The Vow of Evangelicals

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Rubens Pinto Lyra*

The perplexity faced with the option for Jair Bolsonaro, in disagreement with the principles of Christianity, makes it necessary to examine the psychosocial factors involved in this choice.

I have always identified charity, love of neighbor, pursuit of justice, solidarity with the poor and oppressed as the cardinal virtues of Christianity, accompanied by the denunciation of injustice, luxury, ostentation, selfishness and intolerance.

In this way, there are not few who, like me, even today, question themselves about the reasons why an expressive part of the Christian electorate – in this case, the evangelical majority – could vote, for the exercise of the highest office of the Republic, in a candidate who, despite having fled the debates, never failed to proclaim, loud and clear, his sympathy for regimes that tortured, killed or persecuted thousands of Brazilians. Vote that contributed decisively to the victory of Mito.

Let us remember that Bolsonaro manifested himself sadistically, in the vote of impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, gloating over the suffering experienced by the former President, during the period in which she was imprisoned during the military regime. He did so by extolling, on the occasion, the figure of Dilma's torturer, Colonel Brilhante Ustra – who stood out the most, during the dictatorship, in this repulsive practice.

The former captain also did not hide his positions on human rights, which he systematically criticized, nor did he disguise, on different occasions, aggressively sexist attitudes. And he also expressed regressive conceptions, in social matters, by defending the false alternative between the reduction of social rights or unemployment.

The perplexity faced with such a shocking choice makes the study of the psychosocial factors of the vote cast by evangelicals particularly opportune. We understand that psychological conditioning, with regard to these faithful, are not foreign to the doctrine of the two greatest icons of Protestantism: Martin Luther and John Calvin - similar, in the matter under analysis, despite their many doctrinal differences. These theologians emphasize the impotence of the individual in the face of the unfathomable designs of the Lord. For them, only the divine will determines the lives of people and historical events.

Calvinists and followers of Luther – but not only these – transferred to the political plane, in the 2020 presidential elections, this feeling of unconditional submission, in a moment of crisis and hopelessness. They believed that only a demiurge could avoid economic and social collapse: the Myth, such as the Füher, in Germany, and the Duce, in Italy.

Indeed, for Lutherans and Calvinists, even the worst tyrant cannot be contested: if he rules, it is because God wants it. In Luther's words, quoted by Fromm: "God would rather put up with the continuation of a government, however bad it may be, than let the rabble rebel, no matter how justified they think they should do so" (Fromm:1970, p.74).

This same fatalistic view, in an even more accentuated form, is present in Calvin for whom “those who go to Heaven do not do so, absolutely, on their merits, just as those condemned to Hell are there simply because God wanted it that way. Salvation, or condemnation, are predeterminations made before man was born” (Calvin: 1928).

Such conceptions, which radically deny the autonomy of the individual, have opened nolens volens, the path to its submission to the secular authorities holding state power. These, at present, have preponderantly based their policies on the exclusive interests of capital. They aim at the deconstruction of the social-democratic model of the State (that of Social Welfare) and its replacement by the “minimum State”, a mere instrument of the neoliberal policy of the dominant classes.

The aforementioned conceptions are in line with those of the most prominent evangelical churches – Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal – inspired by the so-called Prosperity Theology, which value material success, the accumulation of wealth and purely individual solutions to social problems. This adequacy does not always occur consciously. Even for the religious reformers in question, the idea that man's life would become a means to achieve economic ends would have been unacceptable.

In Fromm's words: "Although his way of looking at economic issues was traditionalist, the emphasis given by Luther to the nullity of the individual contradicted this conception, opening the way for an evolution in which man should not only obey secular authorities, but also subordinate their lives to the ends of economic achievement” (Fromm, 1970: p.75).

similarly, the evolution of Calvinist doctrine highlights the idea of ​​success in secular life being a sign of salvation (1970, p.80), a theme that deserved Max Weber's attention as an important link between Calvin's doctrine and the "spirit" of capitalism. As Ghiardelli recalls, pastors of the largest evangelical churches, nicknamed “slot machines”, are among the great fortunes in the country. In his words: “The wave of conservative customs in Brazil has to do with the growth of these churches. Bolsonaro is, in large part, its expression The cultural backwardness of this movement is a liquid in which it likes to bathe” (Ghialdelli, 2029, p.78).

Luther's and Calvin's ideology became hegemonic in several Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches. The pastor of a church – the Central Presbiteriana de Londrina even explicitly asked its members to sign their support for the creation of Bolsonaro’s new party, the Alliance for Brazil (Pacheco, 2020). Therefore, the link between the authoritarian aspects of the doctrines of the theologians, mentioned above, and those of important evangelical sectors, supporters of the reformed captain, who promote the adequacy of religious ideology to market values, is revealed.

As a reward for the contribution of Calvinist exponents to his election, Bolsonaro nominated some of the most prominent among them to the top echelon of his government, such as Professor Benedito Aguiar Neto for the presidency of CAPES, Pastor Sérgio Queiroz for the Secretariat of Social Development and Pastor Guilherme de Carvalho for the Board of Promotion and Education in Human Resources (Pacheco, 2020).

We certainly cannot forget that, despite the positions of Luther and Calvin , described above, Protestantism objectively emerged as a movement of great impact, in the struggle for freedom and autonomy, within the Catholic Church. However, the study of this issue goes beyond the objective of this work.

It only aims to identify the fatalistic aspects of the Protestant doctrine, which favor, at the political level, the acceptance of authoritarianism and, at the economic level, the neoliberal ideology. Such aspects led to a remarkable setback, especially in countries like Brazil, with neo-Pentecostalism gaining considerable space, and with it economic, moral and political options of a conservative bias.

Simultaneously, the severe decrease, among evangelical pastors, in the quality of their training was evident, which often takes just six months, while that of clergymen of the Catholic Church lasts at least five years. All this contributes to the “hard core” of Bolsonarism reaching a significant number of evangelicals, through a deleterious combination of fundamentalism, low cultural level and a conception of religion impregnated with market values.

* Rubens Pinto Lyra, PhD in Political Science, is Professor Emeritus at UFPB.


CALVIN, John. Philadelphia: Institutes of Christian Religion. Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1928.

FROMM, Eric. The fear of freedom. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1970. GHIARDELLI, Paulo. Philosophy explains Bolsonaro. São Paulo: House of the Worlds, 2019.

PACHECO, Ronilson. Who are the Calvinist evangelicals advancing silently in the Bolsonaro government? Intercept Brazil, 20 Feb. 2020.


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