Home Christian News Bolsonaro Campaign to Evangelicals: Brazil’s Soul at Stake

Bolsonaro Campaign to Evangelicals: Brazil’s Soul at Stake

Many poor evangelicals fondly remembered leftist da Silva’s 2003-2010 tenure as time when they could afford to buy meat and pay their bills, according to Esther Solano, a sociologist at the Federal University of Sao Paulo who conducts polling of Bolsonaro voters and evangelicals. Some moderate evangelicals felt Bolsonaro used them politically and isn’t a real Christian, as evidenced by his hostility toward public health measures during the pandemic.

Since May, however, various polls have found a significant part of the evangelical vote migrated from da Silva to Bolsonaro, a shift attributed to the incumbent’s campaign to portray Brazil as spiritually ill and argue only he can safeguard Christian faith.

Both candidates are Catholic, but Bolsonaro frames the race as a battle of good versus evil, with himself as God’s standard-bearer and da Silva a devil. He holds up his wife as the paragon of a Christian woman; she says her husband banished demons who occupied the presidential palace.

Santini said an ecosystem of religious and political disinformation websites has been generating content that candidates, pastors and politicians redistribute via social. It set the news cycle for weeks, with TV pundits calling the race a holy war.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, one of Brazil’s largest evangelical congregations, tweeted on Sept. 15 that evangelicals “woke up to fact it’s impossible to be Christian and from the left.”

The campaign also entails associating da Silva with Afro Brazilian religions. One video shared widely in evangelical circles early this year was edited so he appeared to say the devil was speaking to him and taking control. It influenced evangelicals’ perceptions at the time, according to Solano, who interviewed dozens of them.

In a campaign appearance Sept. 7, Bolsonaro told the crowd they should compare da Silva’s wife with his own — “a woman of God, family and active in my life.” Days earlier, a photo circulating in pro-Bolsonaro social media showed da Silva’s wife standing before figures of Afro Brazilian religious deities, known as orixas.

Brazil’s presidential palace and campaign declined to comment on strategy.

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Using Afro Brazilian religions as a political attack isn’t new. In 1912, in northeastern Alagoas state, a long-serving governor’s supposed involvement with such groups served as pretext to pressure for his resignation, and a citywide ransacking of their temples. That triggered decades of so-called quiet worship, without traditional singing, clapping and drumming.

Today just a small minority practices the religions in Brazil, and in recent years there have been increased reports of incidents of religious intolerance targeting them, particularly at the hands of members of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches. Those institutions, founded since 1970, focus on spreading faith among nonbelievers. While most proselytizing is peaceful, members of African-influenced religions have been subjected to verbal abuse, discrimination, destruction of their temples and forced expulsion from neighborhoods.