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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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John. Looking for God in Brazil: The Progressive Catholic Church
in Urban Brazil's Religious Arena. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1993.
R. Andrew. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the
Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University
"Moved by the Spirit to Govern," Los Angeles Times,
June 7, 2004, A1, 5.
Rowan. Kingdoms Come: Religion and Politics in Brazil.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.
Coping with Poverty: Pentecostals and Christian Base Communities
in Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.
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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