Jair Bolsonaro is no longer so much of the devotion of the evangelicals of Brazil, increasingly divided in relation to the far-right president for whom they voted en masse in 2018 and were a central support base in the first section of his government.
“Bolsonaro’s message is not the message of Jesus,” pastor, historian and gospel singer Kléber Lucas told AFP.
After months of online encounters due to the pandemic, Lucas again held face-to-face services at the Baptist Soul Church in Rio Janeiro.
With chinstraps, the faithful raise their hands to heaven and accompany with their palms the songs of this pastor, winner of two Latin Grammy.
The message of Jesus is “justice for all, a shared table, respect for differences, for opinions. And not the fundamentalism” which, in his opinion, proclaims the president of Brazil.
“Speaking with leaders who had high expectations in that discourse of Christian morality, of vindication of the rights of the evangelical family, I perceived that many regretted having voted for it,” he says.
According to a survey by the Ipec institute published at the end of June, 59% of evangelicals say they “do not trust” the president.
The percentage is lower than that of the group of respondents (68%), but it is surprising considering that, according to the Datafolha Institute, 70% of evangelicals they voted for Bolsonaro in the second round of 2018.
The loss of support among evangelicals shows a trend that seems to be deepening in recent months in Brazil: the president’s popularity is at an all-time low since he came to the government.
The polls are not auspicious for Bolsonaro, who will surely seek his re-election in the scheduled 2022 elections. But former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva now leads him in the polls.
Support for the president went from 30% last March to 24% in May, according to a Datafolha survey,
The popularity of the Brazilian far-right leader has been falling in recent months, after reaching a record 37% in December 2020. In May, a Datafolha poll showed it had a 24% backing.
“For many evangelicals, even conservatives, there was a radicalization of Bolsonaro in the face of the pandemic, in his aggressiveness, his defense of violence, his appreciation for the dictatorship, “explains Ronilso Pacheco, a theology researcher at Columbia University in New York.
“In some matters, he exceeded the limit,” he adds.
In the last demographic census, in 2010, 22.2% of Brazilians declared themselves evangelical, but recent surveys suggest that currently 30% belong to traditional Protestant churches or neo-Pentecostal movements.
Bolsonaro is Catholic, but his wife Michelle is evangelical and he was symbolically baptized in the Jordan River by a pastor in 2016.
That same year, Jackson Augusto, 26, was confronted with hostility from regulars at the Recife (northeast) Baptist church, who frequented his mother and grandmother, for criticizing the removal of left-wing president Dilma Rousseff.
“They started calling me a communist. I started being persecuted by pastors and other members of the church. In 2018 that got worse, I felt completely isolated. I left all leadership roles and when Bolsonaro won, I decided to leave the church,” he says .
Criticisms of the shepherds
Some pastors voted for Bolsonaro to prevent the victory of the left and they have no qualms about criticizing it.
“In 2018 I voted for Bolsonaro, not by adhesion, but so that the Workers’ Party (PT) would not return to power,” says César Carvalho, pastor of the New Day Christian Community in Rio de Janeiro.
“It bothers me the way in which (Bolsonaro) uses religion to capture the faithful and votes with an agenda of customs. It is something cartoonish. It reminds me of the time when they saw us as retrograde, as a manipulated mass at the service of political interests”, express.
And doubt arises among evangelicals who voted for it out of conviction.
“I voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 and I do not regret it, but he did not meet all my expectations. Sometimes I think he is too radical in his way of speaking,” says Danielle Alfonso, 43, who attends the Baptista Soul church in Kléber Lucas .
For Jacqueline Moraes Teixeira, anthropologist at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), suspicion of some evangelicals towards Bolsonaro appeared from the beginning of his mandate.
“Many believers were ashamed of his aggressive way of speaking, with many curses. Some opposed the decrees to make the carrying of arms more flexible. For them, you cannot be a Christian and defend your weapons,” he says.
Managing the pandemic
And the worsening of the pandemic, which has already left more than 550,000 dead in Brazil, “led many faithful to change their minds,” he adds.
“Much of the evangelical movement is at the base of the social pyramid, and the lack of resources, the increase in poverty, the distance between rich and poor have made them reflect,” says César Carvalho.
But for Pacheco, although the support of the “popular evangelical base experiences some erosion,” Bolsonaro managed to “strengthen his ties with the leaders” of the most influential churches.
And that is why he appointed a judge to the Supreme Court this month whom he himself described as “terribly evangelical”: André Mendonça, former Minister of Justice and pastor of a Presbyterian church in Brasilia.