Bolsonaro’s rise showing Brazilian evangelical strength and Catholic division?

Evangelicals in Brazil played a significant role in the election of hard-right President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, writes Filipe Domingues in the Jesuit magazine America (December 10).  Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, ran a religion-themed campaign that resonated with Brazil’s evangelicals. On social media, the candidate indicated that God had special plans for him and his people—a sign of which was his surviving an assassination attempt last September. According to Magali do Nascimento Cunha of the Methodist University of São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s campaign, which borrowed Donald Trump’s message of restoring greatness to the nation, struck a chord with both conservative Catholic and evangelical voters. Domingues writes that he attracted voters who resist “ideas that are associated with the political left—offering more rights to L.G.B.T. people, normalizing abortion, revising the concept of family and redistributing private property.”

But Catholics in Brazil are almost equally split between the political right and left, with many concerned both with such social issues as the rights of the poor and with traditional values, as reflected in the agenda of the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil (CNBB). While the Catholic Church did not endorse any candidate and the CNBB remained faithful to Pope Francis’s views, Nascimento Cunha observes that “conservative Catholics have shown themselves quite comfortable with some leaders that have shown explicit support to Bolsonaro. Some of them even repudiate the leadership of the C.N.B.B.…The Catholic Church is experiencing a crisis in Brazil, a division that has always existed but which now appears within the perspective of this new government.” Meanwhile, as with his American counterpart, Bolsonaro has moved quickly to appeal to his evangelical base. Charisma (January), a magazine strongly in the “pro-Trump” camp, reports that the Brazilian president’s first promise is to join the U.S. in relocating its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.