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Religion Matters
Pentacostal Power and Brazil's Presidential Race

In Brazil, Pentecostals are learning to speak in talking points as well as in tongues. Reuters profiles the rise of politically active evangelicals in the country, many of whom belong to the fastest growing evangelical denomination, Pentecostalism. In 2010, 22 percent of the country identified as evangelical, up from 5 percent in 1970, and the numbers continue to grow. With overflowing church services have come money and political power:

Brazil’s evangelical faithful have turned their opposition to gay marriage and abortion, which are both illegal here, into key national political issues.

Funded by the tithes their followers are asked to pay, the more successful evangelical churches are increasingly turning their newfound wealth into political influence.

They have bought up radio and television stations across Brazil and financed campaigns to elect evangelical candidates, including many pastors, to seats in Congress.

Reuters frames the story in terms of the ongoing, hotly contested race for the country’s presidency, pitting the incumbent, Catholic Dilma Rousseff, against evangelical challenger Marina Silva. Evangelicals are an important base for Silva; Reuters says they could make all the difference in such a tight race.

There are important qualifications to this claim, however. The two largest Brazilian evangelical churches have endorsed different candidates in the election, so evangelicals don’t form a unified bloc, at least not yet. Moreover, there’s always a distinction between the official stance of a church and how individual churchgoers will vote, as the Reuters piece admits. (For a more in-depth and highly critical take on the Reuters article, see Getreligion’s post here.)

Even if Reuters perhaps overstates its case (as well as the parallels between Brazilian evangelicals and American ones), the report highlights a notable trend in Brazilian politics. Many evangelicals are winning seats in the country’s legislature. One influential pastor successfully lobbied Silva to walk back her party’s support for gay marriage, while evangelical pressure has kept Rousseff, however shakily, in the pro-life camp. Evangelicals are clearly growing more influential, even if they don’t speak with one voice.

Even if these voters don’t prove to be game-changers this time around, this story is one to watch. As Peter Berger has noted, the rise of evangelicalism in general and Pentacostalism in particular in the global south is likely to reshape global Protestantism in years to come. There’s little doubt it will leave its mark on global politics as well.

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  • KoeniginLuisevonPreussen

    Can you please spell it correctly and consistently? PentEcostal. PentEcostal. Thx 🙂

  • FriendlyGoat

    Let’s hope that the evangelicals of Brazil are not as hypnotized by their corporate sector as the evangelicals of America have become by ours.

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