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Brazilian evangelicals topple a former ally, the President, assert power in Brazil

Brazil is at the vanguard of the global trend of the evangelicalization of Christianity

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was officially impeached on Wednesday, August 31st, by the Brazilian senate, which voted 61 to 20 to convict her on charges of dishonest manipulations of government finances. Corruption, which has always been endemic to Brazil, grew massively with the growth of oil revenues. Some political parties carted away hundreds of millions of dollars. Rousseff hasn't been accused of lining her own pockets but for tolerating the massive corruption of fellow politicians so that she could stay in power. Before becoming president, she was the governmental head of the Brazilian oil and gas industry.

Francisco Soares de Menezes, a pastor at the Memorial Baptist Church said that Brazil's current political turmoil is a sign that god is bringing change to the country.

"We pray for Brasilia, for our political leaders, for our country so deeply, that we believe absolutely that many of the changes we are seeing today have happened because of our prayers to God," Menezes said.

According to Marco Feliciano, a congressperson and evangelical leader, Congress has an “evangelical bloc” where 89 members of the lower house voted for Rousseff’s impeachment, and dozens dedicated their votes “to God.” (teleSur, Sept 1, 2016)

Crying as she spoke, Janaína Paschoal, the law professor who was an author of the impeachment request, said she had been inspired by God and that she was seeking impeachment for the good of Ms. Rousseff’s grandchildren. (NY Times, August 31, 2016)

The new President Michel Temer has turned to the country’s growing evangelical movement for support and given them unprecedented influence as Brazil goes through its biggest political upheaval in decades. Temer chose evangelicals to lead the Trade and Labor ministries in the government.

Early polls for October’s mayoral elections in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro showed evangelical candidates leading — and the Workers’ Party mayor of Sao Paulo trailing badly.

The evangelicals in Brazil are active politically but have done little to develop a theology of corruption. Consequently, they may be unprepared for government. Some evangelicals in government have themselves been credibly accused of corruption.

Brazilian evangelicals are not monolithic. They have no single leader. But in a country with more than 30 parties, the movement has benefited from a discipline otherwise lacking in Brazil’s political culture of dealmaking and fleeting alliances of convenience, said Paulo Baía, a political scientist and sociologist at Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University. With a population of 205 million, Brazil remains the world’s largest Catholic nation. But 22 percent of Brazilians identify as evangelical Christians, up from 5 percent in 1970. Many evangelical pastors work in remote rural areas and in Brazil’s violent slums, where the government is often absent. That gives pastors an unrivaled ability to mobilize voters at election time. The Catholic charismatic movement has also grown significantly. (Washington Post, May 26, 2016)

"Besides numbers, Brazil is at the vanguard of the global trend of the Pentecostalization of Christianity," says R. Andrew Chesnut, the chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty." "Both Brazilian Catholics and Pentecostals are global leaders in Christian missionary work, sending thousands of young missionaries to Europe, Africa, and Asia to recruit lapsed Catholics and, in the case of Pentecostals, to convert both Catholics and Muslims." (Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2016)

 

During political turmoil, evangelicals keep eye on growing their ministries. NYC Brazilian evangelicals return for church planting conference in Brazil

 

 

If I give my soul, I am free in prison. Pentecostalism has spread throughout Brazil's prisons.

 

"The prisons and jails of Rio de Janeiro are unexpected sites of religious innovation. Autonomous, inmate-led prison churches operate inside of every penal facility in Rio, and these prison churches use an organizational model that resembles the Pentecostal churches outside of prison. But, obviously, they operate in a very different environment. While they look to other Pentecostal churches for organizational templates, they have also taken cues from a different group: the prison gangs.

The first Pentecostal prison groups in Rio de Janeiro called themselves the Comando de Cristo (Christ’s Command), a name that was directly inspired by the most powerful gang in the city’s prisons, the Comando Vermelho (Red Command). These inmate sects evolved into prison churches and, again following the example of prison gangs, started to claim parts of the prison as their own. Church members began living together in what became known as the celas dos crentes (Believer’s Cells). Gang leaders now grant these churches autonomy, allowing prisoners to abandon their gang affiliation and move to the celas dos crentes as long as their conversion and subsequent practice are deemed genuine. The prison churches have considerably fewer members than the gangs, represent about ten percent of the inmate population—and never directly challenge the gang’s authority.

One of the reasons that Pentecostalism has been so successful on the marginalized edges of Latin American cities like Rio de Janeiro is because of its ability to promote indigenous leaders and incorporate organizational innovation that allows the churches to adapt to their social surroundings. Accordingly, the prison churches elect pastors, elders, secretaries and worship leaders from the prison population. Cristiano Silva, an elder in the Heroes for Christ Prison Church located in one of the Rio’s jails, said, “The church is ours. It belongs to those of us on the inside. Some churches from the outside come to visit, but there isn’t formal sponsorship, like becoming a legal entity…No, it’s a community church.”

His fellow Pentecostal inmates elected Cristiano into his position. If he is released or transferred from the jail, the assistant elder will take his place, and the remaining inmates will hold a vote to decide who will become the next assistant elder. This democratic promotion system ensures that the Heroes for Christ Prison Church will continue despite an inherently transient population.

Rio de Janeiro’s prison churches are not officially sponsored by any denomination or outside prison ministry. As a result the church’s theology, rituals, music and leadership structure are shaped by prison culture—an example of how innovative congregations, Pentecostal and otherwise, are able to succeed in challenging social contexts." -- by Andrew Johnson

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