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Evangelicals Gain Influence In Post-Rousseff Government

From The Washington Post:

RIO DE JANEIRO — As he struggles to build support for his presidency, Brazil’s new leader, Michel Temer, has been dogged by the kind of character issue that pollsters refer to as “a strong negative.”

Temer, rumor has it, is a devil worshiper.

The origins of this falsehood are unclear. Temer, 75, a longtime politician, is a Christian of Maronite Lebanese descent. But the rumors have inflicted enough damage that Temer turned to prominent evangelical pastors for help. They encouraged him to make a video appealing for evangelicals’ support.

“He did a beautiful video,” said the Rev. Marco Feliciano, a congressman and Pentecostal leader, who appeared at his side in the recording. “He asked the church to pray for him.”

The prayers, and pacts with pastors such as Feliciano, have provided badly needed support to Temer and have given the country’s growing evangelical movement unprecedented influence as Brazil goes through its biggest political upheaval in decades.

Temer chose an evangelical bishop who believes in creationism to be his top science official and then made him trade minister. The new labor minister also is an evangelical pastor.

Just as the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority emerged as a force in the United States in the 1980s, Brazilian evangelical leaders have gone from the political sidelines to the center. Their movement is not a coordinated effort to take power, they insist, but a grass-roots backlash against secularism, homosexuality and changes­ introduced during 13 years of Marxist-inspired Workers’ Party rule.

That era appeared to end this month when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and put her on trial for allegedly breaking budget laws. Temer, Rousseff’s former coalition partner turned political rival, became interim president and will serve out the rest of Rousseff’s term through 2018 if she is found guilty.

Temer enters office with a wobbly mandate. Even if most Brazilians don’t think that he is a satanic figure, polls show that he is widely distrusted, with fewer than 10 percent of citizens wanting him to be president, according to surveys.

Just as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority emerged as a force in the United States in the 1980s, Brazilian evangelical leaders have gone from the political sidelines to the center, wielding more clout than ever before.

Temer has sought help from Christian evangelicals, who were some of the strongest backers of Rousseff’s suspension. Of the 94 lawmakers from different parties who, according to Feliciano, form part of the “Evangelical Bloc” in Brazil’s lower chamber of Congress, 89 voted to put her on trial. Dozens dedicated their votes “to God” in the nationally televised proceedings.

Brazilian evangelicals are not monolithic. They have no single leader. But in a country with more than 30 parties, the movement has benefited from a discipline otherwise lacking in Brazil’s political culture of dealmaking and fleeting alliances of convenience, said Paulo Baía, a political scientist and sociologist at Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University.

“They have more political influence than ever, and they are going through a moment in which they’re asserting their power,” Baía said.

The Evangelical Bloc has grown significantly since 2010, when it had an estimated 73 seats in Brazil’s 513-member lower house. Although divergent on economic issues, lawmakers in the bloc are overwhelmingly opposed to a 2013 decision, now under appeal to Brazil’s Supreme Court, that recognized same-sex marriage. They are also against the legalization of abortion.

With a population of 205 million, Brazil remains the world’s largest Catholic nation. But 22 percent of Brazilians identify as evangelical Christians, up from 5 percent in 1970. Many evangelical pastors work in remote rural areas and in Brazil’s violent slums, where the government is often absent. That gives pastors an unrivaled ability to mobilize voters at election time.

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