The evangelical people: hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction1

Received: May 27, 2019

Acceptance: October 10, 2019


Latin American evangelical politics can be seen, in Laclauian terms, as a construction of the people. More precisely, as the construction of the evangelical people, a minority with demands and a voice of its own in a “Catholic” continent of secular states. It is an evangelical construction of a country’s people in contexts in which evangelicals are considered a sociopolitical force with hegemonic aspirations. However, this double narrative has become complicated in recent years in the rough seas of the so-called conservative wave. A prominent alliance between the political far-right, neoliberalism and the parliamentary and pastoral evangelical elite reverberates from Brazil, which creates serious issues for the expectations of a pluralist impact of the public evangelical presence.

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The evangelical people: hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction

Latin American evangelical politics can be seen, in Laclauian terms, as a construction of the people. More precisely, as the construction of the evangelical people, a minority with demands and a voice of its own in a “Catholic” continent of secular states. It is an evangelical construction of a country's people in contexts in which evangelicals are considered a sociopolitical force with hegemonic aspirations. However, this double narrative has become complicated in recent years in the rough seas of the so-called conservative wave. A prominent alliance between the political far-right, neoliberalism and the parliamentary and pastoral evangelical elite reverberates from Brazil, which creates serious issues for the expectations of a pluralist impact of the public evangelical presence. religion and politics, Brazil, Laclau.

This article aims to reflect on the process of evangelical emergencein public life, with emphasis on Brazil, and its recent configuration, which seems to point to a new stage: an evangelical cultural hegemony that tries to become a political hegemony, as a project for the moral and political direction of society. Understanding the multidimensionality and contingency of this experience, I propose to focus the analysis on the semantic and political oscillation of the terms “people”; in this case "the people" and its qualification ("evangelical") that refers to recent debates about the populist moment(Mouffe, 2018) of international politics, strongly associated with religious protagonism.

Although the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 effectively mark a qualitative leap in these developments, we would not need much effort to find similarities with other Latin American countries such as the election of Jimmy Morales, in Guatemala, in 2015, himself an evangelical; He had already pointed out, years before Brazil, a strong presence of reserve soldiers in the formation of the government, as well as with Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, with his vice president general, eight ministers of State and hundreds of soldiers of different ranks in positions minors (Althoff, 2019: 304-6; Pereira, 2020). Bolsonaro competed against Marina Silva and Cabo Daciolo, both evangelicals, in the first round of the elections. Morales also contended in 2015 with evangelicals: Luís Fernando Pérez, Mario Estrada, and the daughter of the dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, Zury Mayte Ríos Sosa (Althoff, 2019: 307). As in Brazil, also in Guatemala the evangelical vote did not differ from the general trend of the population. Although the evangelical minority massively aligned itself with Morales and Bolsonaro, it would not have been able to elect them alone (Althoff, 2019: 309; Cunha, 2017; Dary, 2019; Fonseca, 2018). This trend is spreading in the region: Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru have been the scene of similar expressions of evangelical political prominence (Kourliandsky, 2019; América Noticias, 2019; Ortega Gómez et al., 2019; Lissardy, 2018; Mariano and Gerardi, 2019).

These public events, in reality, are far from fully expressing the impact of evangelical action. On the one hand, the political emergence has been accompanied by a notable occupation of spaces within the reach of daily life, particularly in the poorest and most peripheral communities, and a lively dispute for cultural hegemony (shows, marches, course offers, media and social networks, university education) (Machado, 2018a; Gooren, 2010).

In reality, evangelicals have become an increasingly attractive social movement to broader sectors of social and political, religious or secular conservatism. This took place in parallel with advances in a chosen strategy of building self-representation, in mutual reinforcement. One of the effects was, in total disagreement with the history of the Protestant churches in Brazil and other countries, an intensive use of temples and cults to promote mobilizations of various kinds, including political-electoral ones (explicit support for the "evangelical candidates" through the “political councils” of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal denominations).

On the other hand, it would be hasty, even now, to inflate this firepower, as if it were a juggernaut fundamentalist destroying freedoms and recreating an “age of darkness”. Evangelicals are a discursive training of the conservative Protestant camp, mostly Pentecostal, built over more than three decades with varying levels of success. If the number of evangelicals varies widely in Latin America, from 9% of the population in Mexico to 41% in Guatemala and Honduras, Brazil is halfway, with 26% (Bell, Sahgal and Cooperman, 2014), this articulation originates in a highly professionalized and activist sector, an elite.

In addition to the organizational heterogeneity of this field (composed of large denominations, small denominations, independent churches, individual communities, parachurch organizations, projects, think tanks, etc.), the terminology used by censuses and surveys is not so accurate. It is aggregative and interpretive in nature. If 65% of evangelicals are Pentecostals throughout the region, this does not characterize a unity of leadership, identity or action. Although it is a fact that, in the last two decades, the visibility and power of evangelical mobilization have reached avant-garde spaces in cultural and political life, the apparently common agenda of these interventions is contested, implemented in different proportions and with different degrees of success

In other words, it is time to begin to unite countless investigations and efforts to interpret these phenomena as a whole, in an attempt to produce a theorization of their trajectory and consolidation, but without losing sight of their plurality and contestability. I am not trying to offer a macro-theory, but rather analysis protocols that combine a look at the data that interrelate them and relate them to a multiplicity of contexts. This is a challenge for the social sciences of Latin American religion, very close to a local empiricism and resistant to the theoretical construction

This double gaze that I intend to rehearse here allows us to see the evangelical emergence as a construction of a new political subjectivity (Howarth, 2006; Glynos and Stavrakakis, 2008), that is, in the construction of a new town. Or even in the rehegemonization of the town; not at its origin, but at its destination. First, through the demand for be a legitimate part of the nation-people (Anti-Catholicism and the vindication of the lexicon of citizenship rights are the main movements here). Then, especially in the last five or six years (this is written at the beginning of 2020), assuming itself as a constituted political subject, with the intention of redefine the nation-people as an evangelical people.

Suggestively, as Pérez Guadalupe recently stated when commenting on the book Power plane, by Edir Macedo, leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (iurd),

Certainly it was not a government plan or something similar, but a biblical rereading of a supposed "political project of the nation" (the so-called "Christian nation") that God has designed for "his people" (before Israel, now the Christian people), and which must culminate in the seizure of power by the “evangelical Christians” (Pérez Guadalupe, 2019: 14).

Macedo himself, in this book, seems to indicate a continuity between the activation of an evangelical political identity –beyond the historical, doctrinal and ideological barriers that would separate the agents of this identity– and its translation into a national project: “In that cause, the ideological questions and the doctrinaire of the denominations must be put aside; otherwise, we will fail to accomplish something that is common to all of us Christians: to execute the great project of the nation devised and sought by God ”(Macedo, 2008, apud Pérez Guadalupe, 2019: 87).

Carlos Rodrigues, former bishop of the iurd and great articulator of the (neo) Pentecostal policy model, makes the following statement:

The Lord Jesus said that what is Caesar's should be given to Caesar, but what is God's to God. It is good to know that Caesar's own place belongs to God. The early Christians announced this by saying that "only Jesus is Lord." The iurd joyfully displays, in all its temples, the inscription "Jesus Christ is the Lord", proclaiming to the whole world in whom it places its trust. It is time to think about the elections, the people of God must show that they really must be in command (Apud Santos, 2009: 15).

In other words, I think it is possible to analyze this double dynamic in the light of the problem of populism, as understood by Laclau (2014; 2005), despite being the object of increasing international production and critical elaboration, particularly in the last decade. . I propose to complement this approach by characterizing this emergence as a process of minoritization (Burity, 2017; Connolly, 2011). If, on the one hand, this emergence begins with the collective affirmation of a new actor, on the other hand it must be understood not as a mere appearance, but as an event that displaces the status quo bringing visibility of new actors, new demands and new forms of configuration of power and social bond. Around these two basic references, I propose an interpretive grammar for the phenomenon. I suspect that it is not restricted to the Brazilian case.

Therefore, I will begin with a general appreciation of this emergence as events, beginning to dialogue with the theory of populism as a political form, as proposed by Laclau and other recent authors, with different analytical consequences and with the category of minoritization. In the last two sections I will develop each aspect of the proposal: a struggle for recognition with an inclusive objective (evangelicals as a national people) and a hegemonic dispute for the national people to define it as “evangelical”.

The populist evangelical moment: what is it about?

The political mobilization of conservative evangelicals has reinforced deterministic and negative interpretations, both those associated with this group or with religion in general. Evangelicals are generically defined as conservative, reactionary, authoritarian, fundamentalist, etc. They are seen as either obtuse, opportunistic or threatening; as indices of a disease of democracy, perhaps heralding an authoritarian reversal (through a "fundamentalist-fascist" alliance: the terms are used freely, for polemical purposes, as if they were descriptive).

What is new in recent years has been the emergence of a model of politicization that seems to carry out in many Latin American countries a general call to the people, either to build legislative self-representation and parliamentary blocs, or to collusion with the authoritarian or frankly coup-based media of the exercise of executive power, or a clumsy alliance between radical neoliberalism and religiously based moralism. But what is this trajectory of more than three decades about? Who are these actors? Are we back, at this juncture, to the most skeptical interpretations of the past that saw a threat in any relationship between religion and politics?

This process, the apparent result of which alarms and puzzles us, has never been governed by a telos. The latest movements do not exactly match the expectations or predictions of all the actors involved (taking the origin of the process in the early 1980s 1), for better or worse. It is not the story of a premeditated conspiracy. Its result (if this has already happened, it is an unsubstantiated assumption on the part of many interpreters) was not announced in the origin, that is to say in the own identity or the predefined “interests” of the actors. There has been no one-place driving or stable convergence between them. The triumphant voice of today's actors seems to weave a linear and homogeneous narrative of how they got here. But we cannot use that assumption as a starting point.

Therefore, it is necessary to account for this politicization process as a network of initiatives, projects and reactions of evangelical people, groups and institutions, macrosocial tendencies and contingencies of national policies, overlapping, confronting, and articulating, but never taking shape in a single discourse or project and never defining itself from the evangelicals in isolation. The judgment on the concrete contents of this process, in different circumstances, must at least consider its opening and contingency (changes of actors-leaders, changes in the route, incidence of opponents and allies in the identity and agenda of the constituted subjects, failures , unexpected successes, uncertainties about the future, increasing impossibility of remaining refractory to flows and reactions, recent transnational articulations that change the agenda of Latin American evangelical politicization).

Evangelicals were increasingly drawn out of (self) isolation due to the acceleration of the process of political opening and a persistent economic crisis (1980s and 1990s) that hit the popular sectors hard, but also opened up new perspectives for collective organization. , conquest of rights and expansion of spaces for participation (at the end of authoritarianism). He also recounted the intensification of the global / local dynamic since the 1990s in cultural, economic and political terms (Freston, 1993: 149-221; Burity, 2017; Mallimaci, 2015; Parker, 2016; Carbonelli and Jones, 2015; Barrera Rivera and Pérez, 2013; Oro, 2005; Pierucci, 1989).

Evangelicals emerge from a profound process of social and cultural pluralization that has changed the face of Latin American societies. Its current reactionary configuration is more the result of disputes within this pluralized order than of the development of a plan. As a result of this same pluralization and the expansion of voices, demands and agendas that it generated in Latin American societies that arose from dictatorial or authoritarian experiences, evangelical politicization soon became divided between sharing or reformulating public spaces and constructed legal frameworks. to recognize and accommodate subaltern voices revealed by pluralization (i.e. minority). And it was necessary to defeat moderate ("progressive") segments of the Protestant, historical, and Pentecostal camp, for the frankly reactionary face of a powerful parliamentary and pastoral elite to emerge. This is a story with two main chapters: the neutralization of evangelicalism in the early 1990s and the Tea-Partyization of Pentecostal leadership in the last decade, 2 to form a new "evangelical-capitalist resonance machine" as Connolly (2008) called it for the United States 3.

My suggestion, in an attempt to understand these recent developments, is to start from the self-perception of a incongruity between the demographic growth of Evangelicals (especially Pentecostals) and their public presence since the late 1970s. This reading coincided with the political opening of the period, with the relative normalization of the party (or multi-party) and electoral game. It was the subject of difficult negotiations and articulations. There was massive resistance from the churches to political participation that lasted until the end of the 1990s, which was avoided through initiatives that were initially modest and of little public visibility (Santos, 2009: 14-63, esp. 48- 51).

The effort to build a voice of its own through a strategy of political representation, internally differentiated and politically asymmetric, continued to affirm, inside and out, the numerical growth of Pentecostals. Added to this was a dispute with the quasi-monopoly of representation by historical Protestants 4. This evangelical emergence contrasted with the politicization of the 1950s and early 1960s, which was marked by a strong commitment in urban and rural social movements, a dialogue with the Marxist left, an encounter of local ecumenical experiences of previous decades, with ecumenism. recently instituted global (World Council of Churches and the Church and Society movement in Latin America) and accompanied by an effervescent theological debate (Burity, 2011; Bastián, 2013; Longuini Neto, 2002).

The new politicization is anchored in a new religious subject, it has another language and another agenda, and it is strongly voluntarist and pragmatic. Indeed, another Protestantism emerged in the early 1980s, after decades of being on the fringes of public life, but fairly integrated into everyday rural and urban popular life. Unlike the rather binary reading proposed by interpreters such as Bastián and actors linked to the ecumenical field, in part recently assumed by Pérez Guadalupe in his panoramic reading of the evangelical experience in Latin American politics (Bastián, 1993; Pérez Guadalupe, 2019: 31 -33), the dispute took place on different fronts, crossed in an unpredictable and contingent way. Theologically, in addition to being ecumenical and fundamentalists, evangelicals (“integral mission”) emerged with some force in the 1980s. Ideologically, debates about socialism, democracy, democratic pluralism, and the impact of identity politics have not ceased to penetrate this field. Politically, they highlight the clash with anti-communism, anti-Catholicism, struggles for land, gender justice and the affirmation of sexual diversity, access to social policies, reaction to cultural heritage policies and racial equality ( supposedly privileging the Catholic Church and Afro-Brazilian religions).

There is no continuous line of conservatism in all these directions. There were variations and fluctuations throughout the period. There were reactions and defeats. The current is the product of a deliberate agency that does not go back more than ten years, at least in the Brazilian case. Anti-communism and anti-Catholicism, which marked the arrival of Pentecostals in politics in the first decade and led them to support the candidacy of the right-wing populist Fernando Collor de Melo, did not prevent them from approaching the political center (Fernando Henrique Cardoso) and reaching to sustainably support the democratic left (Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff). It was never about unconditional support. The strategies went through the candidacies of different parties. The “asambleanos” (members of the Assemblies of God) tended to converge only on the left after allying with the candidates of the center and right in the first round of the elections, since 2002. The neo-Pentecostals, led by the iurd, sealed an alliance with the Workers' Party (pt ) in 2002 which only broke in 2016.

Despite the takeover of the already existing Social Christian Party (psc) by the Assembly of God, and the creation of the Brazilian Republican Party (prb) for him iurd, Pentecostals never managed to unify their militancy (Valle, 2018; Lacerda, 2017). They were also unsuccessful in the majority of their candidacies. Increasingly, they developed interfaith and even interfaith strategies to approve guidelines favorable to their interests (Pérez Guadalupe, 2019: 13). In this sense, the experience of several Latin American countries of creating evangelical parties never had a real similarity in Brazil (Wynarczyk, Tadvald and Meirelles, 2016; Wynarczyk, 2006; Freston, 2017).

The candidacy of Pastor Everaldo (Assemblies of God) for the psc for the Presidency of the Republic in 2014 marked a devastating defeat for the groups that nurtured, in the Assemblies of God, the illusion of electing a Pentecostal president (Gonçalves, 2015). But from a symbolic point of view, it brought to light the first explicit articulation of a neoconservative discourse, in the sense of US policy after Reagan and Bush (Connolly, 2008; 2017), an articulation that was already going through an approximation with Bolsonaro (Portinari, 2018). In clear divergence with the direction of the policy of alliances until then, Everaldo Dias presented himself with a radically neoconservative proposal in economic, social and cultural terms. This articulation, still improvised and inconsistent, progressed to become the majority position of the Evangelical Parliamentary Front on the eve of the second round of the 2018 elections (Frente Parlamentar Evangélica, 2018; Almeida, 2017; Burity, 2018a).

The electoral defeat of the main political-party forces in the country in the elections that followed the departure of President Dilma Rousseff in May 2016, left the ground open to minority movements of a different nature. The visceral feeling installed anti-pt it moved to the left as a whole, making plausible the articulation of forces that sought to reconcile neoliberal interests and conservative moral guidelines. Spaces were opened for an attempt to lead the evangelical right, which, although it reaped less fruit than it hoped for, provided it with great visibility and a voice.

After the impeachment coup in 2016, parliamentarians became ministers or senior managers, professionals who assumed the leadership of important public bodies, pastors in the center of attention of power (Pacheco, 2017; Agência Brasil, 2016; G1 Politica , 2016). There was a dismantling of programs and policies and an intense agenda of legal and constitutional reforms that accelerated the seizure of power by the right. All in the name of a religious rhetoric of "re-linking" of Brazilian society, as expressed by Michel Temer when he assumed the presidency (uol, 2016; Ruffato, 2016).

Such political mobilization of pastors and parliamentarians configured an unprecedented moment for the rise of conservative evangelicals in Brazilian politics: the prerogative to formulate and execute national and local public policies and to propose legislative changes, at another level of political authority; more than that, a deliberate attempt to influence public debate. This moment implies, therefore, the need for evangelical politics to go beyond the limits of a minority faith and to present itself as the holder or guarantor of a restoration of society considered simultaneously threatened by a financial crisis, a political crisis and a moral crisis. . In short, evangelicals present themselves as mediators of such social, moral and political “religions”. Unification of a society whose polarization and fragmentation were and will continue to be outstanding architects!

The campaign and the election of Jair Bolsonaro for the presidency of the Republic in 2018, despite the alarm with which it was received, enshrined this image of “re-linking” in an ironic sense: he expanded the disconnection with respect to the hierarchy Catholic and organically linked (sometimes in a clearly instrumental way) with the conservative religious field, especially the evangelical right, and also promoted the return of the military to the center of politics (Pereira, 2020) and dogmatically "converted" to the ultraliberalism. Upon taking office in early 2019, Bolsonaro invited five evangelicals to his ministries. Evangelicals have held many other positions in the government structure. However, the Bolsonarist “religion” did not unify the religious in general, but rather instituted aggressive rhetoric and an incitement to social division at all levels in accordance with the image of the “culture war” (Finguerut and Souza, 2018 ). The destructive effects of the changes made in the first year and the government's ineptitude to reverse the situation of recession and unemployment have led many grassroots evangelicals to review their support for the coalition (Fachin and Vital da Cunha, 2019; Fachin and Cunha , 2019).

Religion, the People, and the Metamorphoses of Democracy: Making Sense of Recent Debates on Populism

The emergence of a new political subjectivity is a process that in no way ends in a autopoiesis, in the construction of a collective will from itself. The existence of groups, identities, organizations, movements does not automatically characterize them as autonomous agents with a previously elaborated project. Although sociodemographically it has existed for almost two centuries, the Protestant population in the Latin American continent did not have a continuous, ascending, socially and politically active trajectory, nor did it appear in recent decades in pure continuity with the expressions of the past. There was a process never reached on the current scale of establishing a self-affirming agency, of a minority emergence that today presents itself as one of the main political forces in the region.

This emergence corresponded to the activation of other evangelical identities, profoundly transformed in relation to previous generations, but, crucially, also in relation to other actors, religious and non-religious, and to social trends. Previously there is no identity of an experience of antagonism (threat, instability, aggression, fear, radical uncertainty) or displacement (unforeseen events, action of macrosocial forces, incoherence between self-perception and reality). All identity is divided.

It is not enough to point out the evangelical multiplicity. It is necessary to admit that there is no radiating center, either of meaning or direction, of what it means to be evangelical. We have a (Derridian) logic of non-totalization. “Diversity” is not so much an inexhaustible or irreducible wealth of positions but the impossibility of establishing a normative center, radiating the attributes of a common identity. There is a center, but it is subject to game, that is, if it vanishes in relation to a constitutive exterior, it resists from the margins and the gaps that it cannot control, it is contested from within and without. The evangelical position / identity / scene is intotalizable and contingent (Derrida, 1995: 229-234; Burity, 2015a).

The process of activating a collective identity constitutes what I have called political subjectivity. According to Glynos and Howarth, instead of prioritizing totalized and determining social structures, on the one hand, or fully constituted subjects on the other, we begin by accepting that social agents are always "thrown" into a system of meaningful practices, an immersion that gives it shapes their identity and structures their practices. However, we also add the critical clause that these structures are ontologically incomplete. In fact, it is in the "space" or "gap" of social structures where they become visible in moments of crisis and dislocation, that a political subject can emerge through particular "acts of identification". Furthermore, as these identifications are understood to take place in a range of possible ideologies or discourses, some of which are excluded or repressed, and since these are always incomplete, any form of identification is doomed to breach its promise (Glynos and Howarth , 2007: 79; see tb. 127-132; Mouffe, 2013: 5).

Therefore, evangelical identity is not defined by the mere multiplicity of groups, communities and positions. It is internally divided and open. It is also defined relationally, that is, it does not have a fixed place in some social topography or a hard and immutable core of identity. In this sense, evangelicals did not "enter politics" because they lacked something or because they had a project ready to carry out. They entered because something threatened their integrity and "reason for being." And they were convinced to enter with arguments that connected a threat scenario with a challenge to obedient and responsible action.

My hypothesis is that this construction of Pentecostal identity as identity general of Brazilian Protestants - “the evangelicals”, “the evangelical people” - is an agonistic effect of a situation of activation of a new political subjectivity (from the 1980s onwards), a new post-dictatorship “Brazilian people”. The dissemination of the discourse of spiritual warfare, the difficult relationship with the left, dogmatic intransigence, irrepressible proselytism are indicative of this agonistic characteristic in the domain of Pentecostal religious practices (Machado, 2015; Machado, 2018b; Mariz, 1999) . The definition of the crisis of values, the threat of Catholic rule or the legitimation of Afro-Brazilian religions, the confrontation with corruption and atheistic communism, the recognition of evangelicals as citizens in their own right are elaborations within the scope of a new discursive formation of evangelicals in politics. They correspond to the demands of the evangelical collective as of 1986.

The constitution of a collective identity, of a political subjectivity, can be seen as the construction of a town. Laclau affirms in the title of one of his works that “building a town is the main task of radical politics” (Laclau, 2014). What defines the unity of a collective subject is not its social position or its shared fixed attributes, but the articulation of demands (Laclau, 2005: 9 and 97-99). These demands do not originate in a single place of enunciation, nor are they equal to each other, but they are articulated to the extent that they are "recognized" as being in solidarity with each other, or equivalent, because they are all unsatisfied and because the source of this dissatisfaction can be attributed to a current order, to a government in turn or to a superior external force. According to Laclau, as what unifies these demands is much more a name (a demand that rises to the position of general representative of the others), "the need for a social foundation that unites the heterogeneous elements ... gives centrality to the affected in the social constitution. Freud had already understood it clearly: the social bond is a libidinal bond ”(Laclau, 2005: 10).

This subject is called "people" not because it coincides with the limits of the nation (society) or the State (citizenship), but because it is defined as the set of "those from below", the excluded, the part of the people without-part (Rancière, 1996), in confrontation with an instituted power or an external antagonistic force. According to Laclau, only when these excluded claim to represent the entire community order do they pass from the condition of plebs to populus, the people of populism. Rancière says much the same (Rancière, 1996: 22–23).

Populism is not an ideology, a movement, or anything with specifically definable content (as in most of the history of the concept). Populism is a political logic, a logic of construction of the social bond from the demarcation of a border that dichotomizes the social between those below and those above, the people and the elite / their enemies. The people, according to Rancière, is a part that, only having what others have - freedom - and, therefore, not having its own part, claims a place in the community in general (as in the terms "shirtless", "The 99%", "we are all x”). As a form, populism and its subject, the people, will assume the most different concrete contents. In other words, says Laclau, “a certain demand, which at first was perhaps only one among many, acquires at a certain moment an unexpected centrality, and becomes the name of something that exceeds it, of something that it cannot control by itself. itself, and yet it becomes a 'destiny' from which it cannot escape ”(Laclau, 2005: 153) 5.

This process by which a particular claim is converted into a Name (or symbol) of something more encompassing than itself, and not by its sheer will and initiative, corresponds to the process by which a part that "found its place" in the whole (which of course it was not, defining itself precisely because excluded it) becomes the name of a new order, a new horizon to be reached, in the midst of the others with whom it had joined. The demand is no longer private and becomes hegemonic (Laclau, 2005: 107). This passage in Laclau is neither predetermined nor guaranteed. A demand can end up giving general content to a new political subject, or it can continue to be disputed by another chain of equivalences. It is the current conditions and the "management" of the antagonism that will define the possible destination of a demand (or set of demands).

Therefore, on the one hand, “in conceiving the 'people' of populism,” says Laclau, “we need something more: we need a plebs claim to be the only one populus legitimate ”(Laclau 2005: 108). On the other hand, some of these demands / differences may be (and often are) linked to other chains of equivalence existing at a given moment in society, and be the subject of disputes for their hegemony (that is, the partial fixation of their identity , of its meaning). They can be "stolen", "lured", "neutralized" by other discourses. Others may simply not find any possibility of inclusion, be considered unassimilable, spurious, dangerous; in a word: heterogeneous (Laclau, 2005: 165-68 and 175-77).

How can "religion" or specific religious identities be related to populist logic? In the first place, any of these forms of attachment to religion can articulate demands that are complied with by the current order to which they are directed: demands for tax exemption, access to resources from the laws of incentives to culture, to receive public resources to provide community services, exemption from compliance with the legislation against discrimination at work for religious reasons, donation of public land for the construction of temples, inclusion of festivities or religious spaces in tourist circuits promoted by the State , mitigating the legal characterization of homophobia in religious spaces, etc. It may happen that religious language becomes a rhetorical device within the hegemonic discourse or even in the articulation of the message of a populist leadership. When it does, it becomes differences within a system, becomes symbolically inscribed, and no longer offers - as satisfied demands - any potential to challenge order.

But religious demands can also face various forms of exclusion: being partially attended, ignored or rejected, in which case they will be seen among other demands in similar conditions, composing chains of equivalences with those. They can be answered with distrust, disqualified as a threat to the democratic order. They can be antagonized. It can happen, from that, that these demands see themselves as part of a set of others not satisfied by the institutional order, forming a chain of equivalences with them. Depending on the circumstances, it may be that one of those religious demands (or a limited set of them) takes over the function of representing one of those chains, contesting the current order.

The demands can, more radically, in the Laclavian discussion, become inadmissible, not assimilable, unsatisfied in the face of the existing configuration of the people. This defines them as heterogeneous in front of the people, either in general terms - "religion", in a hegemonically secularist or antireligious discourse - or in particular terms this or that fundamentalist or reactionary religious practice, for example.

By taking a position in relation to these forms of rejection, the religious actors involved may reject the classification and location defined by the current order. disidentifying, as suggested by Rancière. This may refer to the dominant institutional and symbolic orders or those corresponding to the religious field itself; example are arguments of "they do not represent us", or the accusation of corruption or heresy of order controlling or religious orthodoxy. This disidentification is, in fact, caused by dislocations (Laclau, 2005) outside the control of these dissident religious actors: internal crises, external attacks or subalternized effects of dominant practices. According to Rancière, “all subjectivation is a disidentification, the beginning to the naturalization of a place, the opening of a subject space where anyone can be counted because it is the space of an untold person, of a relationship between a part and a part of absence ”(Rancière, 1996: 53) 6.

Of evangelicals as a people: the minority emergence

Based on the previous discussion, I propose that Latin American evangelical politics in recent decades be seen, in Laclavian terms, as a construction of the people, expanding the argument of previous publications (Burity, 2016; 2017; 2020). A discursive construction of the people, in the theoretical sense given by Laclau: configuration of a system of differences / identities whose elements gain their meaning from the relationships they maintain with others in the system; system open to interactions with other systems (therefore not self-determined or self-referred).

As I stated in the introduction, the "evangelicals" are a discursive formation of the conservative Protestant camp, under Pentecostal hegemony, built over more than three decades with varying levels of success. As a formation, it is constitutively multiple and is crossed by disputes within and without. There are conservative, ecumenical, evangelical and progressive Pentecostal historical Protestants, without a church, who continue to orbit the field, believing without belonging (Davie, 2015: 78-80). There are opponents of various natures. And there is a whole series of displacement processes that included, among others, the serious economic crisis since the mid-1970s; the emergence of a fierce union movement and new social movements around demands for a dignified life, against racism, ecological flags, gender equality, and so on.

I have called “minoritization”, inspired by William Connolly, that process of emergence of new actors who question an exclusive order and demand recognition, inclusion and justice. In this process, what opens up for some may open up for others, raising the fear of being confronted. The Pentecostal minority was not the only one that emerged among organized religions, Christian and non-Christian, and in the growth of a large segment of the "without religion." The process was not limited to religion either, as it involved women, blacks, indigenous people, sexual minorities, etc. In the Pentecostal case, this led to the articulation of a speech of mobilization through the electoral route that had a profound impact on politics in Brazil and in other Latin American countries (Burity, 2016; 2017; 2015c; 2015b; Wynarczyk, Tadvald and Meirelles , 2016; Freston, 2017)

Although the advance of democratization continued to be the general horizon of the historically excluded groups and of political equality of each one with the others, we had the validity of a “liberal-democratic” moment of evangelical politicization. The fundamental demand launched in the emerging democratic order was to be "the evangelicals" recognized as part of the democratic people, part of the "multicultural" or "plural" identity of the Brazilian people. Pentecostal minority corresponds to a large extent to this dimension of the construction of a political actor through the affirmation of belonging to the people and, therefore, the vindication of the rights that animated the lexicon of democratization. In this sense, the minorization corresponds to this first moment of evangelical politicization, its moment of being corporate, pluralist and agonist in the face of other demands.

A double track was articulated as follows: (a) a demand to participate in the national identity, naturalized as Catholic, denouncing discrimination, persecution and attempts to instrumentalize evangelical support for traditional politics and invoking the exponential growth underway as a triumph (Alves et al., 2017); (b) a demand for equitable treatment, as I have already said, in the emerging political-cultural order, which gave way to the evangelical people inserting themselves into chains of equivalence opposing the “from below”, which emerged as a “democratic project- popular ”, authoritarianism, political corruption, violence, inequalities and discrimination experienced by the majority of the national population.

While the first track was activated only by conservatives, the second was agonistically divided between conservatives and evangelical "progressives" 7. The first path fed the particularly symbolic aspect of a recognition of the place and value of evangelicals in society and the corporatist aspect of politicization. The second route was more disputed, giving rise to different strategies: the conservatives opted for an electoral way of building representation and political influence; progressives, on a path from organized civil society or grassroots militancy in leftist parties to build a path of public advocacy (Machado and Burity, 2014).

The articulation between the two tracks never produced a merger and was the subject of internal disputes throughout the process, with a growing predominance of the conservative bloc (Burity, 2018a; 2016; Machado, 2018a: 61-63). But interaction with the world of institutional politics and numerous other forms of non-religious political agency increasingly socialized the Pentecostal / Evangelical people with a “secular language”, leading to “translations” of the native religious language into the language of the politics and public debate. Over time, Pentecostal forms of enunciation were incorporated into these spaces, signaling the beginning of the expansion of evangelical authority, a sign of the ongoing “Pentecostalization of society” (Gooren, 2010; Burity, 2017) that I will explore in the following sections.

Conservative reaction, crisis of democracy and the right-wing populist bloc postimpeachment: the people as evangelical

The process described in the previous section was traversed by many others. As it was not the expression of a preconceived project, it was not questioned by other models of religious politicization (Burity, 2018a: 34-39). The articulation produced after Lula's victory for the presidency brought with it a liberal multicultural logic (recognition through identity politics), a social democratic logic (inclusion through distributive policies) and a radical-democratic logic (construction of equality with “respect for differences”), who represented positions in dispute within the Lulista coalition itself. In the middle of these logics, discreetly marking a distance in relation to them and betting on the conventional game of the representation of interests, was the evangelical minority.

The agonistic disputes between these logics gradually reduced the margins for the game of the evangelical people within the people of Lulism (Burity, 2020b). Several conquests of other minorities, and even some of a majority character (ecological, distributive), affected elements biopolitical important aspects of the evangelical-conservative identity, particularly in terms of gender, sexuality and reproduction, alarming Pentecostal leaders and alienating the most intransigent or aggressive. Antagonisms arose within the coalition and through other places of enunciation that reaffirmed anti-secular, anti-experimental, and anti-popular positions.

Naturally, these are disputes on both sides. Antagonism is a relationship. An antagonistic agency cannot be attributed to only one side (whatever that may be). But nothing foresaw that the traditional anti-communism of the 1980s would return with vengeance beginning in 2016. Nothing anticipated that the economic positions with a certain sensitivity to social justice that had animated evangelical politicians since then would give way to an unconditional surrender to the ultraliberal rhetoric of the US neoconservative right wing. It could not be anticipated that the "panic" in front of feminists, the community lgbtq +, black and white, indigenous peoples or "cultural Marxists" would become an unrestricted support for the militarization of society, the spectacularization of police violence, cynicism in the face of the uncontrolled and new growth of
poverty, the defense of the systematic destruction of the mechanisms
of social protection built with great difficulty since the Constitution of 1988, the disregard for the protection of the environment, etc. The script isn't new, but it had a disfiguring refinements of the institutions that would make old colonels of politics and dictators of the century blush. xx. With the difference that the powers of the State were deeply affected after the impeachment, while they were presented as guardians of legality and legal and political impartiality.

A new counter-hegemonic front emerged using fragments of the discourse of neoliberalism in the process of rearticulation after the crisis of 2008, of a growing circulation and reinterpretation of the discourses of the new American and European right and various forms of revisionism of the Nazi-fascist legacies. It would be difficult to enumerate the multiple lines of the plot. Especially since they didn't come together naturally, nor were they the work of a great evil architect. What Connolly had called the “capitalist evangelical resonance machine” (Connolly, 2008: 38-67) was taking shape in the middle of a scenario in which the visibility, representation and cultural diffusion of the ethos Pentecostals fed back each other, generating a popular rooting effect of the new right and articulating the political right and the religious right into a single bloc.

The "evangelicals" were progressing with strong roots in everyday life, especially in the social and cultural periphery of the national people (where the Derridian game was more intense). In the everyday life of the peripheries (but not only there), the language of Pentecostalism provided a moral vocabulary to face violence, poverty, the loss of community ties, the denial of the dignity and self-esteem of vulnerable people. Youth sociability in evangelical churches articulated this language and the entire spectrum of musicality available in Brazilian youth culture, in small and large stadium events. The middle classes were also greatly affected by the spread of this Pentecostal culture and the models of social and political mobilization that it promoted. The intense occupation of conventional means of communication and social networks and a persistent diffusion of innumerable simplifying theological articulations, in addition to a network of training activities for work, entrepreneurship and self-reliance, helped to popularize the values of neoliberalism together with a seemingly imposing ethics, but completely contextual and pragmatic (Vital da Cunha, 2018; Machado, 2018b; 2013; Burity, 2018b).

In other words, in the best style of the Gramscian war of positions, the evangelicals lent their community, ethical and organizational uniqueness to name the social and political problems of the country in terms of the adoption of "traditional Christian morality." This process, deeply rooted in the foundations of society and extending far beyond the evangelical people (despite its continuous demographic growth), suffered an inflection in the post-election scenario of 2014 in Brazil (but, for different reasons, coincided with changes similar in many countries of the region), in an emergency situation of antagonisms around a political crisis combined with an economic crisis, which were increasing tensions between minority demands for equality and justice and the moral constructions of the evangelical discourse. Pentecostal.

Finally, a border was drawn between the people and their enemies in Laclavian molds, confronting the popular-democratic project (antilulism and antipetism) and articulating demands for the ultra-liberal reconformation of politics and the economy and the moral reconstruction of identity disputes ( minority). The people that emerged from this dispute are called "traditional family", "good citizens", "honest and hardworking people", "common people", "entrepreneurs". These signifiers are articulated in a promise of order that clearly outlines a de-democratization, in a scenario that can increasingly be called post-democracy. Given their capillarity, Pentecostals have provided a new mass base for a post-democratic people and "the evangelicals" name their main political agency.

It is an unstabilized process. We do not have a consolidated regime. The actors are not yet organically linked. There is a strong dispute over the "side" of the new town. There are different chains of equivalence, which intersect, but only partially overlap and, in some cases, disputing the results achieved so far by the new governing coalition (politically and culturally). The losers and emerging demands (unemployment or the fragmentation of one's own work experience, once again growing poverty, the radical dismantling of social and labor protection legislation, the worsening
critical of environmental devastation, increased discrimination and violence against ethnic and sexual minorities and against women) characterize the scenario as one of great instability and even uncertainty. Partial dislocations are observed in this construction of the town.

There is an organic but unfinished crisis. There is a demoralization of the ruling elites: from the traditional right, the center and the left since 1990. There is a disfigurement of democratic institutions. There are solid advances in an evangelical cultural hegemony - relatively independent of the size of the evangelical population in each country - in dispute for political hegemony, since the collapse of center and center-left hegemony of the previous decades increased proximity (equivalence ) between the demands of the most reactionary evangelical groups and those of other secular groups that have been in opposition until then.

This is the populist moment of the evangelical emergency. It is not yet a question of political hegemony, since the situation continues to be a strong dispute for the stabilization of a new power bloc. In this context, "evangelicals" seem, in part, capable of galvanizing other demands on a conservative front. Their language is named and articulated to produce popular identifications far beyond religion (Burity, 2020a). Although evangelicals are unlikely to come out of this challenge as a leadership, their visibility and strength within the leading bloc are undeniable. On the side of the parliamentary and pastoral evangelical elite, the intention of transforming the Brazilian people into evangelical people it is increasingly explicit, intense and determined. As Connolly comments for the American case, still in the Bush era:

The resulting resonance machine infiltrates the logic of perception and influences the understanding of economic interests. Therefore, it is important to put an end to the spiritual affinities that nurture the machine through differences of belief, affinities that translate economic interests into corporate greed and fill others with religious intensity, affinities that turn articles of religious faith into campaigns of revenge. to oppose those who are outside the faith and abrogate our collective responsibility towards the future (Connolly, 2008: 40).

Concluding notes

In this essay I tried to go back to my own ways of reflection, avoiding repetitions and trying to incorporate numerous other interventions that, on the religious dimension or not, try to understand recent transformations. Although it is essential to account for all the capillarity of processes that accurately expose the character constructive From the evangelical emergence in politics, the emphasis is on the disputes and definitions that have occurred. There is no way to understand the texture of the evangelical emergence without a reference to the culture, the daily life and the contingent nature of the steps taken and the established arrangements. But here it was necessary, for reasons of space, to prioritize a level of analysis. And I proposed to reflect on a convoluted trajectory, of transformation of an invisible but growing minority, in the name of a figure of the order itself, even if it is disputed. Despite the contempt and anger with which the category of populism is treated, I am convinced that it helps to clarify the process, but not if we think about it in the record that persistently associates the term with an ideology or movement. Hence the references to Laclau and his interlocutors.

The milestones of the process - which was never continuous and ascending, as it seems to many observers - can be located in the 1980s, and therefore in a period of great effervescence in much of Latin America in relation to the possibilities of profound democratic advances. But the tendency of observation is to take the result as telos. I tried, synthetically and not systematically, to present an interpretation that would precisely highlight the openness of these processes - both for the identity of the actors and for the resulting political-institutional designs - that are defined and redefined from the confrontations and articulations in groups that are not always identical participate.

Since the so-called “June 2013 days”, the incessant work of certain groups of theologically ultra-conservative and ultra-reactionary politically militants has multiplied the places of enunciation, using the churches to train businessmen, militias and managers of a new state. , led oracularly by an anointed of God in a government of the just. The reactive nature of the conservative wave still prevails. The antagonism is still alive, indicating that we are still living in a time of transition to a new hegemony, and it is not certain what exactly its content will be. There are clear signs that the "destruction" proposed by the new right points to a post-democratic order.

We are still in the organic crisis (Mouffe, 2018). The disputed character of recent trends is still very much alive, despite the appearance of resignation that is sometimes expressed among opponents of the new post-democratic governments. The border has not stabilized. There is a nomination of the peopleBut there is no institutionalization of a regime that - who knows - would bring together neoliberalism and the confessionalization of politics. Amid the new centrality of the extreme right, sectors of the religious left are rearticulating, strengthening ties with social movements and activists of other religions.

So, despite the many speeches about the past and present of this crisis, I can only conclude with questions. And there are many. As many as those that cause our perplexity, our disagreement, our fear and uncertainty. Are we in the middle of a new fascism with the direct participation of the religious right, led by the Pentecostals? Are we, in the context of Christianity, observing another conservative wave, as in the years of integralism (Brazilian fascist movement of the 1930s) and military dictatorships, with the emergence of a kind of “national Christianity”, of sad memory? But is it really a majority? If Pentecostals do not exceed 65% of a minority of approximately one third of the Brazilian population (with variable compositions in other countries of the region), how can they be given the centrality and prominence so disputed by liberals and the left, by the media, by academia, and social movements?

On the other hand, as it has never existed and there are never any signs that the evangelical subject –historical Protestant, charismatic, Pentecostal and the innumerable existing hybrids– will become homogeneous and convergent, can it really build its own majority? world? Are there not elements of dissent within it that are also organized transnationally, but with modalities of intervention and political articulation? Is there not, in the contingency of the articulation of the people as "evangelical people", a fault: inconsistencies, internal disputes, unjustified exclusions, the inevitable ambivalence of a religious discourse of power on the matrix of a faith based on a defeated king, dead and whose model of "government" was serving the poor and vulnerable? How can a strict and proselytizing faith be a channel for Constantinianism or the republic of saints, in pluralized and polycentric societies? The hypervisibility of the evangelical discursive formation and the antidemocratic practices and openly antagonistic to the social movements in which they participate more and more, will they not lead to an erosion and a delegitimization of these actors? Should the institutionalization of the new post-democratic order occur, will it not “tame” or devour the Pentecostal thirst for power? To be seen ...


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Joanildo Burity He is a doctor in Political Science (University of Essex, United Kingdom), researcher and professor of the Professional Master in Sociology in the National Network (Profsocio) of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation and professor of the postgraduate programs in Sociology and Political Science of the Federal University from Pernambuco, in Recife, Brazil. He was director of social research and of the Graduate School of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation. He was professor and director of the Master in Faith and Globalization at Durham University. His main research interests are religion and politics, religion and globalization, identity and culture, collective action and transnational networks. orcid: 0000-0002-2963-1979

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Encartes, vol. 5, núm 10, septiembre 2022-febrero 2023, es una revista académica digital de acceso libre y publicación semestral editada por el Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, calle Juárez, núm. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C., Carretera escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, núm. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, México, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, núm. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, y El Colegio de San Luís, A. C., Parque de Macul, núm. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, México, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contacto: Directora de la revista: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Alojada en la dirección electrónica Responsable de la última actualización de este número: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Fecha de última modificación: 22 de septiembre de 2022.