“For God and Country”: The Rise of the Brazilian Political Right

Gabriel Casella, Johns Hopkins University:

Brazil has been a catholic majority nation since its establishment as a Portuguese colony in the 1500s until modern times. According to official census data from IBGE, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world. The separation between the Church and State was only finally formalized in the 1891 constitution of the Old Republic of Brazil. The catholic faith and the Catholic Church have held considerable influence over the politics and government policies of Brazil.  For example, divorce, which faced considerable opposition from the Catholic Church, only became a legal right in 1977.

In 1970, according to data from the IBGE, about ninety percent of Brazilians self identified as “Roman Catholic”. However, according to the latest state census, only sixty-five percent of Brazilians now consider themselves to be Catholic. This poses the question: what is happening to Brazil’s catholic population?

The answer to this question might be found in looking at Roman Catholicism’s greatest historical competitor since the Great Schism of 1054: Protestantism. Brazil’s protestant moment stems largely from the proselytizing effort of American Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist Missionaries in the early 19th century. However, Brazil’s protestant population in modern times has become fully independent from their American roots, with Pentecostalism and Evangelism becoming the current leading protestant denominations.

The late 20th century and early 21st century was met with an exponential growth of Brazilians self-identifying as “Protestant.” According to the same aforementioned 2010 IBGE census, about one in four Brazilians (22.2% of the population) are protestant. This may be the result of a popular backlash against the religious status quo of the Eurocentric Catholic Church, which has ignored the voice of its Brazilian constituents for decades.

Modern 21st century Brazilian politics has remained somewhat isolated from religious discourse. However, the core principles of secularism and religious equality are coming under threat from the increasing political influence of the religious right. The unofficial political alliance known as the BBB (Boi, Bíblia, e Bala), “ cattle, bible, and ammo” is an umbrella coalition of conservative evangelical, ruralist and public defense political factions within the Brazilian government. Many of these senators and deputies within the BBB bloc come from the important economic and political hubs of State of São Paulo, the State of Rio de Janeiro and State of Minas Gerais, which are becoming the bastions of Brazilian Protestantism and political conservatism.

On August 31st the Brazilian Senate decided in a historical 61 to 20 vote to impeach Brazil’s 36th President, Dilma Vana Rousseff. Ending a decade-long control of the Brazilian government by the PT. During the Senate impeachment vote process, many BBB senators voted in favor of the process for “ god and country” in front of the entire nation on live television. This is arguably the first official demonstration of power by the growing conservative and religious right.

On October 30th Marcelo Crivella, a bishop of the neopentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, won the traditionally liberal Rio de Janeiro’s mayoral election with about sixty percent of the popular vote. Crivella’s win is surprising, given his opposition to both women and the LGBT community’s rights. Crivella has even denounced Brazil’s Catholic majority in public, allegedly calling them “devil worshipers.”

The BBB voting block is becoming an ever-powerful player in national politics, amounting to 40 percent of deputies in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress. The BBB block is using its newfound political leverage under the new Temer government in order to lobby for legislation that threatens to reverse years of social progress in regards to women’s, LGBT rights and gun control implemented under the previous ruling PT party (Worker’s party.)

Current and past projects supported by the BBB voting bloc:

  1. Lowering the national age of adult criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years of age.
  2. Repealing the 2003 federal law restricting the commercial sales of arms.
  3. Passing legislation defining a family unit as being solely comprised of a man and a woman, effectively banning the now-legal same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption.
  4. Passing legislation giving an unborn fetus rights and protection from the State.
  5. Passing legislation classifying abortion as a heinous crime with severe penalties; even in cases of incest or rape.
  6. Passing legislation making “Heterosexual Pride” an official state holiday and criminalizing “heterophobia.”

The rise of anti-establishment candidates in Brazil can be seen as a backlash of the political status quo and reaction against the widespread years of corruption present under the Worker’s Party Brazilian government. Many members of Brazil’s other major political parties such as the PSDB and PMDB have also been implicated in the very same corruption scandal under a recent string of investigations known as operation Car Wash. On one hand the BBB candidates are offering a revitalizing promise of political change against the current political establishment and to heed the public’s will to fight against corruption. On the other hand, the very same candidates lobbying for an overwhelmingly conservative social and political agenda: threatening to marginalize Brazil’s minorities and cut vital social programs.

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