to churches that have become rich, running television stations that continue to win converts, mostly in poor neighbourhoods.

Their growing influence is causing some concern.

“The growth in evangelical Christianity is taking place without a deep discussion of the values enshrined in our historical character,” Rogerio Baptistini, of Mackenzie Presbyterian University, said.

“We are an open and tolerant society, but this sudden growth threatens rationality, the denial of the other, the diverse, the different.”

Brazil still has more Roman Catholics than any other country in the world, estimated at 135 million and representing about 65 percent of the population 

But as more and more followers leave and go to a vibrant and increasingly influential evangelical movement, the political character of Brazil continues to change.

Source: Al Jazeera