Things That Matter

Evangelical Christian Gangs Have Initiated Violent Holy War Against Afro-Brazilian Religious Groups

Evangelical religious sects are intrinsically linked to the gangs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The result has been a rise in Brazilian converts to evangelicalism, and increasing attacks on Afro-Brazilian religions who are viewed as “satanic.”

The city mayor is a bishop in a Pentecostal church, home to the right-wing President, and Rio is where the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a powerful evangelical church founded by known anti-black bishop Edir Macedo.

Robert Muggah, who researches violence in Latin America, has highlighted Brazilian’s stark evangelical turn and how it is being weaponized against poor, black Brazilians in The Conversation for Associated Press.

What do God and gangs have to do with each other?

Brazilian prisons are not largely state-controlled. Instead, they are nefariously run by a single drug cartel, that uses the prison system to recruit new members and which enables them to run their organized crime operation. In Brazil, 80 of the 100 faith-based organizations that run social programs in prison are evangelical.

It turns out, the “charismatic Christianity” that has taken over Brazil is a great recruiting tool. Inmates who convert to evangelicalism are often rewarded by having their quality of life improved in the prison.

 “Some pastors and denominations strategically bet on converting traffickers in privileged places in the hierarchy of crime,” Christina Vital da Cunha, an associate professor of sociology at Federal Fluminense University, told the Washington Post. 

If an inmate were to foster a positive relationship with a pastor it could mean that once released the person is coaxed into gang affiliation.

“Some of them call themselves ‘Jesus drug dealers,’ creating a unique identity,” said Gilbert Stivanello, commander of the Rio police department’s crimes of intolerance unit, told the Washington Post. “They carry weapons and sell drugs, but feel entitled to forbid African-influenced religions by stating that they are related to the devil.”

These evangelical drug traffickers have apparently taken control of Baixada Fluminense, a region that was once a haven for Afro-Brazilian religions. In 2019, over a third of the attacks on black Brazilian temples happened in Baixada Fluminense.

“According to Brazil’s Institute for Public Security, 2,147 of the 6,714 murders reported in Rio state so far this year occurred in Baixada Fluminense,” Muggah wrote.

Anti-blackness is the dark side of this new religious doctrine.

Afro-Brazilians have always been persecuted in the wake of colonialism. For years many have believed Afro-Brazilian religions are satanic. Wealthy bishop Edir Macedo sold three million copies of a book describing Afro-Brazilians as enemies of the human race before it was banned in 2005.

As ever more Brazilians convert to evangelicalism, traditional religions there are losing members. Between 2000 and 2010, when the latest national census was taken, the number of Catholics in Brazil dropped 9%. Followers of the Afro-Brazilian religions Candomblé and Umbanda declined 23 percent,” Muggah notes.

Parishioners are calling for a “cleanse” of Satan’s work which is coded language for ridding Brazil of Afro-Brazilian religious. When gangs control neighborhoods they tend to ban the practice of Afro-Brazilian religions, resulting in community members who do being expelled.

In Rio state, reports of religious-based violence against followers of Afro-Brazilian religions have risen from 14 in 2016 to 123 in the first 10 months of this year. State authorities call those figures vast undercounts — many victims, they say, are afraid to come forward. More than 200 temples have shut down in the face of threats this year,” the Washington Post notes. 

Why are Brazilians increasingly connecting to a religion that preaches hate?

With President Jair Bolsonaro in power, evangelicals have 195 of 513 seats in congress. The rise in right-wing evangelicalism coincides with a rise in right-wing Christianity all over the world. However, each nation’s conditions are specific to the region. Evangelical music in Brazil is a billion-dollar industry, televangelism rules the TV, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God claims it has sent out 14,000 church members — an army of proselytizers — to recruit inmates. 

In areas where poverty is rampant, charismatic Christianity promises wealth. The prosperity gospel of these religious sects claims that not only will you gain salvation from cutting out vices like alcohol and gambling, but devotion will lead to financial success.

It’s almost as though these right-wing leaders have combined the rhetoric of the church with the rhetoric of colonialism and the rhetoric of multi-level marketing schemes. A dangerous cocktail for vulnerable people who need help in this life and are hoping for something more profound in the possible next.

While all religions are observed in a way that ranges from the healthy to outright zealotry, of course not all Brazilian evangelicals and Christians support the right-wing sect of the fast-growing Pentecostals and Neopentecostal churches who tie hatred into their rhetoric.

Advocates, citizens, and faith communities are fighting back. In September, Muggah notes, 100,000 people participated in Rio’s annual walk for religious freedom. Federal prosecutors are urging for compensation to those who are victims of religious hate crimes.

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Brazilian President Bolsonaro Distances Himself From Former ‘Friend’ Donald Trump

Things That Matter

Brazilian President Bolsonaro Distances Himself From Former ‘Friend’ Donald Trump

Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

As we previously reported, different world leaders gave very different responses to Biden’s win and Trump’s loss of the recent presidential election. 

While Mexican President López Obrador is making headlines for refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory “until all the legal matters have been resolved,” another Latin American president is grabbing the media’s attention for a recent remark he made. 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro surprised everyone by recently telling a group of students that Trump “isn’t the most important person in the world.”

“I’m not the most important person in Brazil, just as Trump isn’t the most important person in the world,” he told a graduating class of police cadets. “No one is more important than God.” This statement raised eyebrows because up until this point, Bolsonaro acted like Trump was, indeed, the most important person in the world. 

Throughout his presidency, Bolsonaro has made a public display of his respect and admiration for President trump. In fact he was so complimentary of Trump that the media dubbed him the “Trump of the Tropics”. He went so far as to tell Trump “I love you” at a meeting between the two world leaders in at a United Nations conference in 2019.

The similarities between the two blustering leaders are numerous.

They both practice populist, nationalistic, authoritarian tendencies. They both have placed their children in high-ranking government positions. They both love to use the term “fake news”.

Since Trump’s defeat, Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo has continued to publicly voice his support of Trump. He recently Tweeted out a statement implying that Americans are “naive” and “puppets” of social media conglomerates who are dictating to us what is “real or fake” based on their selfish desires. He also Tweeted out that “disinformation is the weapon of the left.”

But sources close to President Bolsonaro say that he has adopted a “more pragmatic tone” since his advisors told him that Trump wouldn’t be the next President of the United States. 

Although Bolsonaro appears to have distanced himself from Trump he, still, reportedly has not congratulated Biden on his win. But nevertheless, he no longer seems to be as head-over-heels with Trump as he did when Trump was at the height of his power. Bolsonaro’s attitude reversal begs the question: if he can forsake his “friend” and role model Donald Trump, we wonder what other former sycophants are next in line to cut ties with the sitting duck president. 

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Pope Francis Comes Out In Support Of Civil Unions For Same-Sex Couples


Pope Francis Comes Out In Support Of Civil Unions For Same-Sex Couples

Franco Origlia / Getty Images

In a historic move, Pope Francis comes out in favor of same-sex civil unions. The announcement is being heard by Catholics around the world. The Catholic church has been notorious for its anti-LGBTQ+ views and Pope Francis continues to push the Catholic church into the 21st century more and more.

Pope Francis called on the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples in a documentary.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film.

The pope’s declaration is a clear departure from the Vatican’s long held anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs. The Catholic church has long demonized and ostracized LGBTQ+ people because of who they are and Pope Francis has done a lot of work to change that rhetoric from within.

Pope Francis has advocated for rights for several marginalized groups during his time as pope.

Pope Francis became the first pope from Latin America when he was chosen in March 2013. In the past seven years, Pope Francis has called for compassion for migrants fleeing violence in their countries, advanced LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Catholic faith, among other things.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said in the documentary “Francesco,” which debuted at the Rome Film Festival. “I stood up for that.”

The importance of the statement is not what he said but who he is to say it.

Popes before Pope Francis have long upheld the archaic views against the LGBTQ+ community. Pope Francis is the first pope to speak directly to the Catholic people in favor of humanizing and protecting LGBTQ+ people and their dignity. The pope has called on the church and Catholics to welcome LGBTQ+ people and took the stance that homosexuality is not an illness. Pope Francis’ papacy is a welcomed change for LGBTQ+ rights activists.

Catholic politicians are praising the pope for modernizing the church bit by bit.

The declaration is not only historical, it is moving Catholics closer to accepting and embracing LGBTQ+ people in society. The pope holds a lot of power in moving the Catholic church and its followers. With declarations like this, the pope is pushing the church to reckon with its own teachings and take steps into the 21st century.

Some are wondering what this will mean for devout Catholics in government, like potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Coney Barrett has been tied to vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups. While she claims that she doesn’t know that the organizations hold these views, as a devout Catholics the word of the pope holds weight. Many are curious to see if the pope’s words break through and resonate with the judge.

You can watch the trailer for the documentary below.

READ: Pope Francis Condemns Capitalism and Populism in New Official Church Document

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