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How a Protestant pastor defended Brazil’s Catholics

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It was in Brazil’s 2010 elections that the majority of the voters first learned about Silas Malafaia. It was also the election in which the left-wing president Lula da Silva reached the height of his political power.

Lula was one of the most successful left-wing populist leaders of Latin America in the first two decades of the 21st century. He had all the pragmatism of a Tammany Hall boss. He could be applauded by a crowd of Communists one day and be praised at the international banker’s meeting in Davos in the next. He was the perfect Trojan horse for advancing the leftist agenda.

His successor, Dilma Rousseff, was even more radical and did immense damage to the economy. Under both these presidents, the current candidate of the Brazilian left in the 2018 presidential elections Fernando Haddad served as minister of education. Haddad is the prototype of the leftist college professor. He also tried to make the Brazilian public education system a lab of gender ideology.

And it is here that Malafaia enters into our story.

His opposition to the Brazilian left’s social policies was the most interesting thing about the 2010 election. Rousseff was a supporter of legalized abortion but, suddenly, she had second thoughts when she decided to run for president.

As leader of the Protestant Assembly of God – Madureira, Malafaia used his weekly TV show to unmask the Brazilian left’s intentions in the area of social policy. That was enough to make him the left’s favorite bête noire for the next few years and, needless to say, the subject of a relentless political persecution.

The subsequent events turned Malafaia into a champion of conservatism in Brazil. There was no single social issue upon which Malafaia did not take a stand. In 2015, for instance, the city of Sao Paulo’s gay pride parade decided to target the Catholic Church. A transvestite paraded dressed as Jesus Christ on the cross. A dozen Catholic saints were portrayed in homoerotic poses. Surprisingly, it was not the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil who defended Catholics against this attack; Instead, Malafaia did.

The fact that it was a conservative Protestant pastor who defended Catholics also provides us with an insight into the tsunami that prompted the conservative populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro to be a frontrunner in this year’s presidential elections.

Until the 1980s, the Protestant churches had been marginal within Brazilian society. The subsequent success of the evangelical churches in Brazil owes much to the way in which liberation theology alienated millions of Brazilians from the Catholic Church. The moral and spiritual emptiness of liberation theology and its tendency to reduce everything to politics and economics fueled a major crisis in the Catholic Church in Brazil and also spurred the growth of other churches that focused on the religious and spiritual message of the Gospel.

The Protestant churches in Brazil have never hidden, however, their concerns about the decayed social fabric. They appeal, for example, to the need to preserve an authentic community life and the traditional family. They have a simple moral message and are very effective in disseminating it. That helps explain the success of churches like the Assembly of God in gaining widespread acceptance among the poor but also amongst the rising middle class. In less than 25 years, they have drawn more than 30 percent of Brazil’s population, and they are still growing.

Over time, social conservatism has slowly become political conservatism. Even Protestant leaders who once refused to engage in political activity have been compelled by the left’s sheer radicalism to align themselves with Brazil’s nascent conservative movement. Since then we have seen the rise of a political coalition composed of Protestants, conservative Catholics and conservative Jews in defense of traditional values and, in many cases, the market economy.

Bolsonaro’s rise to preeminence owes much to the support of Protestant leaders and his willingness to embrace themes associated with the social philosophy created and popularized by many Brazilian Protestants.

Support for Bolsonaro has skyrocketed since the thousands of Protestants chose him as the champion of their causes. In the State of Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro’s home state and his political stronghold, is the biggest Protestant community in Brazil. That helps to explain why Bolsonaro was able to win in all cities and to get 58 percent of the votes in the state.

Bolsonaro knows how vital the Protestants are for his political coalition. He himself as Catholic makes clear his affinity with Protestant voters. His sons and wife are Protestants. His campaign is based on defense of values that are common to all Christians but especially to Protestants since they tend to be more conservative than the rest of the population. He has not converted to Protestantism himself, but this has been seen a reflection of his integrity.

The Protestant bishop Marcelo Crivella, a nephew of the very powerful leader of the Universal church Edir Macedo (also a Bolsonaro supporter), was the first beneficiary of the nascent coalition of conservative forces during the municipal election of 2016. Crivella is a populist and not a conservative. A former senator, he supported Lula da Silva and Rousseff for almost 13 years but left them before the Workers’ Party was engulfed by Brazil’s economic and political crisis. In 2016, Crivella ran for mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro and ended up facing the far left candidate, Marcelo Freixo, in the second round. Crivella crushed Freixo and won more than 59 percent of the votes.

Bolsonaros’ popularity with the Protestant population makes for a stark contrast with the open hostility that the left has towards all Christians. While Protestants aligning themselves with Bolsonaro was not a surprise, the velocity of the electoral transformation is impressive. The commitment of so many Protestant religious leaders to support Bolsonaro shows that they now understood the need to push back the political war that the left has been waging against Christians for the last 40 years. Malafaia and many others have begun a process that, hopefully, will be carried forward by a generation of young conservatives who understand that no society can be built without God.

homepage image: Brasília – The minister Silas Malafaia during a public hearing at the Commission for Human Rights and Participative Legislation Senate Rights to discuss the bill the House that establishes penalties for those who discriminate against homosexuals. Wikimidia. 

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Silvio Simonetti Silvio Simonetti is a Brazilian lawyer, graduated in international affairs from the Bush School at Texas A & M University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Silvio loves history and the Catholic Church.

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