Spirit and Power - A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals
Historical Overview of Pentecostalism in Brazil
Origins and Growth
- 1910s-1930s: An Italian missionary establishes the pentecostal Christian Congregation in 1910 among immigrants in São Paulo; in 1911, Swedish missionaries establish a church in Belém that becomes the Assemblies of God (AG) (Anderson 2004: 70-71). The AG begins ordaining indigenous pastors in 1921, and transfers leadership to Brazilians in 1930. The total number of pentecostals reaches 40,000 by 1930, including 13,000 members of the AG (Wilson 2003: 39).
- 1950s-1960s: Brazil experiences a second wave of pentecostal expansion, represented by three large groups originating in São Paulo: Church of the Foursquare Gospel (1951), Brazil for Christ (1955) and God is Love (1962). Manoel de Mello is the first Brazilian to found a large pentecostal church, Brazil for Christ (Freston 2001: 13-14).
- 1970s-1980s: A third wave of pentecostal growth occurs, led by the formation of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) by Edir Macedo in 1977. By 1990, the Universal Church has 14 radio stations and a TV station, while the AG also continues to expand (Ireland 1998: 123). Estevam and Sonia Hernandes found the neo-pentecostal church Reborn in Christ in 1986.
- 1990s-present: According to the 1991 census, Protestants make up 9% of the population, over half of whom are pentecostal. By the 2000 census, the number of Protestants grows to over 15% of the population, or about 26 million people, and 68% of the Protestant community is pentecostal. New pentecostal groups continue to grow rapidly; the Universal Church, for example, has over 2 million members in 2000, an increase of 1.8 million new members between 1991 and 2000 and a six-fold increase in their share of the Brazilian population.
- In June 2006, organizers claim that an estimated 3 million evangelicals join the 14th annual “March for Jesus” in São Paulo, headed by the leaders of the pentecostal church Reborn in Christ (Agencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Comunicación [ALC], June 15, 2006).
- The findings of the Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey suggest that Brazil’s expanding Protestant population is increasingly pentecostal, with approximately eight-in-ten Protestants interviewed indicating they were either pentecostal or charismatic. Survey results suggest that the AG is the single largest pentecostal church, accounting for four-in-ten pentecostals. Roughly half of Brazilian Catholics interviewed can be classified as charismatic.
Religion and Politics
- An 1881 election law permits non-Catholics to serve as parliament members and the 1891 constitution separates church and state (Freston 2001: 18; Serbin 1999: 206). However, pentecostals in the early 20th century are largely apolitical. The Christian Congregation effectively bans its members from participating in political activities, and a common slogan among AG members and other pentecostals until 1986 is “believers do not mess with politics” (Freston 2001: 12-14). Of the 50 Protestants elected to congress between 1933 and 1987, 47 are mainline Protestants and only three are pentecostals (Freston 2001: 19).
- As an exception to pentecostals’ apolitical tendency, in the 1960s the Brazil for Christ church affiliates with the World Council of Churches and its leaders strongly criticize the military dictatorship (1964-1985) during its most repressive period (Freston 2001: 15).
The Constituent Assembly and Pentecostal Mobilization, 1986-1989
- In the post-junta elections of 1986, voters select a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution. Attracted by the chance to recreate Brazilian politics, more pentecostals abandon their apoliticism. Achieving legal equality with the Catholic Church and maintaining restrictions on abortion and same-sex unions become major pentecostal goals (Freston 2001: 21-23).
- Of the 36 Protestants who serve in the Constituent Assembly during this period, 20 are pentecostal, compared with 17 in the preceding congress (Fonseca forthcoming). Most join an evangelical caucus, the only religious one in the Assembly, which receives property and funds from José Sarney’s government to secure its support for government stances (Freston 2001: 20-29).
- The Constituent Assembly, with support from pentecostals, puts the name of God in the constitution, augments religious freedom, maintains religious teaching in public schools and bars homosexual “orientation” as a category protected from discrimination. The Assembly fails to pass restrictions on abortion, divorce and artistic expression (Freston 2001: 29).
Pentecostals and Electoral Politics, 1989-1994
- In 1989, Agriculture Minister Iris Rezende, a non-pentecostal Protestant, attracts pentecostal support in his bid to become the presidential nominee of Brazil’s largest party, the centrist Party of the Democratic Movement of Brazil. When his bid fails, leaders of the AG, Universal Church and other pentecostal churches help swing Protestant support behind Fernando Collor de Mello of the centrist National Reconstruction Party against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers Party. Many pentecostals oppose Lula as Marxist and anti-religious; the Universal Church’s Macedo attacks him as pro-Catholic (Freston 2001: 29-32). A survey shows that Protestants may decide the runoff for Collor, which he wins (Freston 1993: 83; Ireland 1998: 124).
- The AG votes as a bloc to elect 13 AG members to congress in 1990, while the Universal Church uses bloc voting to elect three of its members (Fonseca forthcoming; Freston 2001: 17). The Universal Church wins greater political clout in subsequent elections, electing six of its members to congress in 1994 and 16 in 1998 (Fonseca forthcoming).
- In 1994, after Collor’s impeachment, presidential elections again pit Lula against a more centrist candidate, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. Although many pentecostals, including Macedo, still oppose Lula, some pentecostal leaders and evangelical groups such as the newly formed Progressive Evangelical Movement support him. Analysis by Prandi and Pierucci (1994) suggests that pentecostals favor Cardoso, the ultimate winner. In 1998, Cardoso easily wins re-election against Lula, again with significant pentecostal support (Freston 2001: 34-48).
Pentecostals and the Left, 1994-2002
- After the return to democracy, Brazil’s evangelical left becomes the largest in Latin America (Freston 2001: 33). Its most well known representative is Benedita da Silva, who becomes a Workers Party activist and city councilor in Rio after joining the AG. She is elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1986 and in 1994 becomes Brazil’s first black woman senator (Fonseca forthcoming).
- With support from some pentecostal politicians and businessmen, Benedita da Silva allies with populist Anthony Garotinho of the Democratic Labor Party, who becomes an evangelical Presbyterian in 1994. In 1998, Garotinho and da Silva are elected as governor and vice-governor of Rio state, having actively courted and received evangelical support (Freston 2001: 49; Fonseca forthcoming). After Garotinho steps down as governor to seek the presidency in 2002, his wife Rosinha Matheus and da Silva, who serves as interim governor, oppose each other for the governorship. This creates a contest between two left-wing evangelical women for a major political office, unprecedented in Catholic-majority Brazil (Fonseca forthcoming). Matheus wins and da Silva becomes Minister of Social Action in Lula’s government in 2003, a post she holds until January 2004.
- In the 2002 presidential elections, Garotinho runs on the Brazilian Socialist Party ticket, and his campaign features visits to pentecostal churches and appearances on evangelical radio. He wins 18% of the vote in the first round, with support from 37% of evangelical voters, narrowly missing qualifying for the runoff (Fonseca forthcoming).
Pentecostals and Lula, 2002-2006
- Garotinho then endorses Lula in the runoff, helping him secure the endorsement of some 500 evangelical leaders (Guilherme, Nov. 15, 2002). Among pentecostal churches, Universal Church and Reborn in Christ leaders throw their support to Lula in 2002, while the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Foursquare Gospel support government candidate José Serra (Oro 2005: 12). The center-right Liberal Party, heavily influenced by the Universal Church since the 1999 elections, also joins with Lula in the 2002 elections, and its leader, businessman José Alencar, becomes Lula’s running mate. Lula and Alencar win the second round with 61% of the vote (Hunter 2006: 17-18, 22).
- Of the 17 Universal Church members elected to congress in 2002, eight are in the Liberal Party, nearly half of the Universal Church’s representation and more than 25% of the Liberal Party’s congressional delegation (Freston 2004c: 147).
- As of 2004, more than 60 Protestants are serving in congress, 10% of Brazil’s nearly 600-member congress. Two-thirds are official candidates of the Universal Church, AG and Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Of the approximately 160 Protestants serving in congress between 1987 and 2006, about 100 are pentecostals (Freston 2001: 19; Freston 2004b: 34). In September 2003, pentecostals and other Protestant members form the Evangelical Parliamentary Front, similar to previous evangelical lobbies and caucuses organized since 1986 (Chu, June 7, 2004).
- In the wake of corruption allegations implicating Universal Church and AG politicians as well as members of Lula’s Workers Party, a new Universal Church-supported political party officially registers in August 2005 and is ultimately named the Brazilian Republican Party, headed by Universal Church pastor Vitor Paulo dos Santos. Those joining the new party include Vice President José Alencar, former head of the Liberal Party and Lula’s running mate for the October 2006 presidential elections, and senator and Universal Church bishop Marcelo Crivella, nephew of Universal Church founder Macedo (ALC, Oct. 3, 2005). Crivella is the first elected Universal Church senator and he places third for the governorship of the state of Rio de Janeiro in the October 2006 elections. Among a disproportionately large number of pentecostal and evangelical congress members under investigation since early 2006 for a contract kickback scandal, many are not reelected to office.
- In the 2006 presidential campaign, both Lula and his primary rival, Geraldo Alckmin, seek pentecostal support. The two largest AG conventions in Brazil split their support for Lula and Alckmin shortly before the first round of elections (Kerr, Sept. 12, 2006; Khalip, Sept. 21, 2006). After Lula fails to win a first round majority, Garotinho endorses Lula, potentially boosting Lula’s evangelical support (EFE News Service, Oct. 3, 2006).