Between part of the left and some evangelical groups there is often “an abyss”, in the view of Viviane Costa, a Pentecostal pastor and researcher of the relationship between religion and power in the outskirts of Rio.
On the one hand, the non-religious left is “intolerant” of evangelicals. On the other hand, the religious left resists Pentecostals – in general terms, it is the second most recent strand of Protestant Christianity, which arrived in Brazil in the early 20th century, represented by churches such as Assembly of God, Foursquare Gospel and God is Love – which, for the most part, are in a context of economic poverty.
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Both lefts often put themselves “many times in this place of fighting the Pentecostal movements. There the abyss is intensified. When the left moves away from Pentecostal movements, in intense criticism, it also moves away from these other marks of identity for religion, increasing the chasm between the left and the poor”, says Costa.
In this broth, the researcher believes that there is a certain prejudice of the middle and upper middle classes in relation to evangelicals, as if they voted with conscience, while the poor voted for “ignorance”.
Elitism, racism and colonialism
The vision is shared by Derson Maia, pre-candidate for district deputy in the Federal District for the PSOL who presents himself on social media as “black, evangelical and LGBT”. In his words, there is an “elitism and racism in these leftist views”, because he sees evangelicals as “manipulable”. And “usually the caricature of someone who can be manipulated are the poor and black people. The discourse that tries in a way to classify the evangelical as alienated, uneducated, is never the white evangelical,” he says.
“It is always an analysis that starts from the assumption that if this church is on the periphery, in a place where there is no public policy, if this church is mostly black; therefore, this church needs to be saved”, says Maia, who denounces a colonialist vision of the left in the face of evangelicals.
Also in 2016, when the pastor of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God Marcelo Crivella defeated psolist Marcelo Freixo in the race for the City of Rio de Janeiro, Roberto Dutra, a professor at the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense (UENF), criticized the position of the left around de Freixo in the face of the Pentecostal movement to political power.
Em article published in The countryDutra said that the middle class projected in Freixo a “sense of moral superiority in relation to the poor, now debased with the stigmas of ‘evangelical fundamentalists’, ‘mass of maneuver’, ‘alienated’ and all the labels that may allude to less rationality and moral virtue to participate in politics and assume power”.
“Clear evidence of this feeling was the ease with which Freixo demanded, in the last debate, that Crivella explain and justify his candidacy, as if the electoral and political pretensions of a religious politician were not legitimate for the simple fact that they were elaborated in democratic procedures (debate and elections)”, wrote Dutra six years ago.
Returning to Derson Maia, these behaviors reveal “an elitist and colonial crossing” of the left, even though groups from this ideological spectrum do not see themselves in this role. “It is as if they were saying that it is not Christ who will save people, but the left, organized in civil society and parties. It is this way of wanting to save the poor and blacks from this political monopoly of religious leaders, from these shackles that, according to the left, are from manipulation”, says Maia.
According to research Christian Diversity: An analysis of the plurality and importance of faith in the lives of Brazilians, produced by the Globe Group, most evangelicals are young: 40% of evangelicals are between 16 and 34 years old. About 54% of religious are from the C class (they receive between R$2,005 to R$8,640 in monthly income, according to the FGV’s Social Policy Center), 28% from D and E (receive from R$1,255 to R$2,004 in class D and from 0 to R$1,254 in class E). The majority are also women: approximately 58%. In addition, a survey of the Datafolha Institute 2019 showed that 59% of evangelical respondents are black (black and brown, according to the IBGE definition).
Prejudice against evangelical groups stems, in the understanding of Maia, who is also a Doctor of Law, from the lack of knowledge of the dynamics of evangelical churches and the daily life of the faithful. “They start from more caricatured stagings, which soap operas sometimes create, of a person who sits listening and obeying the shepherds.”
However, this view ignores, to some extent, even the history of Protestantism, which is the basis of evangelical churches. “When the Evangelical Church broke with Catholicism, a vision was born that we are all real priests. On earth there is no papacy, there is no figure that will be more connected with God than all of us.” That’s why it’s common to “take a bible to services to check the scriptures if what the leadership is saying is an interpretation that you as a Christian also have”.
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This also explains, in part, why today there are several small evangelical churches spread across the country. “Usually people ‘joke’ that there will always be a bar and a church on a periphery, in a more remote place, precisely because of the ease of opening a church, of gathering people in the garage and doing evangelistic work. This comes from this interpretation that something centered on a specific figure or denomination is not necessary.”
For Maia, the ignorance of sectors of the left makes even the dynamics itself invisible. “If they understood that, they wouldn’t think that everything is so manipulable. If it were manipulable, churches would take a long time to crack. And if you have these thousands of denominations, it is precisely because there is some level of debate and disagreement.”
Political distancing gains strength in 2013
The evangelical question is a reflection of what happens in society. Therefore, if in 2013 there was a fraying of the framework of forces within institutional policy and in society, the positioning of evangelical sectors followed the changes.
Even before the impeachment process of former president Dilma Rousseff (PT), a considerable part of evangelicals was still part of the government base, even if it had been more robust under Lula (PT) governments.
At the end of his first year in office, when the PT approved the law that guarantees legal personality to religious organizations, evangelical pastor Jorge Pinheiro, from the World Church of the Power of God, said that the new legislation had ended a legal vacuum that reduced the religious freedom. “Now each church has the means to enforce its own statute,” he said at the time. During the 2006 reelection campaign, Lula received public support from pastors and leaders of the Assembly of God Church.
“After a not so good performance in Dilma’s government, especially around 2013, there are some ruptures in this base”, says Maia. For him, it is a reflection of what happened in the country with the June Days, when sectors of society took to the streets a general discontent with Brazilian politics, but without defined guidelines. And, like other groups, evangelicals also showed discontent that was later satisfactorily mobilized by the right.
“There have always been obviously conservative sectors in the church, since the beginning of the first Protestant churches. But there were times when these people were less noisy inside the church, accommodated within these broader alliances that the PT base was making, like a social pact,” says Maia.
Insofar as the fraying of the framework of forces occurs within institutional politics and in society, that is, the fabric that supported PT governments, “this was reflected in the evangelical sector” from a distance and, later, from a polarization between leftist organizations and evangelical sectors. This is where right-wing alliances come in to mobilize the affections of the evangelicals to win support and votes.
No wonder the vote of this part of the electorate was decisive for the election of Jair Bolsonaro, during the 2018 presidential elections. In an article published in EcoDebateshortly after the election, Eustáquio Diniz Alves, a doctor in demography and professor of the master’s and doctorate in Population, Territory and Public Statistics at the National School of Statistical Sciences, stated that “the evangelicals have undoubtedly become a decisive political force”.
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In the second round, 57.8 million votes were cast for Bolsonaro and 47 million for Fernando Haddad. A difference of 10.76 million votes. Looking at votes segmented by religion, the difference between the two was not significant among Catholics, Spiritualists and other religions.
The discrepancy appeared among the votes of evangelicals: 21.7 million for Bolsonaro compared to 9.7 million for Haddad, according to a Datafolha poll. A difference of just over 11 million votes, close to the 10.76 million votes that made the retired captain win the elections.
Still, Maia argues that Bolsonaro did not reach all the votes of evangelicals. But even so, “a stronger narrative of the witch hunt was created on the part of the left, as if all evangelicals had been part of it,” he says. “If you look at other factors, there is a trend that was following society as a whole.”
Editing: Rodrigo Durao Coelho