Foreign Policy: A loose alliance of Catholic and evangelical conservatives helped Brazil’s new president to power. But their continued support is far from certain…
After 13 years of rule by the center-left Workers’ Party (known by its Portuguese acronym PT), which culminated in 2016 with corruption scandals, a recession, and high crime rates, resentment against the party remains a common sentiment. Feliciano is one of the millions of former PT supporters who delivered Bolsonaro’s victory.
Bolsonaro, a Catholic, worked hard to attract these crossover voters, especially evangelicals. Two years ago, he was baptized in the Jordan River during a visit to Israel, and on the campaign trail, he filled his stump speeches with religious rhetoric and made dozens of campaign videos meant to appeal to religious Christians, including multiple appearances by celebrity pastor Silas Malafaia, a member of Assemblies of God…
To secure his victory, Bolsonaro leaned on a long-term movement, with roots much deeper than his campaign’s, to establish a U.S.-style religious right in Brazil.
But his stitched-together Christian alliance is a fickle flock: His support among evangelicals dropped in the final days of the campaign, in part due to grassroots activism from progressive Christians, and evangelical congressmen grew angry in recent weeks when he chose an education minister without consulting them. Bolsonaro’s popularity after his transition from an anti-establishment candidate to a sitting president will reveal the extent to which the country’s Christian right has become a true political base, rather than a transient voting bloc. So far, many of Brazil’s Christian faithful seem to see their vote for Bolsonaro as more of a gamble than a blank check.
In recent decades, Brazil has seen a dramatic religious demographic shift. In 1970, the country was 92 percent Catholic. Today, while still home to the world’s largest Catholic population, some 30 percent of the population 16 years and older identified as evangelical, according to the polling organization Datafolha. Nationally popular evangelical bishops such as Robson Rodovalho and Edir Macedo, the owner of what has ranked in recent months as Brazil’s second-most-watched television network, say they aim for evangelical political power.
The success of Bolsonaro’s “Brazil before everything, and God above all” campaign stands against the backdrop of their political groundwork. Datafolha found approaching October 2018’s presidential runoff that Catholics (some 55 percent of Brazilian voters) planned to split their votes almost evenly between the left and the far-right—with around 5 percent of Catholics moving right since 2014 runoff—whereas evangelicals’ support for the right-wing candidate rose from around 50 percent in 2014 to around 70 percent.
The role of evangelicals in Brazilian politics has changed drastically since 2002, when support from evangelical leaders helped usher the PT’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva into office. By 2010, a vocal group of those leaders had begun to peel away, abandoning a discourse about inequality in favor of fighting culture wars and embracing ideas such as the assertion that the left wants to teach young people to be gay (as Bolsonaro often claimed during his campaign).
Evangelicals in Brazil want political power. Trump-like politics in Brazil will likely bolster the power of the churches and religious organizations in Brazilian politics leading to religious control of the government and its consequence of religious worship laws.
“Foreign nations will follow the example of the United States. Though she leads out, yet the same crisis will come upon our people in all parts of the world.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, page 395.