Saturday, October 12, 2019

Pentecostal Gangs in Rio de Janeiro Ratchet Up Their Persecution of Afro-Brazilian Religions under President Bolsonaro

heresy Brazil Catholic crime Pentecostalism Latin America ecumenism

Brazilian history since the Colonial era is marked by the enslavement of Africans and by institutionalized racism which has permeated the social fabric of the nation. As such, Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions are often seen as demonic, stigmatized as evil emanating from malignant spirits. Capoeira, samba, and maracatu, even if they are very popular, are seen as manifestations related to the world of evil. But it’s in the realm of Afro-Brazilian religions that intolerance and racism become most virulent.

In Brazil the growth of Neo-Pentecostalism is not only due to proselytism via TV and radio but also in social spaces such as prisons. Historically penitentiaries were evangelized by mainline Protestants. However with the accelerated growth of Neo-Pentecostalism, primarily on the urban periphery, prisons became a focal point for Neo-Pentecostal proselytory efforts in which converted narcos join their churches and offer them protection services.

In the specific case of the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro studies show Neo-Pentecostal gangsters have largely replaced older gangs that identfied more with Afro-Brazilian religions. The conversions of members of the “Bandits of Jesus” allowed them to develop a more positive image among residents of the favelas, and they were welcomed into the churches in part for their ability to provide protection services for members and especially church staff. In this way the religious affiliation of narcos can be beneficial for their business. The bonds formed in the churches afford mutual protection in which the code of silence on the part of members helps protect the Neo-Pentecostal narcos from law enforcement and rival gangs. Neo-Pentecostal discourse, rooted in Prosperity Theology, focuses on attacking religious rivals, most importantly Umbanda, Candomble, and Catholicism.  (more...)


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