racism in the church

Lubaina Himid, Between the two my heart is balanced, 1991.


Councilman Renato de Freitas is yet another black victim of Christian racism

Renato Freitas, faced with the violence of the deaths of Moïse Kabamgabe and Durval Teófilo Filho, joined other black people in a demonstration in front of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men of São Benedito, in the capital of the state of Paraná. As it was a Saturday, there was a mass in progress and after the end of the mass, the demonstrators entered the Church. In a conservative and Christian city, like Curitiba, this sounded like “vilification of the religion of others”, in the words of one of the councilors who proposed the impeachment of the mandate of councilor of Renato Freitas (PT).

Here we have many elements to be discussed in relation to all the violence and racism that surround this situation: (i) the entry of demonstrators into a church revolts “good citizens” more than the death of Moïse and Durval; (ii) the opportunity to accuse a black parliamentarian of breach of decorum and, thus, revoke his mandate and (iii) the indifference to what the black population has to say about this event.

What makes the issue even more complex is that the church that was then occupied by protesters is nothing more, nothing less, than a church that mobilized many black people throughout the history of the city of Curitiba. Therefore, the church has a symbology in the black and anti-racist struggle in the city. Founded in 1737, the Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Benedito Church had its first construction – which was demolished in 1931 –, built by enslaved people and so that enslaved people could attend mass.

Now, it is only fair that a demonstration of this size and content took place in a place historically belonging to black people and which served as a scenario for the articulation of enslaved people in the resistance to Brazilian slavery. As a black Christian person, what strikes me in this whole story is that instead of Christians repenting for the sin of racism and putting themselves in the trenches of the struggle for historical reparation, they resign themselves and are still offended when confronted with their racism itself.

Yes, this case is about racism by the Christian churches, as they claim that there was disrespect for the religious space, but they never admit the crucial role of the Catholic Church in the moral and religious justification of enslavement in Brazil. I remember Debret's painting, Young black women going to church to be baptized (1821), in which women kidnapped in Africa go to church before being raped, exploited and tortured at the hands of planters. Therefore, in the face of the atrocities that the Catholic Church (and many Protestants) committed and supported against Brazilian blacks and indigenous people, giving up their temples so that the black movement can denounce it is the least!

The fact is this, the hands of Christians are full of blood, and there is no impeachment to make those hands clean. And the very fact that certain so-called good citizens are more bothered by an anti-racist act within a Church that has historically been a reference for the black movement in Curitiba, than by the deaths of Moïse and Durval, shows that these citizens want to silence the black movement.

The second point is central to this debate: Renato's impeachment. The diocese of Curitiba itself spoke out against this absurdity and in a note said that this punishment is disproportionate. However, the impeachment penalty was proposed by Sidnei Toaldo for “performing a political act inside the church”. We know what it's really about: once we enter the spaces of power, whiteness does everything to make us leave. Either through institutional maneuvers, like this one, or with our own death – as happened with Marielle Franco.

It must be very uncomfortable to hear every day that your ideals are racist, right? See that the space of power is no longer hegemonically white and male. When Renato opens his mouth to give voice to social movements in Curitiba, he plunges a knife into the heart of the racist, sexist and lgbtphobic structures that sustain the “good men”. And that's why any motivation will be enough to wrest the mandate from a popular leadership elected by the people and for the people.

Finally, the question that remains is: what does the black population think about this absurd impeachment? Of the 38 councilors in the house, only 3 are black. The blackest city in the south, it has 24% black people in its population, but it does not have 24% black councilors in the chamber. Does this population approve of the black movement asking for mercy at Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church for the black lives lost to racist violence in our cities? I believe so. This ethics committee, made up of white people who have no empathy with the black cause, is not able to judge the pain and complaints of black people, who have their bodies and rights vilified every day.

For good Christian citizens, I say, it is time to repent of the sin of racism. This sin guaranteed the construction of a country through the religious justification of slave labor. It is time to take the right side of history and rethink how our churches, day by day, have contributed to Brazilian racism. I am sure that in this case, Jesus would not only be with the demonstrators, as he would say: the house of God is the house of the people, come and take a seat. Racists will not pass!

* Simony of Angels is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at USP. She is a member of the Collective “Evangelicals for Gender Equality”, of the Evangelical Black Women Network.


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