Religious Tension in Brazil: The Rise of Militant Pentecostalism and Implications for Afro-Brazilian Religions
The size, power, and representation of the Pentecostal movement are rapidly increasing around the world, particularly in the Global South. This is especially the case in Brazil, where conversions from Catholicism and other religions to Pentecostalism have huge implications for religious tolerance and even race relations. Vulnerable minority Afro-Brazilian religions are increasingly targeted by evangelical Christians, particularly by Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals, creating a tense situation between the two groups. Militant groups of Pentecostals have carried out violence against Afro-Brazilian temples and practitioners on the ground, as well as hate speech on the internet and other spaces in the public sphere. Brazilians and others commenting on the situation assert that Pentecostals target these religions for reasons of competition, and though I do not contest this, I expand on this discussion by examining moral disagreements between the two groups as well as the role of race and racism.
In order to investigate some Pentecostal methods for the spread of hate speech and violence, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro. I chose the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a huge and controversial neo-Pentecostal church network, as a case study. The UCKG is one of the biggest perpetrators of intolerance against the Afro-Brazilian minority religions. I attended numerous UCKG church services in various neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro as an observer and a participant. My findings were that the Church promotes a language of war and gives a moral justification for worshippers’ battles with nonbelievers, and that it has elements of militancy in its proselytism. It also poses itself as the victim, asserting that it is discriminated against (for spreading hate) and demanding that its intolerance be tolerated.
In order to further investigate the motivations behind these behaviors and attitudes, I have utilized media coverage, social media, and academic sources. I have found that the UCKG is highly competitive for territory and that it additionally denounces Afro-Brazilian religions for moral reasons. But furthermore, even though Pentecostals and especially the UCKG are racially diverse, I assert that their attacks on Afro-Brazilian religions have racist undertones. Examples from Africa where the UCKG demonizes African traditions and employs racialized depictions of African peoples shed light on this conversation.
Overall, this thesis is a conversation about the increasing use of the public sphere on the part of evangelicals, and especially militant groups of Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals, to spread hate against Afro-Brazilian minority religions. These behaviors reflect larger trends of increasing religious fervor in the public sphere around the globe, which undermines tolerance and secularity, and in this situation, racial equality. The breadth and popularity of this movement in Brazil and globally necessarily makes an understanding of these issues crucial to efforts to promote religious and even racial tolerance and equality in Brazil and elsewhere.