On Oct. 27, Brazil elected a leftist president, Luiz Inacio da Silva, widely known as Lula, but there were few signs that the growing number of evangelicals in the country formed a voting bloc either for or against the candidate.
He garnered 61 percent of the votes, while the candidate of the ruling coalition, Jose Serra, received only 39 percent. In the weeks before the presidential elections, several newspapers around the world paid attention to the growing political influence of evangelicals in Brazil, since they now make up17 percent of the Brazilian electorate and have a lobby in Congress. As the Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 25) observed, both candidates actively courted evangelical leaders for endorsement.
The French newspaper Libération (Oct. 23) reported that the powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), a Brazilian-born movement with an international presence, allowed its members to vote for Lula, whereas it had opposed him strongly in previous times.
Several evangelical groups supported Lula in the second round of elections, while many had supported Anthony Garotinho (Presbyterian) in the first round (he arrived in third position).
In an interview with RW, Paul Freston, a sociologist teaching in Brazil and a leading expert on evangelicals and politics worldwide, suggested caution in evaluating the evangelical vote. Evangelicals “obviously do not all vote the same way, so there is no way they could have made the difference in the result this time.”
According to polls taken in the first round, explains Freston, 37 percent of evangelicals voted for Garotinho (against a national average 17 percent) and 31 percent for Lula (national average 41 percent). In the second round, both wings of the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Foursquare Gospel announced their support for Serra (although the main wing of the Assemblies was split over the decision). “But virtually all other church leaders who declared their preference were for Lula” (from the historical churches to the neo-pentecostal ones) — some probably motivated by the desire to be on the right side of the likely winner.
There is no doubt that evangelical political influence is growing in Brazil; there are almost 60 evangelicals in Congress, and they may indeed make the difference on issues on which there is a wide consensus among them (e.g. opposition to abortion or to homosexual unions). On other topics or in electoral competitions, however, evangelicals won’t necessarily make a united front.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor who heads his own Website at: http://www.religioscope,com