Political shakeup in Brazil

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 6th of December, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Brazil elected a new president in October, Jair Bolsonaro, following the impeachment of his predecessor on corruption charges.

Bolsonaro appealed to Christian voters in Brazil, which is mostly Catholic, with a growing population of Protestants. Jamie Dean is WORLD Magazine’s national editor and joins us to talk about it.

Jamie, there’s been some controversy surrounding Brazil’s president-elect, but politics in Brazil have been tumultuous for a while as I recall.

JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: That’s right. Brazil has been on a political roller coaster since at least 2014, with a massive corruption scandal involving the state-owned oil company. And that implicated high-level officials, including a former president. In addition to that scandal, in 2016 the Senate impeached a sitting president and removed her from office in connection with separate corruption charges.

So Brazilians have been reeling from all these scandals and there’s been a growing cry for politicians who will push back against systemic corruption.

There’s also been consternation about an economy that has been flagging, and many see the socialist-leaning policies of recent decades as at least partly to blame for those woes. So there has been a hunger for change among a substantial number of voters.

REICHARD: And it looks like Brazilians will get a change from the president they’ve just elected.

DEAN: Yes, they definitely went in a new direction. They elected Jair Bolsonaro, and he’s slated to take office on Jan. 1. And he ran a sort of ‘Brazil-first’ campaign. His slogan was “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.”

So he really was appealing to voters who wanted to see country above cronyism, and also to many who were supporting someone they saw as a Christian candidate. Bolsonaro is Catholic, but he reportedly attended a Baptist church for a number of years, and he was baptized in the Jordan River a couple of years ago. Some saw that as more of a play toward evangelical voters who have had growing level of influence in Brazilian politics in recent years.

Whatever the case, Bolsonaro does represent a hard shift to more conservative politics. Some media outlets have bemoaned that, and have said he has authoritarian leanings. He’s definitely used some brash language, but he’s talked about law and order—and that is something that has been sorely missing from Brazilian politics for a long time. So the rush to brand him a dangerous nationalist seems premature. But it will be worth watching how he manages this new direction.

REICHARD: You mentioned evangelicals have had a growing influence in politics? What’s that about?

DEAN: They have, and that’s come with a growing number of evangelicals in Brazil. Brazil is still predominantly Catholic, but in 2013, the Pew Research Center reported on something pretty significant: They reported that since 1970, the percentage of Catholics in Brazil had fallen from 92 percent of the population to 65 percent. And the percentage of Brazilians identifying as Protestants had grown from 5 percent to 22 percent. Some say it’s even higher than that.

And with that growth in numbers has come a growth in influence—more and more evangelicals have been willing to speak out about politics and to run for office. There are a few dozen evangelical leaders known as the “Bible bloc” serving in Brazil’s Congress. They’re not all in the same party, but they tend to agree on advocating for many of the same issues—like pro-life and pro-family laws.

REICHARD: Where did this growth among evangelicals come from?

DEAN: A lot of it came from massive growth in the Assemblies of God churches beginning in the 1980s. There’s also been quite a bit of growth in what many would call the prosperity gospel, which has certainly gained traction In Brazil.

Some time back I spoke with a conservative Presbyterian pastor in Brazil who told me that for a long time many Brazilians had been placing their hopes in liberation theology—a Marxist-infused set of ideas that would supposedly ease poverty. And as that didn’t pan out for many, this pastor says some Brazilians began to hope in the prosperity theology—that perhaps if they had enough faith, their economic fortunes would improve.

But as many are finding that to be empty, they’re turning to more biblically based churches, and finding hope and truth in the Scriptures. It may be too early to say there’s a full-blown Reformation happening in Brazil, but there is a growing interest in returning to some of the Reformation truths that shaped so much of the world. And it’ll be interesting to see how that influences Brazil going forward.

REICHARD: Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine. Jamie, thanks for the insight.

DEAN: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, Associated Press) Jair Bolsonaro waves Sunday after voting in Rio de Janeiro.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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