The dispute for evangelical representation in 2022

Clara Figueiredo, untitled, Films Overdue essay, Digitalized analog photography, Moscow, 2016.
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By VITOR MIRANDA CIOCHETTI*

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God begins to move its political base. Sergio Moro and Bolsonaro enter into dispute for his support

“Organized social movements constitute one of several important tools for raising awareness and expanding a cause that is deemed relevant to be discussed and rethought by society.” The brief passage presented above could have been taken from a manual or any work on political theory, but it is from the book Plan of Power: God, Christians and Politics (2008), Written by Edir Macedo – leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) and owner of the Record group – in co-authorship with Carlos Oliveira.

According to the authors, the main objective of the book would be to “enlighten Christians about politics, especially from the biblical and technical points of view, and also what are its purposes.”. However, delving into its content, one realizes that it is not just a book that aims to elucidate questions about politics for Christians, but that “God has a project of power for his people”. Tracing an argumentative line that relates – in a crude way, it should be noted – some classic authors of political theory (Aristotle, Machiavelli and Hobbes) with the biblical narratives of the Old Testament, the authors seek to support the participation of evangelicals in politics.

In this sense, the work can be read as a manifesto to the evangelical people, with the objective of engaging political participation as a way of their social emancipation: “[The evangelical population has] … an enormous potential, but these people, for the most part, lie like a sleeping giant. They need to wake up at the crack of dawn; more than that, hear what God said to Gideon: "Go in your strength". In other words: “Emancipate yourselves!” (p. 20). “(...) the numerical potential of evangelicals as voters can decide any election, both in the Legislative and in the Executive, at whatever level, municipal, state and federal. But this potential depends on civic culture, awareness, engagement and mobilization. This is the formula of determining participation. (p. 25)”.

(…) An organized social movement with around 40 million people, who are evangelicals, would be very strong. (p. 33)”.

Thirteen years after the publication of the work, it can be said that, more than ever, “the giant has woken up”. The importance of the “evangelical vote” is nothing new and some researchers claim that it was decisive in the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro for the presidency[I]. Knowing the potential of the evangelical electorate, the question that needs to be raised in the public debate is: who will be able to mobilize the evangelical population around a political agenda in 2022?

Founded in 2003 and officially registered by the TSE in 2005 as Renovator Municipalist Party, the party Republicans linked to the IURD, it has achieved continuous growth in the legislative and executive branches, consolidating itself on the national scene as a political force of the conservative Christian right.

According to data from the Superior Electoral Court systematized by Agência Pública[ii], the number of mayors from the Republican party jumped from 56, in 2008, to 208, in 2020. In this same period, the number of councilors went from 780 to 2.594. It currently has 31 federal deputies in the National Congress, the eighth largest group and one of the main parties of the “Centrão”, the support base of the Bolsonaro government alongside the Progressistas (PP) and the Liberal Party (PL). The Republicans even came to be considered by the president as a party to which he would join to contest the elections in 2022[iii]. However, the negotiations did not progress[iv].

It should be remembered that Bolsonaro's relationship with the Republicans was shaken after the diplomatic crisis in Angola, when 34 Brazilians linked to the Universal Church were deported from the country[v]. The IURD accused the Bolsonaro government of failing to mediate the conflict. Shortly after the episode, the president's son, Flávio Bolsonaro, left the Republican party.

Despite the shock in the relationship between Bolsonaro and the Universal Church, the bet that Mathias Alencastro made[vi] in Folha de São Paulo in May of this year (2021), that the diplomatic crisis would open doors to a new alliance between the Universal Church and the PT, seemed to me to be hasty[vii]. A party that is on the rise and consolidating itself as a representative of the right, such as the Republicans, would hardly return to an alliance, even a pragmatic one, with the Workers' Party, even more so if we consider the recent conflicts between the former allies.

In the last presidential elections, Edir Macedo became a central actor in political polarization. The famous speech by Haddad made in a Catholic church and in the middle of a Catholic holiday, labeling the bishop as a “charlatan fundamentalist” who is “hungry for money”, was the scene that placed Macedo at the center of the political dispute in 2018.

In response, the Universal Church countered by stating that Haddad would be inciting a religious war and that the Workers’ Party has “projected the destruction of Christian values, such as family, honor and decency.”, and goes on to say that “Hunger for money there is a political party that attacks state-owned companies and public coffers to support a structure that the court has defined as a “criminal organization”[viii]. In addition to the note, this episode served as a strategy for the IURD to unite the evangelical movement in defense of the bishop. Mobilizing its media arsenal, the R7 news portal – linked to the Record group, which Edir Macedo owns – published an article in which it states that Haddad’s statement “provoked an unprecedented movement of solidarity on the part of religious leaders of different currents”[ix], bringing together 147 evangelical leaders from different denominations in support of the Universal Church through a letter signed in repudiation of Haddad's statement.

Following Bolsonaro's 2018 election victory, the IURD launched the National Union of Evangelical Churches and Pastors (UNIGREJAS) project coordinated by Bishop Eduardo Bravo[X], on the 17th of November. According to the IURD, the project would aim to promote a union between the evangelical churches, in order to strengthen the evangelical growth in Brazil and in the world. By leading a movement to unite evangelical churches in Brazil, the IURD has been at the service of contributing and helping other churches in their development, organization and growth, proposing “… , meetings, support for the projects of each institution, prayer campaigns, fasts and vigils.”[xi].

I was able to attend the first meeting of UNIGREJAS, called Renewal Congress, held on April 20, 2019, at the Temple of Solomon, aimed especially at evangelical leaders and officials, but open to the public.

Image taken from the official Instagram profile of Bishop Eduardo Bravo. Publication date: April 19, 2019.

This meeting was attended by three important church leaders, Eduardo Bravo, Edir Macedo and his son-in-law Renato Cardoso. Despite being a meeting with an interdenominational proposal, only the UCKG bishops went up to the pulpit to speak and preach.

The beginning of the meeting was given by Eduardo Bravo, who in his speech highlighted the importance of evangelical churches in Brazil and their growth in recent years. Despite considering the advancement of churches as an important fact for greater prosperity for the country, he said that their quantitative growth alone would not be the only solution, because, as he states, “Evangelicals are growing in Brazil, but the violence, the suffering and depression are increasing”, in this sense, “it is not enough to be the majority and grow in quantity, we need to grow with quality”, thus, the churches need to unite for “that Brazil is a good witness for other nations”.

After Eduardo Bravo's speech, he leaves and Edir Macedo enters. In his opening speech, he highlighted how many evils have affected evangelical churches. He then challenged his audience in a belligerent tone about how evangelicals would have to unite to fight those who preached against the true faith in one God. The big enemies would be the PT and Rede Globo, which, in its speech, pronounced an attack on those considered enemies of the evangelicals: “The PT created the ideology of gender and Rede Globo is propagating this absurdity”. The bishop describes the “gender ideology” as the idea implanted in society that a “child can choose the sex he wants”, thus removing his “purity” and “innocence”.

As the influence of Pentecostal evangelical churches is present in the public sphere, especially after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro for the presidency, the discourse adopted by the religious leaders of the IURD has been increasingly distant from its former ally, the Workers' Party. It can also be seen how the church's initiative to create an institution aimed at uniting evangelicals demonstrates its intention to capitalize on evangelical representation around its political agenda.

Rumors for the 2022 elections already point to a stampede of Republicans from the base of the Bolsonaro government[xii], indicating that Sergio Moro could be the candidate who will have the support of the Universal Church. According to Andréia Sadi's article for the G1 news portal, former judge Moro's party, Podemos, would already be probing the leadership of the Republicans[xiii]. The president of this party and licensed bishop of the IURD, federal deputy Marcos Pereira, not only would he have given the green light to Moro, but that, between him and Lula, the tendency would be to support the former. I believe that, in the near future, we will see Sergio Moro putting on the makeup of a “good Christian” (or terribly evangelical?) and using anti-corruption rhetoric to show himself as the bearer of divine ethics, similar to his PowerPoint partner, Deltan Dallagnol, in his speech of affiliation to Podemos[xiv].

And the Universal Church is already mobilizing its political cadres. On December 5, 2021, the IURD held the event “Meeting of Mayors” at the Temple of Solomon. According to the church, a group of 100 mayors from the state of São Paulo were present, accompanied by councilors and other municipal, state and federal authorities, totaling 350 guests.

In addition to being publicized on the IURD's own communication channels, the event was reported on two journalistic programs on TV Record, Fala Brasil.[xv] and Balance Sheet[xvi], in addition to being publicized on the R7 internet news portal page, also belonging to the Record group[xvii]. The reports of the television programs are identical and highlight the speeches of the mayors of Tambaú, Leonardo Spiga Real (PSDB), of Sorocaba, Rodrigo Manga (Republicans), and of Campinas, Dário Saadi (Republicans), and of the federal deputy Mark Pereira.

The reports also present excerpts from the event, in which Bishop Edir Macedo gives a lecture to the mayors about “lessons of faith, sense of justice and sensitivity to those most in need”. He shared the stage with the person in charge of organizing the event, Bishop Alessandro Paschoali, leader of the Arimateia group of the IURD, which works in “political and citizen awareness among Christians”[xviii]. According to the church in an article published in 2020, the Arimateia group, created in 2018, would already have around 28 volunteers in Brazil[xx].

About Paschoali's lecture, the article says that: “he guided the mayors to reinforce faith in their daily functions. He highlighted the active role of the church alongside public power.”. Then, Paschoali speaks directly to the reporter: “I see the church as a right arm of the public power, because it deals so much with the social, reaching places where the public power does not reach and deals mainly with the spiritual, because it gives food for these people so that they may have peace.”

The Universal Church is not just a church in the classic sense that we know, but a church-movement “friendly to the public power” and with a very well-designed power plan, being able to act in different arenas of the public sphere and with a political force and social impact for the 2022 electoral dispute. Edir Macedo and his church are aware of the decisive strength of the evangelical population in the political game and will act to represent it in the most diverse spaces available: in political parties and institutions, in the media , in the streets, inside and outside the church with its organized militancy. Rejecting the left, which “persecutes Christians” and “want to destroy the family”, the IURD and its media-political-religious structure will endorse candidates who reinforce a Christian and conservative discourse. Moro, who seek to garner a political base of support. The first, despite having already been on his knees to Edir Macedo on his visit to the Temple of Solomon, was omitted on relevant political issues.

*Vitor Miranda Ciochetti, graduated in social sciences from USP, he is a professor of sociology in the state teaching network of the state of São Paulo.

 

Notes


[I] https://www.ihu.unisinos.br/78-noticias/584304-o-voto-evangelico-garantiu-a-eleicao-de-jair-bolsonaro

[ii] https://apublica.org/2020/11/o-exercito-de-obreiros-da-universal-na-guerra-santa-por-votos/

[iii] https://www.metropoles.com/brasil/politica-brasil/alem-de-pp-e-pl-bolsonaro-diz-estar-em-negociacao-com-o-republicanos

[iv] https://www.metropoles.com/colunas/guilherme-amado/cupula-do-republicanos-nega-conversas-para-filiar-bolsonaro

[v] https://www.poder360.com.br/governo/igreja-universal-sinaliza-romper-com-bolsonaro-por-causa-de-crise-em-angola/

[vi] Researcher at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP)

[vii] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/mathias-alencastro/2021/05/crise-na-africa-pode-marcar-reaproximacao-entre-igreja-universal-e-pt.shtml

[viii] https://www.universal.org/noticias/post/nota-de-repudio-haddad-faz-declaracoes-caluniosas-contra-o-lider-da-universal/

[ix] https://noticias.r7.com/eleicoes-2018/ataque-de-fernando-haddad-ao-bispo-macedo-provoca-indignacao-em-mais-de-140-lideres-religiosos-14102018

[X] Responsible for the institutional relations of the Universal Church in Brazil and abroad.

[xi] Information taken from the UNIGREJAS website: https://www.unigrejas.com/pg/3/sobre-o-unigrejas.html

[xii] https://istoe.com.br/republicanos-virou-o-patinho-feio-da-alianca-de-bolsonaro/

[xiii] https://g1.globo.com/politica/blog/andreia-sadi/post/2021/11/22/podemos-de-moro-quer-rachar-centrao-e-sonda-republicanos-sobre-apoio-para-2022.ghtml

[xiv] During his membership of Podemos, the former public prosecutor made the following speech: “Fighting corruption is defending the ethical and moral principles of the Bible and most religions that guide us to care for the most vulnerable. Combating corruption was the cause God called me to serve society and care for the vulnerable.” Source: https://www.metropoles.com/colunas/guilherme-amado/deltan-dallagnol-cita-a-biblia-e-ataca-politicos-amam-o-suborno

[xv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgPvymUJbws

[xvi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmpScIYqPB4

[xvii] https://noticias.r7.com/brasil/fotos/encontro-reune-prefeitos-de-sp-no-templo-de-salomao-05122021

[xviii] https://www.universal.org/noticias/post/bispo-edir-macedo-realiza-o-1-encontro-de-prefeitos-no-templo-de-salomao/

[xx] https://www.universal.org/noticias/post/voce-conhece-o-grupo-arimateia/

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