Conservative Evangelicals And Politics: Some Lessons In The Case Of Brazil

Reception: July 2, 2020

Acceptance: August 27, 2020


Conservative religious actors assumed increasing political prominence in Brazil and contributed to the election of Jair Bolsonaro. Complementing the political lessons of this rise, this article focuses on four analytical lessons. The first section questions the idea of an "evangelical vote." Although a majority of evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro, they did not vote as a bloc, and the polarization of Brazilian society was reflected within different branches of evangelism. The second part disputes the relevance of religious affiliation as a central analytical category to apprehend the phenomenon. Behind an apparent opposition between Catholics and Evangelicals, the battle is between conservative and progressive currents that cross each religion. The third part recalls that a central factor in this political rise is found in an eschatological change, which favors the involvement of parishioners in the political arena. The fourth section questions the radical opposition between progressive governments and conservative religious actors, and emphasizes their consolidation in the political arena during the presidencies of the Workers' Party.

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Conservative evangelicals and politics: some lessons in the case of Brazil

This article argues that the relevant analytical categories to understand the political protagonism of conservative religious actors in Brazil are not the adherence to a church, but rather the conservative and progressive tendencies that go through religious obediences. The argument is sustained by an analysis of the distribution of the presidential elections' voters by religion, won by Jair Bolsonaro and which underlines the importance of the eschatological change operated by the conservative evangelicals in Brazil. They assumed political commitment as a tool for the moral and cultural transformation of society. This long-term project underwent the consolidation of the political protagonism of conservative evangelicals during the terms held by progressive presidents.

Keywords: Conservatism, evangelicals, Brazil, neopentecostals, politics.

In 2016, in what many analysts consider as “an institutional coup” (Jinkings Murilo, 2016), 52 of the 513 Brazilian federal deputies who voted in the impeachment process of the President of the Republic Dilma Rousseff declared that they did so in the name of God and for religious reasons (Almeida, 2017). Two years later, far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro benefited from strong support from conservative evangelical leaders during the 2018 election campaign. Catholic, “baptized” in the Jordan by a neo-Pentecostal pastor (Oualalou, 2019), adopted as his motto of his campaign “Brazil above all. God above all ”, and titled his government program“ the way of prosperity ”, in direct reference to the“ theology of prosperity ”professed by neo-Pentecostal pastors.

In these two key episodes of contemporary Brazilian politics, conservative religious actors played a key role and explicitly invoked their faith as a motivation for their vote and political action. In his article "The Evangelical People: Hegemonic Construction, Minority Disputes and Conservative Reaction", the prominent political scientist and sociologist of religion Joanildo Burity analyzes some of the main mechanisms of the growing prominence of conservative evangelicals in the Brazilian political scene. It shows the need to place them in a historical process that, since the 1980s, gave increasing prominence to conservative religious actors in the Brazilian political arena. The relevance of his article and his analyzes surpasses the case of Brazil. Conservative religious actors acquired increasing political influence in various countries of the Americas and the world. For those who do not live in Brazil and are not a specialist in this country, Joanildo Burity's article is an invitation to learn the lessons of a religious, political, cultural and social process that led a minor far-right politician to the presidency of the Republic of the largest country in Latin America.

In this perspective, this contribution combines an analysis of the “evangelical vote” in the 2018 presidential elections in Brazil with analyzes of more far-reaching religious, political and cultural developments that constitute major factors of the growing political influence of conservative religious actors. From the analysis of the vote of evangelical parishioners in 2018 to the eschatological evolutions implemented by some of the evangelical leaders in Brazil, it shows that evangelicals do not have uniform political and electoral behaviors. Therefore, I argue that it is necessary to reject “the evangelicals” as a relevant analytical category as regards electoral behavior and the relationship with politics.

The support of the evangelicals was decisive for the electoral victory of the leader of the Brazilian extreme right. However, the evangelicals did not act as a bloc behind his candidacy. On the contrary, the polarization of Brazilian society was reflected within the different branches of evangelism and in particular among the parishioners of the neo-Pentecostal churches. Based on the electoral polls, I argue that the polarization of Brazilian society is reflected among the neo-Pentecostal co-religionists, since they adopted contrasting attitudes towards the two candidates for the presidential elections.

It is not about denying religion as an important factor in the Brazilian political scene. However, as the second section of the article suggests, the relevant analytical categories are not adherence to Catholicism or an evangelical church, but rather the conservative or progressive orientation of the parishioners. The battle that is taking place in Brazil, as in various regions of the world, does not oppose Catholics on one side and Evangelicals on the other, but rather conservative and progressive religious currents that cross the different religious confessions.

In the third section I maintain that the main factor in the growing political presence of neo-Pentecostals and conservative evangelicals is eschatological change. Leaders of the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches spread in Brazil a new way of interpreting the Scriptures that translates into a change in the relationship between religion and the world, particularly in economic and political affairs. The fourth section points to a political lesson from the Brazilian case: conservative religious actors consolidated and became major political actors on the Brazilian scene during the terms of progressive presidents.

Evangelicals in the 2018 Presidential Election

The contribution of evangelicals to the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 has become a much cited reference among political scientists and sociologists to illustrate the strength that evangelicals have taken on the Brazilian political scene.

Since the religious affiliation of the voter is not indicated in the electoral results, the Brazilian analysts are based on the national pre-electoral poll, carried out by the Datafolha Institute on October 24 and 25, 2018, three days before the October 28 elections. 2018. The results of the poll were very close to the voting in the second round and have the advantage of showing the distribution of voting intentions by religious affiliation. It shows that the evangelicals gave Bolsonaro 11.55 million more votes, with respect to the candidate of the Workers' Party, Fernando Haddad. This represents a number greater than the 10.72 million of the sum of the votes that separated the two candidates in the second round of the election.

This survey remains one of the most used data among analysts to affirm the massive support given by evangelicals to Bolsonaro (see for example Diniz, 2018; Oualalou, 2019; Almeida, 2019) and to verify the weight of evangelicals in this election, as well as his growing weight as an actor in Brazilian politics. Therefore, it is presented as an ideal case to test the validity of "the evangelicals" as an analytical category of political and electoral behavior.

However, in addition to the decisive contribution of evangelicals to Bolsonaro's victory, this same table also points out other teachings that, although less spectacular, are no less relevant to understanding the relationship between religion and politics in Brazil (and in other countries) . Two figures in particular lead to questioning the internal homogeneity of religious confessions in terms of their electoral preferences.

Table 1

Distribution of the electorate by religion. Diniz Alves (2018), based on the Datafolha survey of October 24 and 25, 2018.1

  1. About a third of the evangelicals (31,74%) voted against Bolsonaro and in favor of Haddad. Although Bolsonaro obtained majority support among evangelicals, they did not act as a single bloc. Despite the “anti-PT” climate that dominated the Brazilian stage and media (Bringel and Domingues, 2018), more than ten million evangelicals voted for the PT candidate.
  2. If the Evangelicals were not unanimous, the Catholics even less so. Their votes were divided almost equally between the two candidates, with a slight advantage over Bolsonaro. Without the 50,14% of Catholics who voted for him, he would not have won the election.

The category of "evangelicals" groups together a great diversity of churches and confessions. In fact, data from the same survey allow us to appreciate significant differences between its different branches. Table 2 reveals that the voting pattern of neo-Pentecostal evangelicals (49% in favor of Bolsonaro) is much closer to Catholics (44%) than to other evangelical confessions, particularly Pentecostals (62%).

Table 2

Question: Next Sunday there will be a second round of the elections for the President of the Republic. If the second round of the elections were today, who would you vote for? (Stimulated and unique response, in %). Source: Datafolha, 2018: 31.

Another important lesson of this survey appears in the results to another question, much less commented on than the previous one.

Although the country has always been divided between different social and political positions and characterized by institutional racism and violence (Costa de Almeida, 2019), it has been followed by a process of increasing polarization after the protests of June 2013 (Bringel and Pleyers, 2015). This polarization increases the division of Brazilian society in positions marked by a radical rejection of the adverse political field. In this electoral poll, the polarization is reflected in the high figures of absolute rejection of the two candidates in the final round of the 2018 elections. Thus, 44% of the people consulted would not vote for Bolsonaro under any reason, a percentage that is still growing more for Haddad's case (52%).

Table 3

"Among these presidential candidates, I would like you to tell me if I would vote for sure, maybe I would vote, or I would not vote at all." (Single answer, in %). Source: Datafolha, 2018: 43.

Bolsonaro's campaign meant both a result and an intensification of this polarization, to the point that it mediated his closeness to the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches, benefiting from the support of his main political, religious and media leaders during this highly contested campaign. The analyzes point to the decisive impact of the evangelicals' vote in favor of Bolsonaro, who did not have such clear support among the parishioners of any other confession. The data seemed to verify the scenario of a polarization between the evangelical churches (plus the Jewish minority) and the rest of society.

What this survey indicates is a very different reality. While it demonstrates the polarization of Brazilian society, It does not act only between different religious affiliations, but within each of them.

The division of Catholics against Bolsonaro, seen in table 1, shows a first gap in this scenario, when an identical and very high proportion of rejection of both candidates was verified. Thus, 48% of Catholics declare that they would not vote for Bolsonaro for any reason, a percentage that is repeated in Haddad's case (Table 3).

However, what breaks the scenario of polarization between different religious affiliations is the case of the neo-Pentecostals. The strong prominence of its leaders during Bolsonaro's electoral campaign, along with the promotion of conservative moral issues in Brazilian politics and the media, suggested massive support from his parishioners for the candidate.

The poll shows the opposite, being one of the most divided branches in the face of the conservative candidate. When consulted three days before the elections, 44% of the neo-Pentecostals chose the option “I would not vote at all” for Jair Bolsonaro, the same percentage of those who would vote with certainty for him (an additional 9% would perhaps vote for him, and 3% did not know) . While in the case of Fernando Haddad, 33% would vote “with certainty” for him (37% for Catholics), and 52% for no reason (the same percentage among Catholics) (Datafolha, 2018: 43).

On the other hand, the attitudes of neo-Pentecostals towards Bolsonaro and Haddad confirm a much greater closeness with Catholic voters (46% with certainty and 44% not at all), with almost identical figures, with respect to the other evangelical branches. In fact, the figures suggest that an even more relevant category, and one that would reveal the incidence of religious affiliation on attitudes of strong support or rejection towards candidates, would be to separate the neo-Pentecostals from the other evangelicals (traditional, Pentecostal and other evangelicals). ), which have much more similar preferences to each other (table 4).

Table 4

Differences between Neo-Pentecostal Evangelicals, Catholics, Other Evangelicals, and the National Population. Composition by the author based on the figures from Datafolha (2018: 43) taken up in table 3 and considering the weightings between evangelical branches.

Probably the most surprising data from this survey is that, among all religious categories, the attitude of neo-Pentecostals towards the two candidates is the one that is closest to the average for Brazilians. In other words, the neo-Pentecostal parishioners were as polarized among themselves as the whole of Brazilian society.

This internal polarization of neo-Pentecostals contrasts with the strong mobilization of their own religious and political leaders behind Bolsonaro. Throughout the electoral campaign, the far-right candidate was able to count on social networks, the experience and material support of the conservative churches, including the third most important television channel in Brazil (Intervocates, 2019), TV Record. This channel is part of a conglomerate that belongs to the founder and leader of the largest neo-Pentecostal church in Brazil, Bishop Edir Macedo, of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. While it is likely that the mobilization of these religious leaders had an impact on a part of the electorate, the results of this poll suggest that they failed to unify their faithful behind their candidate, and that their effect was rather limited, both among themselves as well as towards the whole of the Brazilian population.

It is necessary to have more qualitative and quantitative studies in order to explain and deepen this surprising internal polarization among Brazilian neo-Pentecostals, and the contrast with the image given by the religious, political and media leaders of these churches as a solid and unquestionable electoral base for Bolsonaro . A credible hypothesis that is worth checking is that this break between religious affiliation and vote of Brazilian neo-Pentecostals can be seen as an extension into another sphere of a phenomenon demonstrated by a long series of studies of religion in Latin America (De la Torre and Martín, 2016): the break of false uniqueness between belief and belonging.

The actors of the battle

The 2018 presidential election is widely used to illustrate the strength evangelicals gained on the Brazilian political scene. An in-depth analysis of this poll does not deny neither the impact of conservative evangelicals in Bolsonaro's electoral victory, nor the strength they acquired in the Brazilian political scene, but it questions the relevance of “the evangelicals” as a unit of analysis.

Given their decentralized structuring, the absence of a common moral authority to interpret the scriptures, and the autonomy of their churches, the internal heterogeneity of "evangelicals" is vast in almost all themes and preferences. Joanildo Burity insists on the heterogeneity of evangelicals, “it is necessary to admit that there is no radiating center, either of meaning or direction, of what it means to be evangelical. It has become an affiliation that brings together very diverse currents, in terms of their interpretation of the Bible, their way of connecting to the world and politics or their practices ”. However, many analyzes and statistics available on political participation continue to point to “the evangelicals” as an analytical unit, indicating, for example, who vote and how they differ from Catholics, how many participate as candidates in each political party (Gerardi Dirceu , 2016: 16) or the number of “evangelicals” elected in parliament in successive elections (Tadvald, 2015).

Adopting religious affiliations as the main analytical categories leads to hiding the internal heterogeneity of each confession. It also leads to hiding other divisions and tensions that have greater analytical relevance for understanding Brazilian religious actors and their relationship with politics. This is particularly the case of the division between conservative and progressive currents that runs through religions and branches of evangelism.

The battle that is taking place in Brazil, as in various regions of the world, does not oppose Catholics on one side with evangelicals on the other, but rather conservative and progressive currents that cross these religions and their churches. The faithful of both parties were divided in the vote for Bolsonaro, and they are on innumerable issues. The battle that once again takes on great importance in the political, cultural and societal field opposes historical actors that do not correspond precisely to churches or organizations, but who do go through them. These progressive and conservative religious actors can be interpreted as social movements, in the sense given by Alain Touraine (1981): historical actors who have a vision of the world and dispute the cultural orientations of a society.

The progressive religious movement that Michael Löwy (1997) identified as “liberation Christianity” corresponds to another movement, the conservative and reactionary movement that has gained strength in Brazil and in various regions of the world, both among evangelicals and among Catholics. In fact, until the early 2000s, conservative Catholic currents played a greater role than neo-Pentecostals in Brazilian social and political life. Brenda Carranza and Christina Vital da Cunha (2018) show for example how, during the 1990s, neo-Pentecostal representatives operated as a support force towards conservative Catholics around common causes, such as opposition to abortion. It should also be remembered that “gender ideology” is not a neo-Pentecostal invention, but a Catholic one (Junqueira, 2017). It emerged in the mid-1990s at the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger published the book The gender agenda, which remains an essential reference among Catholic and neo-Pentecostal fundamentalists for a moral agenda focused on issues such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, it is clear that all evangelicals are not conservative. The Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian parishioners who make up the majority of “historical evangelicals” have been involved in progressive currents, such as liberation theology, in proportions similar to that of Catholics in Brazil (Löwy, 1997, chapter 8). In fact, several representatives of these "historical evangelicals" chose not to join the influential "evangelical front" or "evangelical caucus" that brings together conservative evangelical parliamentarians and senators from different parties.

Among the teachings of Alain Touraine (1981) for the study of the most relevant social movements to understand religious actors in the Brazilian political scene is to avoid confusion between a social movement (considered as a historical actor) and a specific organization. In the same way, in Brazil, the relevant analytical categories are not the churches or adherence to Catholicism or an evangelical church, but the conservative and progressive religious currents that run through these churches. The battle between conservative and progressive religious actors does not pit the Catholic Church against the evangelical churches. On the contrary, it runs through such religious organizations. As Joanildo Burity explains in his article, “it was necessary to defeat moderate segments ('progressives') of the evangelical, historical and Pentecostal field, so that the frankly reactionary face of a powerful parliamentary and pastoral elite emerged”. In the same way, the conservative turn in the Vatican, which was strengthened under John Paul II, resulted in a struggle against liberation theology along with a marginalization of priests and bishops close to this current in the Church. Brazilian and Latin American Catholic (Houtart, 2006; Pleyers, 2020).

An eschatological change

In Brazil, as in most Central and South American countries, the new evangelical churches attract a growing number of parishioners. In 1980, Brazil had 89% of Catholics and was one of the main spaces of progressive Christianity. In the last available census (Datafolha, 2016), only 50% of the population identifies as Catholic and the proportion of “historical evangelicals” has remained stable in the last 40 years: 6.6% in 1980 and 7% in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of faithful in the new Evangelical churches soared. Almost non-existent in Brazil in 1980, they represent 22% of the national population in 2016.

The growing number of evangelists and the main factor in the growing political impact of the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches appear to be a key factor in the increasing prominence of these actors in the political arena. The growth in the number of parishioners in their churches provided a broader base for disseminating their talks to pastors and candidates of these churches and allowed for more resources to be gathered. However, the main root of the change in the political influence of Neo-Pentecostals is found less in the quantitative change represented by the increasing number of parishioners than in a qualitative change: a new way of interpreting the Scriptures, which translates into a change of the relationship between religion and the world, particularly in economic and political affairs. This eschatology was developed in Brazil by leaders of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches and proposes, among other topics, a vision of the role that faith, churches and believers should have in political life.

Historically, the majority of evangelicals explicitly rejected the world and politics, motivated by an ascetic and puritanical ethic oriented to the conquest of extramundane salvation (Algranati, 2010). In Brazil, until the early 1980s, most Pentecostal churches opposed political participation in electoral processes (Mariano, 2011). And even today, many evangelicals separate the political from the religious and avoid being protagonists of the political scene.

When Protestantism invited believers to flee from worldly values to earn their salvation in eternal life, new interpretations of the Scriptures emerged in the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches in Brazil and took hold from the 1990s, as was the case before in the United States. These combine two interpretations of the scriptures. On the one hand, "prosperity theology" does not urge parishioners to reject worldly values, on the contrary, it sees in material success the signs of divine blessing and reward for virtuous acts (and compliance with payment). tithe to your church). According to this interpretation, if God blesses one of his believers, he gives him a “total blessing”, and wants him to be happy in the different areas of his life, from health to professional success and financial situation. On the other hand, "the kingdom theory" invites believers "to actively work for the restoration of the kingdom of God on earth" (Pérez Guadalupe, 2018: 38; Algranti, 2010). Parishioners must contribute to the transformation of society as a whole and not only of the community of believers, as is the case of historical evangelical communities, as explained by the founding bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Edir Macedo, in his influential book Power plan. God, Christians and politics (2008).

Political lessons from the success of conservative religious actors during pt governments

As Joanildo Burity recalls in his contribution, the arrival of Bolsonaro to the presidency of Brazil with the support of several neo-Pentecostal churches and conservative evangelists is the culmination of a long process that began in the 1980s. Already in 1986, twelve neo-Pentecostals they were elected to the Federal Congress. In the last two decades of the century xx, Neo-Pentecostals gradually became involved in the public sphere. Its members joined different political parties and contributed to founding some (Machado and Burity, 2014). During these four decades, conservative religious actors, and in particular the neo-Pentecostals, showed an extraordinary capacity to adapt to the Brazilian political system and to the successive changes in the relations of forces in the country's political scene.

A major political lesson from the Brazilian case lies in the consolidation of these actors and their political, cultural and social impact during the terms of the progressive presidents Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016).

If now the reactionary political actors accuse the Workers' Party of all the sins of Brazil, in their time the neo-Pentecostal and conservative evangelical representatives accommodated themselves to the governments of the pt and they managed to reinforce their presence and their weight throughout these 13 years (Tadvald, 2015). The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the main neo-Pentecostal church in Brazil, entered the PT government in 2003, first through the Liberal Party (pl) and then through the Brazilian Republican Party (prb). He remained in government until a few weeks before the removal of President Dilma Roussef (Almeida, 2019). Marcello Crivella, bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of Christ and nephew of its founder, participated in the founding of the Brazilian Republican Party (prb), that he served as an ally of Lula during two of his presidential terms; He then served as Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in the Dilma Rousseff government between 2012 and 2014, before becoming mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

A major tool for consolidating the influence of evangelicals in the Brazilian political scene is the Evangelical Parliamentary Front, which was established in 2003, at the beginning of Lula's first presidential term. It is a group of deputies and senators from various evangelical churches elected by different political parties (Trevisan, 2013). The influence of that front grew considerably during the presidencies of the pt. It stood out for its great effectiveness in political negotiations with the national government (Machado, 2012). The highly fragmented composition of the chambers of deputies and the senate implies that the government has to seek alliances with different factions to adopt the policies and laws it promotes. Coalition governments under the presidencies of the pt they found in the evangelical front a necessary ally to support various social laws in favor of the most precarious populations. On the other hand, the pt he relented on issues that were central to the agenda of conservative religious actors. During their terms, progressive presidents used gender issues as a bargaining chip to negotiate with conservatives. They have renounced public gender policies to maintain the support of evangelicals in other areas (Mattos, 2019).

Among the greatest achievements of the evangelical front is the cancellation of a book against homophobia destined for public schools in May 2011. In confluence with the attacks of conservative religious actors against what they designated as “the ideology of gender”, the then deputy Jair Bolsonaro described the program against homophobia initiated by the government pt in 2004 as Kit-gay. In 2011, conservative evangelical and Catholic parliamentarians threatened to block the government's economic and social policies if the booklet was distributed in schools. Although the booklet was approved as educational material and already printed, the president had to give in to pressure. Another victory for the evangelical caucus was the appointment of Marco Feliciano, a pastor of the neo-Pentecostal church “Catedral del Avivamiento,” known for his homophobic statements, to the House of Representatives Commission on Human Rights and Minorities in 2013 (Tadvald, 2015 ). In addition to the most notable legislative victories of the evangelical front, its prominence resides in innumerable bills and parliamentary amendments formulated by evangelicals. As Brenda Carranza and Christina Vital da Cunha (2018: 489) indicate, these bills do not have to be evaluated only in terms of effectiveness to approve these proposals, but as a mode of action based on the production of political facts to place the issues related to the "Kingdom of God" at the center of public debate.

Strengthening neo-Pentecostal churches and other conservative religious actors has never been the goal of the governments of the pt. On the contrary, Lula has belonged for decades and until today to a pastoral worker, a group of Catholic believers from the current of liberation theology. However, the consolidation of these actors occurred during the mandates of the progressive leaders and remains part of their legacy. Without sharing the conservative moral agenda, the progressive presidents began collaborations with the evangelical churches, and among them their more conservative branches, to implement social programs, and opened spaces for them as protagonists to launch government programs or occupy a growing number of radio and television channels. They negotiated and took every opportunity to strengthen their political influence and place their moral agenda as a central element of the Brazilian public debate and political space.


Because of its history, size, culture, international weight and language, Brazil has been a country apart in Latin America. Thus, it is important to take into account the specificities of the country to understand the success of conservative religious actors, and in particular of some Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches, as cultural, social and now political actors. However, when it comes to the growing influence of neo-Pentecostals on the political scene, Brazil is far from being an isolated case in the American hemisphere (Pérez Guadalupe, 2018).

Furthermore, Brazilian neo-Pentecostal churches do much more than participate in a continental and global trend. They have become an important actor in this process in the international arena. The main Brazilian neo-Pentecostal churches have spread throughout several Latin American countries, as well as in the United States, Portugal and other European and African countries. As in the 1990s, analysts referred to the "export of the American gospel."2 Regarding the successful international proselytism of the new American evangelicals, today there is a similar dynamic and in full expansion to “export the Brazilian gospel”. Along with the neo-Pentecostal pastors, bishops and financial flows, there are also circulating methods to convince the faithful, the media, and a way of interpreting the Scriptures that incites them to support their co-religionists, both in elections and in politics. institutional.

Drawing the lessons from the political, social and cultural success of conservative religious actors in Brazil is, therefore, a relevant task far beyond the circles of specialists in Brazil or of scholars of the religious phenomenon.

Following Joanildo Burity, it is essential to make the analysis more complex beyond the electoral phenomenon that was the election of Jair Bolsonaro. This article focused on explanatory factors in four areas that provide a more complex and multidimensional perspective of the political rise of some of the conservative religious actors in Brazil. He questioned four analytical perspectives that often preside over interpretations of the process that led conservative evangelical actors to assume a strong political role in Brazil.

In the electoral sphere, the relevance of the analysis in terms of the "evangelical vote" was questioned. Although a majority of evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro, a finer analysis of the main electoral poll shows that the polarization of Brazilian society is reflected less in the contrast of positions between neo-Pentecostals and Catholics than within the different branches of evangelism and in particularly among the parishioners of neo-Pentecostal churches.

In the political arena, the relevance of religious affiliation as a central analytical category to apprehend the growing impact of conservative religious actors was questioned. Behind what is often presented as a struggle between Catholics and Evangelicals, a battle is being played out between conservative and progressive currents that cross each religion and its different churches.

It is also worth remembering that the interpretation of the Scriptures is a fundamental element in understanding these actors. In this perspective, the eschatological change that occurred in several Brazilian evangelical churches, which fostered the political commitment of the faithful to implement their convictions, constitutes a key factor in the political rise of conservative religious actors.

Finally, the consolidation of reactionary religious actors in the political arena during the presidencies of the Workers' Party questions the radical opposition between conservative religious actors and progressive governments and remains a political lesson for progressive governments. Presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff assumed collaborations with reactionary religious actors to carry out their social programs. They opened spaces as protagonists in the social, political and media arenas, to the point that the consolidation of conservative religious actors as a major protagonist of Brazilian politics and society was left as a legacy of the presidencies of the Workers' Party. Conservative actors took advantage of every space and every political opportunity to spread their moral and political agenda, consolidating their influence and leadership with a success that few had anticipated.


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Geoffrey Pleyers is a researcher at fnrs and professor of sociology at the Catholic University of Leuven, where he directs the research group smag - Social movements in the global era and the interdisciplinary research group on Latin America (grail). He is vice president for research for the International Sociological Association. His main publications include books Alter-Globalization. Becoming Actors in the Global Age (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011) and Social movements in the century xxi (Buenos Aires, clacso, 2018) and articles such as “A guerra dos deuses no Brasil. It gives theology of freedom to the election of Bolsonaro ”(Educação & Sociedade, 2020) and “The pandemic is a battlefield. Social movements during the covid-19 lockdown ”(Journal of Civil Society, 2020). He has coordinated fifteen books or magazine issues, including, with Breno Bringel, Global Alert. Politics and movements in the face of the pandemic (clacso, 2020).

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