In Brazil, televangelist Silas Malafaia rallied his followers against equality and abortion at a demonstration outside the country’s congress. Their intention was to let politicians know that the growing evangelical community is not one to be ignored in upcoming elections.
"Gay activism is moral garbage," Malafaia preached to 40,000 attendees. "Satan will not destroy our family values."
In an interview with 429Magazine, lay theologian and LGBT advocate Andre Musskopf discussed the current situation in Brazil.
“The march was just one more expression of the initiative to get people’s attention, although I don’t believe it has the impact, especially in which the media seeks to want to give to it,” said Musskopf.
“It is still interesting to see how effective this kind of action is in reality, especially among the general population, since it also evokes very negative reactions. In political terms, however, it means getting or consolidating power, since it intends to show that [Malafaia] is able to gather people/votes, even though researchers have shown that people do not necessarily vote according to their religious leaders indication – even though a portion do.”
Recently, evangelical Christians have risen as a political force in Brazil, crusading against issues like abortion and marriage equality.
Led by President Dilma, the Workers’ Party is the country’s prominent political party. Dilma may be pressured to recruit another evangelical bishop if she wishes to seek re-election in 2014.
“The kind of response coming from religious movements to LGBT rights is not new in Brazil, but it has become more vocal and aggressive than any other time before,” said Musskopf. “We are in the middle of a struggle to see who has more power to influence political decisions, especially since the impact religious leaders manage to have in the last presidential election, and LGBT rights are being used as a target to measure the extent of the power of religious leaders and movements.”
Pastor Marcos Feliciano represents the Social Christian Party and has recently been appointed chairman of the chamber’s Human Rights and Minorities.
He has made outrageous statements such as saying that John Lennon’s murder was “divine retribution” for claiming that the Beatles were higher in popularity than Jesus Christ. His actions have forced many of those belonging to the President’s Workers’ Party to walk out of committees.
But for Rousseff to maintain her position as President, she may need to listen to the evangelical influencers.
"Rousseff is not going to do anything that would alienate the evangelicals," said David Fleischer, political science professor at the University of Brasilia. "No candidate in their right mind would do that."
If the national agenda is predominantly influenced by religion, it may hinder the country’s political and economic reforms for prosperity. Currently, the Senate has 58 seats that identify as evangelical in the Chamber of Deputies.
"Today there are 44 million mainly Pentecostal evangelicals in Brazil, which is a large social force,” said former Catholic priest Fernando Altemeyer in a press release. “Obviously, this was going to change things in Congress.”
Musskopf feels the balance tipping, with social issues playing a large part in the changing political landscape.
“It is a power game in which the LGBT rights, and sexual rights and reproductive rights in general, are used to gain influence in other areas. Those religious leaders have found out recently that this kind of discourse is able to get people’s attention and have profited on it, pretending that people care as much as they want it to appear that people care,” said Musskopf.
“The use of polemic statements and excuses to appear in the media have been used as a way of becoming more popular and, although it has worked in some spaces, it has also provoked many opposing reactions, not all of them connected or organized or even so visible.”
Though religious conservatives are influential, the LGBT community has responded with their own methods.
“There has not yet been a unified response from the LGBT community, since that is not a characteristic of the movement in Brazil, but different groups in different contexts have reacted in different ways,” said Musskopf. “From the part of religions, it is important that many churches and/or ecumenical organizations have shown support to LGBT rights and questioned the homophobic discourse of some groups.”
Musskopf also noted that the LGBT community has their allies in politics. Several deputies and senators have published statements in support of the community. The House of Deputies has also hosted the X LGBT Seminar by gathering intellectuals, deputies and activists in a public forum.
“There is no doubt that Malafaia and other religious leaders have been able to gather people around their homophobic discourses,” Musskopf concluded. “The media has given this kind of manifestation more coverage than events like the LGBT Pride Parade in São Paulo, giving the impression that those manifestations represent more than they actually do.”