On the “evangelical” vote

Image: João Nitsche


Commonplaces and stereotypes associated with the term “evangelical”, which cloud the capacity for social analysis of the Brazilian left

The article "The Vow of Evangelicals”, by Rubens Pinto Lyra, published on the website the earth is round, does not seem to reach the heart of the question about the evangelical vote for Bolsonaro. Unfortunately, the author appears to have no sociological or first-hand knowledge of so-called "Evangelicals". In this article I intend to dismantle some commonplaces and stereotypes associated with the term “evangelical”, which cloud the capacity for social analysis of the Brazilian left.

First, we must recognize the clear distinction between Protestants, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals. In Brazil, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans (XNUMXth century) would be counted as Protestants (from the Reformation in the XNUMXth century). stricto sensu would be the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Pietists and other minor denominations, which emerged from the 1900th century onwards. Pentecostals would be, for example, the Assemblies of God, the Christian Congregation of Brazil and other churches that emerged between 1960 and 1970, as well as the Evangelical Charismatic Movement. Finally, the Neo-Pentecostals would emerge from XNUMX inspired by the megachurchs South Korean television. Adventists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are considered neither Protestants nor Evangelicals, but para-Christian groups.

To lump all these diverse currents under the same label of “Evangelicals”, as the media and common sense does, is not only sociologically wrong, it is also confusing. In organizational terms (which often reflects a political ideology) we have a whole spectrum, from vertical (episcopal) hierarchy to horizontal anarchist organization with an emphasis on lay power. From the religious point of view, the emphases range from institutional tradition (Anglicans, similar to Catholic) versus biblical orthodoxy (Protestants and Evangelicals) versus mystical experience (Charismatics, Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals). For some, God speaks through the traditional ecclesiastical magisterium, for Protestants, God speaks through the Bible and for Pentecostals, God speaks directly to the heart of the believer or through charismatic prophets (something that could be described as a mediumistic trance where the one who speaks is the Holy Spirit). Obviously, all these differences produce unavoidable conflicts.

The stereotype of the evangelical today in Brazil would be the poor woman, cleaning lady of the middle classes, who doesn't cut her hair, doesn't shave, doesn't wear makeup or long pants. Interestingly, these customs occur in only one denomination, the Christian Congregation of Brazil, and are not common among the Assemblies of God, much less among neo-Pentecostals (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD), Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus (IMPD) , Renascer em Cristo, Sara Nossa Terra, Bola de Neve Church etc.). The theology of Prosperity, inspired by neo-Calvinism, does not exactly explain the neo-Pentecostal vote: the IURD and other neo-Pentecostal churches supported the PT governments, and even Bishop Sonia, from Renascer, went to lay her hands on Dilma for the cure of her cancer, in public ceremony.

The change in the direction of the votes of the “evangelicals” takes place from 2013 (in a larger sociological movement, when the extreme right comes out of the closet). A possible reason would be the instrumental use by the extreme right of anxieties linked to the identity agendas assumed by the PT and other lefts. Let us remember that the rejection of identity guidelines does not only occur among evangelicals, but also among Catholics, spiritists and even conservative atheists.

Another shortcoming of the article The Vow of Evangelicals is to ignore that Calvinist theology of predestination is in the minority in this group. Most evangelicals, if not in theory but in practice, follow Arminian theologies, which emphasize free will and not Calvinist fatalism. Arminians like Methodists and many others are anti-Calvinists. It is possible that this explains the adherence of Methodists (in addition to Lutherans and Anglicans) to Liberation Theology (TL) in the 80s. Let us remember that the first post-dictatorship UNE congress was held with the support of Methodist student leaders at UNIMEP (Methodist University de Piracicaba) and that even today the bachelor's degree in theology at the Methodist University of São Paulo (UMSP) is strongly influenced by Liberation Theology.

In other words, the “evangelical” vote on the extreme right (but aren't Marina Silva and Benedita da Silva “evangelicals”?) cannot be explained by antiquated theologies that, sometimes, the faithful themselves ignore. Let us remember the Baptist Martin Luther King, the Methodist Nelson Mandela and the “evangelical” Obama. An interesting tip for confinement is to watch the movie The Great Challenge (with Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, based on true events), where a Methodist pastor joins a communist teacher in the fight for civil rights for blacks. Already giving a spoiler, the final student challenge is won by a quote from St. Augustine: An unjust law is not a law. Nothing is more anti-government, anti-Calvinist and anti-fatalist than this phrase in the mouth of “evangelicals”.

The doctrine of blind obedience to authority has no historical basis among Protestants, who have revolted against the rule of the Pope, an authority appointed by God. A classic example is the peasant revolt of the Protestant Anabaptists (radical wing of the Reformation and distant and forgotten initiators of the evangelical Baptist branch), described in detail by Friederich Engels in his bookThe Peasant Wars in Germany (1850). From WIKIPEDIA: “Originally a revolt against feudal oppression, it became under the leadership of Müntzer, a war against all established authorities, and an attempt to establish by force his ideal of Christian brotherhood, with absolute equality and the communism of goods. The total defeat of the insurgents at Frankenhausen (May 15, 1525), followed by the execution of Müntzer and several of his leaders, was only a temporary defeat of the Anabaptist movement.”

A recent survey by Datafolha reveals that women represent 58% of the “evangelical” segment, with pardos and blacks corresponding to 59% of the faithful. In the segment, half live on two minimum wages and only 2% have an income above ten minimum wages (Typical face of the Brazilian evangelical is feminine and black, points out Datafolha, Folha de São Paulo 13/01/2020). Another survey by Datafolha reveals that, contrary to certain leaders, the vast majority of “evangelicals” prefer a social democracy with a welfare state rather than a liberal economy ('Evangelical churches are an informal welfare state', says an anthropologist. Juliano Spyer says that the Brazilian elite has a stereotyped and arrogant view of evangelicals, Folha de São Paulo, 17/10/2020). Finally, “evangelicals” helped to overturn Bolsonaro’s gun policy decree, and are radically against advocating torture or the death penalty.

Another factor to be discussed is the alleged conservatism of “evangelicals” when compared to the rest of the population. It is true that practicing evangelicals (there is already a portion of them that are not practicing) are more conservative than non-practicing Catholics, but perhaps this is not a correct basis for comparison. We should compare them with practicing Catholics who faithfully follow the behaviors and customs recommended by their Church.

Thus, we must remember that the Roman Catholic Church (ICAR) still discriminates against divorcees and suicides, and does not recommend the use of condoms and other methods of contraception. ICAR does not accept female priests and the centrality of the cult of Mary does not imply feminist attitudes. Likewise, there are still authoritarian practices such as the Vatican's theocratic Elective Absolute Monarchy. Of the five Catholic dogmas concerning the Pope and the Church, we have (Dogmas of the Catholic Church – Wikipedia):

1) The Pope possesses the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in the discipline and government of the Church: “According to this declaration, the power of the Pope is: of jurisdiction, universal, supreme, full, ordinary, episcopal, immediate.”

2) The Pope is infallible whenever he speaks ex cathedra: “Subject of papal infallibility is every legitimate Pope, in his capacity as successor of Peter and not other persons or bodies (e.g. pontifical congregations) to whom the Pope confers part of his magisterial authority.”

3) The Church is infallible when defining matters of faith and customs.

Thus, it is not surprising that there are Catholic conservatives such as the TFP, the Opus Dei and the Catholic Integralists, who certainly voted for Bolsonaro and who are now asking for Impeachment of Pope Francis.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, do not have central authority and their customs are much more modern: they accept divorce, bury suicides with dignity, prescribe birth control by any means (except abortion, although the IURD defended the regulation of abortion, given that the mother do Bispo Macedo performed abortions). In São Paulo, there are at least four “evangelical” churches that perform religious gay marriage, and we have gay pastors and bishops. There are also female pastors and bishops, some lesbians, and even a black and transsexual reverend candidate for councilor of São Paulo (Alexya Salvador –PSOL 50321, former state deputy) in the next elections.

With this last example, the inadequacy of wanting to examine “evangelicals” as a single political bloc becomes clear. The constitution of a right-wing “evangelical” bench is the result of the Bolsonarista wave, not the other way around. In doing so, one forgets the entire “evangelical” left and the entire movement of evangelicals against Bolsonaro in 2018. For example, there was a large movement of women within the IURD in favor of Fernando Haddad, a movement that was torpedoed by his declaration of that Bishop Macedo was a charlatan. How many votes did Haddad lose with that extemporaneous statement?

How many votes did Haddad lose by including extra scholarships for transsexuals in his 2018 government plan? He didn't get any more LGBT votes, because that community would vote for him anyway, with or without this item on the show. But with this item he lost votes in the entire heterosexual segment, not only “Evangelical”) but also Catholic and Spiritist, and even center-right atheist, where a cunning propaganda spread that, by doing this, Haddad considered transsexuals as “superior” and deserving of “privileges” in relation to heterosexuals. After all, scholarships could be given without any problem after winning the elections, but why put this specific item in the electoral propaganda? Just to give ammunition to Bolsonaristas?

That is, with demographic data indicating that evangelicals would reach 2032% of the population in 39,8, surpassing the 38,6% of Catholics in that year (Evangelicals may displace Catholics in Brazil in just over a decade, Folha de São Paulo of 14/01/2020), we have a big problem for the Brazilian Left. And, if we compare practicing “evangelicals” with practicing Catholics, that is, not just nominal ones, perhaps this overtaking has already occurred.

Therefore, the Left needs, using the tools of the Sciences of Religion (Sociology of Religion, Psychology of Religion, History of Religion, etc.), to better understand this demographic segment, if it does not want to repeat the political polarization of the USA, where it cleverly proclaims that the Republican Party is the party of God and the Democratic Party is the party of communist LGBT atheists. As if a large fraction of the LGBT community has no religion or spirituality, feeling orphaned in a left-wing discourse that is only secular or even atheist.

A basic suggestion for any commentator on the left: try not to use the stereotype of the “evangelical” in your reflections (your evangelical cleaning lady, the only contact of the secular middle class with the segment). First, read some WIKIPEDIA threads on Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and Neo-Pentecostalism. This information is available to everyone, and only unjustifiable intellectual laziness can justify ignorance about “evangelicals”. Let's raise the level of debate to the minimum level of WIKIPEDIA. If we don't do this, we will be handing over 30% of the electorate to the extreme right in the 2022 elections, and the religious majority in 2032.

*Osame Kinouchi is a professor at the Department of Physics at FFCLRP-USP.

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