The baptism of Bolsonaro in the Jordan River. The evangelical support was key to the triumph in the first round of the right-wing candidate.
- He is one of them; those who raised him to the status of the most voted candidate in the first round. Formal catholic, although evangelical for political expediency, Jair Bolsonaro even has a second biblical name: Messias. The egg of the serpent contained a religiosity that has yielded fruit.
In May 2016, the pastor and leader of the Christian Social Party (PSC), Everaldo Dias Pereira, submerged Bolsonaro in the Jordan River during a visit to Israel. Before completing the baptism, he asked: “Do you believe that Jesus is a son of God?” “I believe,” responded the deputy and retired military man whose campaign was based on his xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic and reactionary creed, which could have been parodied by Charles Chaplin in his famous film, “The great dictator”.
That ceremony had been a memorable act . The political error of his opponents was to have underestimated him and the powerful religious groups that support him . The main one is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God founded in 1977 by two brothers-in-law; Edir Macedo and Romildo Ribeiro Soares. The IURD is a powerful machine for raising the funds that control the second major television network in the country, Record; the same network that interviewed exclusively the aspiring most voted-for president of Brazil, at the same time that other candidates discussed their election proposals on TV.
Bolsonaro -or ‘Nazi Bag’, as his detractors say- reached such a high level of popularity because the churches played a key role in his campaign. They are a formidable political force. They control one fifth of the Chamber of Deputies. Evangelicals distributed in different expressions of faith (Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian) comprise 29 percent of the population and are still far away from the majority Catholic congregation. Until 2015, in only the IURD, some 6,000 temples were attributed to it throughout Brazil. Macedo continues his leadership role, after his brother-in-law founded the International Church of the Grace of God in 1980. The faithful have set a tithe that is calculated at 10 percent of their income. There lies the economic strength of the most powerful evangelical churches . In Argentina, the IURD expanded with a communication slogan that is summarized in these words: Stop suffering, a new television day dawns.
Versatile and molded to the political times, the government of Dilma Rousseff was one of its allies with a couple of ministers in the cabinet of the Workers Party (PT) among its members: Pastor George Hilton, in charge of the Sports portfolio, and before Marcelo Crivella, a nephew of Macedo who occupied the Ministry of Fisheries and today is the questioned mayor of Rio de Janeiro. The alliance that had woven the Universal Church for the Kingdom of God with the PT was finished after the impeachment of the former president. The Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) of Macedo linked his own church with Bolsonaro in the second round. He flirted with Geraldo Alckmin first, but settled behind the most voted candidate.
Another pastor, Robson Rodovalho, stated that “when you divide right and left, you can not sit on the wall”. He is the founder of the church Sara Nossa Terra of Brasilia, to which 1.6 million followers are attributed. The evangelicals increased their base of faithful in a methodical way and in the 2010 census they reached 22 percent of the population (some 42 million at that time), but still far from the Catholics with 64 percent and some 123 million believers. Launched into politics without any need to build bridges or delegate their emissaries, they formed a front in Congress back in 2003 at the height of Lula’s presidency. Although they have a considerable block in the lower house – almost one fifth of the 513 deputies – in the Senate, their presence is a minority. Of 81 seats, they occupy just five.
“Bolsonaro has Christian ideals: he defends the traditional family, he is against abortion, gender ideology and he is an honest candidate. After all the corruption of recent years, that is a substantial factor,” said Ulisses de Almeida, pastor of the Assembly of God, when he justified his vote two weeks before the election. The Evangelical Church of Brazil is a tangible source of power and has managed to advance at the expense of the Church of Rome in a country with the most faithful Catholics.
The Socialist Liberal Party (PSL) of the extreme right-wing military has nurtured its support in the final stretch towards the Planalto Palace. It is the same church that has its own uniformed troops. In the IURD they are called Gladiators of the Altar. Lately they are not a visible presence, but in 2015 they broke into parks and squares in Porto Alegre, Goias and Fortaleza wearing uniforms of moss green shirts and dark pants, with an inscription on the chest that said: “Yo positivo”.
They are soldiers of faith who follow Bolsonaro today. Together with him they can change the future of Brazil and spread the virus of intolerance and racism across its extensive territory, accompanying each intervention of the candidate of the military party, the hegemonic media, the landlords and their confessional arm, the evangelical church.
“Brazil above all, God above all,” is their slogan. It can be heard at election rallies and in religious ceremonies. It would be like the “cristofascismo” to the Brazilian, a term coined by the German liberation theologian Dorothee Steffensky-Sölle in the 70s.