When a former GetReligionista asks you to read her story, you do it.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a respected religion writer for the Washington Post, traveled to Brazil to report on "How the prosperity gospel is sparking a major change in the world's most Catholic country."
Yes, the in-depth piece is tied to today's 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Bailey wrote on Facebook:
I'm not kidding you, I've thought about this anniversary for at least the past 10 years.
I grew up in a family that didn't celebrate Halloween (have never been trick-or-treating!) but we DID have Reformation Day parties. Yes, it's true.
When I realized there was going to be a big anniversary, I plotted ways to get to Germany. I really, really wanted to go see the town where Martin Luther did his thing.
But I've been to Germany. Religion isn't exactly booming there right now. So I started to think about the question: where is a Protestant Reformation happening RIGHT NOW?
That led me to Brazil. As I mentioned a few months ago, I received a grant from The International Reporting Project to spend a few weeks in Brazil to write about Pentecostalism for the Washington Post. While I was there, I was stunned by the prosperity gospel's power, the immense influence they have, especially in poor areas of the country. I watched exorcisms, healing services, prophesies and donations pour in.
The same debates over money, power, authority that Germany saw 500 years go are happening now--just in another country with a very different twist. Check it out and please share with your friends.
1. I checked it out.
2. I'm sharing it with all my friends who read GetReligion.
Given that Bailey is a friend and former colleague, I'm not in a position to offer an impartial opinion of her work. But in my totally biased opinion, her story is excellent — full of revealing details and insights on the Protestant and Catholic trends in Brazil, a country I was blessed to visit in 1999.
After setting the scene by highlighting a pastor touting the prosperity gospel, Bailey gets to the nitty-gritty of her journalistic thesis:
In a country struggling with the worst economic crisis in its history, with long queues at unemployment offices and public health clinics, perhaps it’s not surprising that Brazilians are increasingly drawn to the promises of personal wealth.
The belief that faith can lead to riches — known as the prosperity gospel — is a form of Pentecostalism, a Protestant movement that, in a modern-day version of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, is challenging the dominance of the Catholic Church in Latin America’s most populous country.
Brazil, which has the most Catholics per capita of any country in the world, is undergoing religious debates similar to those sparked in 1517 by a fiery German preacher named Martin Luther — over church riches and corruption, political power and the proper way to read the Bible. By 2030, Catholics, now the religious majority in Brazil, are projected to become a religious minority.
Pentecostalism, which is sweeping across Latin America and Africa, is also challenging Catholicism worldwide. The Catholic Church has 1.1 billion members worldwide, about half of all Christians. But much of the global growth in Christianity is found in Pentecostalism, with about 300 million followers, according to the Pew Research Center.
Known for charismatic practices such as the laying on of hands for healing, exorcisms and speaking in tongues, and its emphasis on cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus, Pentecostalism has done a particularly good job of adapting itself to Brazilian culture, with pastors who tend to look and talk more like their flocks than Catholic priests do.
So much to contemplate there, and the story is barely getting started.
Keep reading, and Bailey covers theological differences between Brazilians Protestants and Catholics, not to mention differences between Pentecostals who subscribe to the prosperity gospel and those who don't. Moreover, she delves into the role of hipster Catholic priests and the question of whether the Pope Francis-era Catholic Church can regain its foothold in Brazil. And finally, there's plenty of scandal and intrigue, recalling what happened in 1517:
The massive church has also come to symbolize a challenge facing Pentecostal churches in Brazil. Much like leaders of the Catholic Church in Europe during Luther’s time, some prominent Pentecostals have become embroiled in high-profile political and financial scandals.
Go ahead and read it.