Evangelical explosion in Brazil

cristostatueAlexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times really wants you to know just what everyone wears to church in Brazil: churchgoers wear jeans, sneakers and caps turned backwards; jujitsu fighters, including Pastor Dogao Meira, show off their bare chests; and the preacher, Pastor Mazola Maffei, hops onto the stage clad in a t-shirt and "army pants," which I can only assume means camos. So hang on. It's "fight night" at Reborn in Christ Church in Sao Paulo.

Pastor Maffei, who is also Pastor Meira's fight trainer, then held the crowd rapt with a sermon about the connection between sports and spirituality.

"You need to practice the sport of spirituality more," he urged. "You need to fight for your life, for your dreams and ideals."

Reborn in Christ is among a growing number of evangelical churches in Brazil that are finding ways to connect with younger people to swell their ranks. From fight nights to reggae music to video games and on-site tattoo parlors, the churches have helped make evangelicalism the fastest-growing spiritual movement in Brazil.

Evangelical Christian churches are luring Brazilians away from Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion in Brazil. In 1950, 94 percent of Brazilians said they were Catholic, but that number fell steadily to 74 percent by 2000. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who described themselves as evangelicals grew by five times in that period, reaching 15 percent in 2000. A new government census is due out next year.

This isn't exactly breaking news. After all, Barrionueva notes that the most recent census is nine years old. I can remember writing about this when Pope John Paul II died in 2005, and this 1990 article from the Christian Century reviews three books dealing with the "explosion of Protestantism" in South America. But what we have here makes for an excellent feature -- and Barrionueva delivers with rich details.

The only real journalistic grievance here is that the reporter seems to confuse evangelicals and Pentecostals. (Who you calling a Pentecostal?) The general focus of this article seems to be nondenominational evangelical churches. And there is only one mention of Pentecostalism in the entire article:

She said more Brazilians were attracted to evangelical churches, or Pentecostalism, for the "flexibility of the religious expression."

Now, I know the reporter is paraphrasing a source, but the way it's done implies that evangelical churches in Brazil are Pentecostal. While Pentecostals tend to identify theologically with evangelicals, if not in name, those two distinctions are not dependent on each other, particularly when it comes to evangelicals falling into the charismatic tradition. There's really no evidence in this article of the latter, although, thanks to a mountain of Pew Forum research, we know that Brazilian Protestants are increasingly Pentecostal.

PHOTO: A more traditional icon of Brazilian Christianity, the Christ the Redeemer Statue, via Wikimedia Commons

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