This morning, I was checking the NPR News app on my Android and noticed a very alarming story that aired on Friday's edition of All Things Considered. In recent years, an increasingly vocal klatch of social conservatives in Brazil have started borrowing tactics that are all too familiar to us here in the United States.
Campaigning is in full swing in advance of Brazilian elections in October. Polls show President Dilma Rousseff will have a tough re-election battle on her hands amid grim news on the economy.One of them is Everaldo Dias Pereira, the presidential candidate of the Social Christian Party. According to Political Research Associates' Jandira Quieroz, that party has very close ties to the Brazilian Assemblies of God, and Pastor Everaldo--as he's popularly called--is a family friend of Felipe Coelho, the head of the Brazilian branch of Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. Everaldo is currently garnering only three percent in most polls. That support could prove crucial, though. In Brazil, if no candidate gets a majority in the first round, the election goes to a runoff between the top two finishers in the first round. Since Rousseff is not likely to get anywhere near a majority, Everaldo could potentially be in a very strong position in the all-but-certain event of a runoff.
Among those competing for the public's vote are evangelical Christians — a group with growing political clout. And to garner support they're using a strategy familiar to American voters — focusing on passion-inspiring social issues like abortion, homosexuality and religion in schools.
The evangelicals have generally been very supportive of Rousseff and her predecessor, Lula, in the last decade. Indeed, probably the third most famous member of Rousseff and Lula's Workers' Party outside Brazil is Benedita da Silva, a devout Pentecostal whose social views are nonetheless fairly liberal. However, the price for that support is high--almost no progress has been made on issues like abortion and gay rights. Some 14 percent of congressmen and five percent of senators are evangelicals. I'm not sure how that compares to the percentages here in the States, but from the looks of it those numbers give Brazil's evangelicals clout way beyond their percentage of the country's population. It sounds a lot like the situation here, where the religious right has clout way beyond its actual numbers due to the fact that it controls large blocs of votes in some of the biggest prizes in the Electoral College.
In at least one instance, Brazil's fundies are already upping the ante. In Nova Odessa, a small city located in the rural area north of Sao Paulo (an hour south), several city councilmen want to force local schoolchildren to read verses from the Bible when they learn how to read.
At the City Council building, the sponsor of the legislation, Vladimir de la Fonseca, says it's important for children to be exposed to the word of God because of the corruption of modern society.That could have easily been said by any fundie lawmaker here in this country. De la Fonseca convinced most of his colleagues on the city council to support this measure, and now it awaits the mayor's signature. One of the councilmen who voted against it, Antonio Alves Teixeira, is worried this and other measures could lead to the same situation that we have to deal with here. And as we all know, it's taken almost three decades to cut the religious right down to size.
"I've been a teacher for 34 years," de la Fonseca says. "Small children have a pure heart. ... How do we save them? We can make them tread a better path by reflecting on the Bible."
He says he's not trying to convert kids: He just believes the Bible is one of the great works of humanity and everyone, from every religion, should be exposed to it.