From companions to brothers

Image: Luis Quintero
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By ANDRÉ CASTRO*

The evangelical church, a new political subject, which moves between peripheral political life and the national center, no longer carries out the honorable progressive damage containment projects

The 1.7% that took a while to be counted in the official release of the results of the elections for the presidency of Brazil in 2023 seems to have saved us from a nightmare that was not foreseen. Elections at the end of the world, said one critic. In the president-elect's campaign, a new concern was notable: evangelicals. This social group appeared to be an ally of the criminal in 2018; Therefore, it was necessary to think politically about this group, which now accounts for 30% of the population.

The campaign was different, there were Lula events with evangelical leaders, leafleting in churches; say the evil tongues that formed a nucleus in the campaign focused solely on them. The now president even made a 2.0 version of the “letter to Brazilians”, but now addressed to evangelicals; he was trying to prove that he wasn't a danger, just like he had to do with bankers in the 2000s.

Interestingly, the president always said that he had his political training within another religious community, the famous Ecclesiastical Base Communities (CEBs). His emergence as a public figure is closely linked to the strengthening of what political scientist Eder Sader calls “new political subjects”; In this case, the base ecclesiastical communities, the new unions and the left-wing parties formed a political subject in the country. This new subject had the form of defending the interests of these workers who lived on the outskirts of the national political scene. The stories of PT groups that emerged in Base Ecclesiastical Communities are famous, and the relationship between notable figures in Liberation Theology and the PT project.

It is in the expectation of finding this political dynamic, in which neighborhood leaders organize themselves and give strength to a project at an institutional level, while, on the other hand, institutional projects strengthen grassroots struggles, that Gabriel Feltran begins researching the Sapopemba neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of São Paulo. What he realizes, however, is that this horizon of analysis that finds in those three political subjects the characters that mediate peripheral public life with the national political scene were no longer visible at the beginning of the 2000s. His investigation presents the emergence of another thing: the world of crime. Another researcher, Tiarajú Pablo, seems to have found something similar when he comments that what is happening on the outskirts of São Paulo today are evangelical churches, the world of crime and cultural movements.

What our researchers seem to realize is that the political dynamics that we just commented on, where the current president formed himself politically and gained national strength through it, is no longer happening. On the other hand, new political subjects began to emerge. One of these subjects was the evangelical church, which had been growing for some time, but at the end of the 1980s it began to officially gain the status of a national political subject, already influencing the 1988 Constitution itself.

In the 1990s, Ricardo Mariano already realized that these evangelicals had a political project based on their reading of the Bible and that they dreamed of being elected nationally. It's curious that Gabriel Feltran didn't notice, but this corresponds to the same period as his research, when the “evangelical bench” was still the basis of the first Lula government. Returning to research in peripheral areas, since the 90s, several researchers have noticed how “being evangelical” is a marker of difference; for believers there is the church and the world, and on this division they base their lives.

It seems that the material foundation that supported the popular democratic project, namely, the expectations of full integration in the world of work, collapsed along with the world of work. The political subjects who had as their motto of unity the idea that “we are all comrades in struggle” seem to have opened the doors to these communities in which everyone knows each other by name and calls each other brothers.

A notable difference is that this new political subject, who moves between peripheral political life and the national center, no longer carries the honorable progressive projects of damage containment; namely, the famous public income distribution projects for target audiences. In reality, as we well know, the political project headed by the former captain is to destroy Brazil. And if the old companions who gave shape to the base ecclesial communities saw the presence of the Messiah in their own struggle, the new Pentecostal brothers find in the present misfortunes of the social disintegration of a capitalism in structural crisis the principles of the pain of Jesus' return, and This is how they see their redemption at the end of the world.

Returning to the elections at the end of the world, what we don't see is what already gave strength to the Workers' Party, what Hugo Assmann called the historical density of words. In the case of the aforementioned theologian, the words that were piled up under the term Liberation Theology had as their referent a political subject, the one commented on by Eder Sader. In other words, Liberation Theology was relevant because its words represented signs and symbols that were produced within a community experience of struggle, and not by any individual imagination.

In this case, the struggle that permeates survival within the modernization process was experienced as a community religious experience. Apparently, this is what Pentecostal brothers experience today. When a famous pastor speaks in defense of his candidate, or when Michelle Bolsonaro states that she is cleaning the Planalto's demons against the left, there is an entire community that identifies itself as brothers and deals with politics as a mere part of their life, understood as a whole in terms that we call religious.

When the progressive pastors invited by Lula speak, there is no community behind them. There are at most small local communities that are reminiscent of the contradictions of conservative churches, but that numerically and symbolically do not mean anything at a national level, in reality they represent a certain enlightened segment of the middle class that grew up being evangelical, but no longer identifies with the direction of this community. For the 70% of evangelicals who support Jair Bolsonaro, figures like Henrique Vieira are not even Christians; It is no coincidence that its public agenda has more bookstores and universities than churches, because its audience is not in churches. And this is not a mistake by Henrique Vieira, but a demonstration of the dynamics of the evangelical field.

The enlightened interpreters of Pentecostalism believe that it is an instrumentalization of religion by the extreme right; It is curious that this is also what critics of Liberation Theology said. The reasons why this new community turned to the right are found in its own hierarchical structure, as Bruno Reikdal has demonstrated. White middle-class leaders, pastors and presidents, organize their conservatism in a way that reaches the ears of Pentecostal brothers, a majority of black and peripheral women, as a radical criticism of the current state of things, a great criticism of what they call world.

Thus, since 1992, brothers have taken to the streets to say that Jesus is the salvation of Brazil. The Marches for Jesus, which take place every year, reduce the June days to the status of a disorganized riot. Millions of Brazilians leave their homes, in every corner of the country, announcing national redemption. Focused on the words of great media pastors, our interpreters leave aside the community that takes to the streets because they believe in that.

The election of Jair Bolsonaro was just another chapter in this story, which until now had its final moment on February 25th, but it doesn't seem to end there. For those interested in building a radical alternative to the left, it is urgent to understand which community this is in which Brazil is being decided, because only within it can something new emerge that will take us out of this vale of tears.

*André Castro He is studying for a master's degree in religious sciences at the Methodist University of São Paulo (UMESP).


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