On January 1, 2019, Jair Messias Bolsonaro was inaugurated as the new president of Brazil after winning the elections 55% to 44% against Fernando Haddad, his rival candidate from the Workers’ Party.
The former army captain, whose campaign slogan was “Brazil above all, God over all”, is a Catholic from birth who married an Evangelical. He was symbolically “re-baptized” in the Jordan, in Israel, in 2016 by a Protestant pastor. According to the Brazilian media, he goes to the temple, not the church. Surveys say, he won 20 million Evangelical votes out of the 42 million electors who declare themselves “Evangelicals”. His rival, Fernando Haddad, won 10 million.
The immense majority of the leaders of Pentecostal sects unambiguously invited their followers to vote for Jair Bolsonaro. “His mindset is Christian; he defends the traditional family and is against abortion and the Gender theory. He is honest. After all the corruption of these past few years, this is an important factor,” the leader of an evangelical community told the AFP just before the election.
As usual, the Catholic Church avoided taking a stance, except for Archbishop Orani João Tempesta, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, who publicly supported the right-wing candidate. The National Council of Brazilian Bishops, the CNBB, was far more prudent. Bishop Leonardo Steiner, the secretary general, declared before the vote that they were not going to “tell Catholic electors to vote for a given candidate. But we encourage them to choose a candidate who will help to preserve and not destroy the democratic systems.” A timorous remark that also reflects the “left-wing” political engagement of some of the clergy denounced by Bolsonaro’s supporters on October 19, 2018. A few short days before the second round of the presidential elections, a handful of persons displaying their support for the conservative candidate stormed into the headquarters of the CNBB in Brasilia, the capital, brandishing Brazilian flags and a banner marked “Out with the Communists” …
The Decisive Vote of the Evangelicals
According to observers, the 20 million evangelical votes out of the 58 million total votes won by Bolsonaro were what determined the ultimate victory of the man the media has nicknamed the “Tropical Trump”.
“The presidential campaign, like the one that elected Donald Trump in the United States, saw an active participation from many Protestant communities, who mostly supported the right-wing candidate,” pointed out Ricardo Mariano, a Brazilian sociologist quoted by the press agency cath.ch. According to him, the “missionary Evangelicals” (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Adventists, etc.) have “never had a decisive influence on the political life of the country.” This is not the case with the Pentecostal Evangelicals, who have exponential growth rates among their faithful.
The mayor of Rio, Marcelo Crivella, who is pastor of the “Universal Church of the Kingdom of God”, was elected in 2016 on a “half political, half religious” basis. The Evangelicals in Brazil now have both political parties, such as the influential Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) of which Crivella is a member, and many media outlets, especially the Record group.
When questioned by Le Figaro, Lamia Oualalou, a journalist who lived in Brazil for 10 years, recalled:
...the political success of the Evangelicals is mostly due to the fact that they are better at using the media than the Catholics have ever been, from TV to social networks. They have their singers, their production houses, their 'telenews' with moralizing messages, and it all goes together: the singer, once famous, becomes a deputy. We are witnessing the coming of a truly Evangelical culture.
Brazil is now the second most Evangelical country in the world after the United States. And the decrease in the numbers of the Catholic faithful is spectacular: in 1990, 92% of Brazilians were Catholic. In 2010, they were only 64%, and demographers predict that the two religions will be elbow-to-elbow by 2030.