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Brazil

Brazil is culturally and religiously unique. With a population of about 175 million, the country reports an estimated 20 million Pentecostals, (Roman Catholic) charismatics, and Neo-Pentecostals. Yet, ironically, while Brazil accounts for half of all Latin Americans in these categories, Brazil remains the largest Roman Catholic country in the world and the practitioners of the enormously popular Afro-Brazilian religions probably far exceed the number of Pentecostals/charismatics.

Nevertheless, the pervasiveness and size of Pentecostalism in Brazil gives it a place in national life. Brazil has become the Pentecostals' largest stage and its performance may well indicate the course that world Pentecostalism will take, whether it finds an ongoing, constructive role in revitalizing the social and spiritual life of nations where it has taken root or whether it will be found inadequate to meet the demands of complex societies facing enormous social challenges.

Pentecostalism and Brazilian Spirituality
Although Brazilian Pentecostals repudiate the various forms of popular spiritualism, these religious movements provide a backdrop of understanding the affinity of Brazilians generally for the transcendental. As many as 5 percent of all Brazilians are considered to be disciples of Alan Kardec, a French spiritualist whose ideas were introduced in the country in the nineteenth century. In addition to these "high spiritists" found among the middle classes, many Brazilians identify with "low" or syncretic spiritism that has incorporated many Catholic and African elements. The wide diversity among them has resulted in some scholars' denying that a generic Afro-Brazilian religion exists. While some groups retain African terminology in their liturgies, the largest Brazilian spiritist movement, Umbanda, uses Portuguese to invoke the spirits and has adapted to Brazilian Catholicism, so that the spirits may be at the same time either African deities or Catholic saints. Although Catholic leaders have often denounced Umbanda, resistance is made difficult because there is Umbanda hierarchy and each center is autonomous.

Pentecostalism was introduced into Brazil in 1909 by lay ministers who had only recently become acquainted with the group's doctrinal emphases and fewer than four years after the movement came to prominence with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles. At that time Pentecostals had not organized denominationally and, generally, like the holiness group from which they in large part derived, were averse to organizing along the lines of the established denominations. Accordingly, the Brazilian Pentecostals can hardly be considered extensions of North American religious institutions. The group that presently bears the name Assembleias de Deus was organized five years before the organization of its North American putative namesake, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, and originally called itself A Fe Apostolica (the Apostolic Faith).

From the beginning these churches were strongly influenced by European missionaries, the Congregacao Cristia was started by Italian evangelists who became acquainted with the movement in Chicago, and the Assembleius de Deus, founded by Swedish immigrants to the United States Einar Vingren and Daniel Berg. Both the Swedish and the Italian founders left indelible marks on the Brazilian churches, notably in their doctrinal emphses, their ecclesiastical polities, and their styles of worship. Yet, from the beginning, the initiative for evangelizing their country, in founding new churches, and in sustaining and organizing their congregations were tasks undertaken by Brazilians. Already by the 1940s there was a Brazilian community of 100,000.

While the church was taking root institutionally, with churches virtually throughout the national territory by World War II, Brazil was undergoing rapid change that appears to have accelerated the movement's spread. Nationalism intensified during the war years and during the regime of Getulio Vargas (1930-1945, 1950-1954), who gave impetus to economic development and popular political organization. U.S. assistance in exploiting the nation's extensive iron reserves and the construction of automobile assembly plants in the 1950s gave promise of significant economic development. The rise of the industrial South Central region, job opportunities in the coffee zone in Paraná State, and burgeoning cities offering employment in construction brought massive demographic changes. Meanwhile, traditional rural life was revolutionized by the rise of corporate farming and the opening of new markets for Brazilian agricultural products. With the breakdown of traditional rural labor and land-use patterns, many peasants (caboclos) left the land to find work in the regional cities of the northern states, often referred to as the zone of periodic droughts. From these centers many migrants joined the stream of men and families who headed south to find work in the metropolitan areas.

While most writers recognize that the growth of Pentecostal groups is not merely a function of instability, they usually consider social disintegration as a contributing factor in the appeal of Pentecostalism. The evangelical churches, in large part made up of Pentecostal congregations, have often functioned as surrogate families for men and women who were separated from their extended families and communities, providing social, emotional, and spiritual support. Churches warmly welcome newcomers and, with their human and material resources, are in a position to help stabilize the lives of the individuals left to struggle on their own.

Profiles of the Leading Pentecostal Denominations
Although the two original Pentecostal groups continued to play important roles-the Assembleias de Deus is listed in religious censuses with more than 10 million adherents-the rapid growth of several neo-Pentecostal organizations has dominated most recent considerations of Pentecostalism. Beginning with the Igreja Evangelica Pentecostal "Brazil para Cristo," (the Pentecostal Evangelical Church "Brazil for Christ") founded in 1955 by Manoel de Melo, a charismatic leader who emphasized social programs and was involved in politics, other groups followed. Brazil para Cristo is believed to have about 5000 congregations, 1 million members, and 2 million adherents. Even larger is the Igreja Pentecostal Deus e Amor (God is Love Pentecostal Church) with 3,200 churches, many of them large urban congregations, with a combined total of 3 million adherents. The largest of these churches is the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) founded by Bishop Edir Macedo, with an estimated 10,000 congregations, 2 million adult members, and 4 million adherents. While each of these organizations exhibits its own approaches, more than the traditional Pentecostals these groups have attracted business and professional people. They are more clearly urban and progressive than the classical Pentecostals, whose traditional values have made them appear rigid and legalistic and outside the more progressive streams of Brazilian life. These groups generally, and the Universal Church of God especially, have involved themselves in business ventures, have a national presence through their effective use of television and radio in some of the largest Brazilian communications markets, and have involved themselves in civic affairs.

What Does Pentecostalism Offer Brazilians?
Why do Brazilians, the vast majority of whom were baptized as Catholics, opt for the evangelical faith, especially in its Pentecostal form? Sociologist Cecilia Mariz's comparisons of progressive Catholic congregations, spiritists, and Pentecostals found that Pentecostalism was not as secularized as the cells groups (Base Ecumenical Communities or CEBs for the Portuguese acronym) organized by progressive priests in Catholic parishes in the 1980s. Pentecostals more closely identify with popular thinking by reinforcing many of their assumptions about the supernatural. The CEBs represented a sharp break with folk religions because they attempted through a process of raising awareness to redefine the relationship between religion and culture.

On the other hand, Pentecostals offer an alternative to the Afro-Brazilian movements that are so widespread. John Burdick found that some individuals who had previously been associated with the most popular of these, Umbanda, provided some explanation. One subject, who had been invited to a Pentecostal church by her mother-in-law, compared the two religious experiences. At the Umbandista center she was able to speak freely about her concerns, in this case the condition of her marriage, but when the initial consultations failed to improve matters, she was encouraged to identify the person or persons whom she considered to be responsible for her problems. Moreover, the therapy was increasingly expensive and complicated, arousing suspicions in the subject that she was less important to the practitioners than her money. The Pentecostal church, according to Burdick, is attractive for its pray-healing. He refers to it as a "cult of affliction." "The bond of suffering among petitioners permits a temporary suspension of social roles and status, forging an arena unencumbered by social sensitivity. The pastor explained that people brought their problems to him because he was separated from the world where their problems come up. "In the Catholic Church you are not leaving society. This is a refuge." Since the Pentecostal pastor explained domestic discord as the work of the devil, people are freed from a sense of personal responsibility for their problems.

Catholic Charismatics
The Catholic charismatics emerged in an era dominated by liberation theology, a progress movement in the Catholic Church that called for greater social action based on a correct reading of the Bible and Christian theology. Accordingly, much of the energy for reform among Catholics was directed to social activism rather than to the inward looking spirituality of the charismatic movement. Nevertheless, charismatic cells were established in many parishes and continued after the decline of liberation theology, opposed in its most insistent forms by John Paul II. Unlike Protestant Pentecostalism, the Catholic charismatic and liberation theology movements are sometimes considered to have formed top-down under the aegis of elite leaders, rather being the more or less spontaneous initiatives of Brazilians bottom-up from the popular sectors.

Pentecostals in Civic Life
One indication of the Pentecostals' impact on national life has been their entry into politics. Presently (2004) 61 of the 600 members of the national congress (58 deputies and 3 senators) are evangelicals. Although Pentecostals in the past were underrepresented among the evangelicals, recent rapid gains in representation have been attributed to the increasing involvement of Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals in public life. "We cannot be silent when those things happen," a spokesperson said recently about issues like political corruption and abortion. The voting bloc they represent resembles in some issues the religious right in the United States regarding liberalization of abortion, gay marriage, and legalization of drugs. In 2003 the members of this group helped obstruct a measure to clone human embryos to harvest stem cells for research. On social issues, however, the Pentecostals appear to borrow pages from the liberal platform, including support for public health measures, education, and a higher minimum wage. Far from hawkish, Brazilian Pentecostals are staunchly opposed to the U.S. engagement in Iraq. However, Brazil's evangelical contingent frequently fails to stand together. They span the political spectrum and oppose one another on specific issues. Pentecostal pastors often encourage their parishioners to vote and recommend specific candidates and issues, strategize campaigns, and support some candidates who have added bishop or pastor to their official ballot designations. Brazil's present president, Luiz Inacio Lula, courted evangelical leaders in his successful 2002 campaign and had to overcome the opposition of an avowedly evangelical opponent in order to win the runoff election. Presently, an estimated 27 million Brazilians, 15 percent of the nation, are considered to be evangelicals, as many as two-thirds of them Pentecostals/charismatics.

— Everett Wilson

Further Reading

Burdick, John. Looking for God in Brazil: The Progressive Catholic Church in Urban Brazil's Religious Arena. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Chestnut, R. Andrew. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Chu, Henry. "Moved by the Spirit to Govern," Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2004, A1, 5.

Ireland, Rowan. Kingdoms Come: Religion and Politics in Brazil. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.

Mariz, Cecilia. Coping with Poverty: Pentecostals and Christian Base Communities in Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

More than Opium: An Anthropological Approach to Latin American and Caribbean Pentecostal Praxis. Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers, and Frans Kamsteeg, eds. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

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