There’s an interesting story on Reuters today about next month’s presidential election in Brazil.
Marina Silva, an environmentalist running neck and neck in polls with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, is a Pentecostal Christian who often invokes God on the campaign trail and has said she sometimes consults the Bible for inspiration when making important political decisions.
The article goes on to talk about the growing influence of evangelicals, who numbered only 5 percent of the population in 1970 but grew to nearly a quarter today. It also highlights some similarities and differences between American and Brazilian evangelicals. Basically, Brazilian economic politics are to the left of American politics, and both major candidates, including the evangelical, call themselves socialists and support “robust” welfare programs. The evangelical candidate is also an environmentalist. Obviously, all of these positions would be anathema to most American evangelicals who are conservative like me. But Brazilian evangelicals share American’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage, perhaps even more strongly than we oppose it here, as both are illegal in Brazil and the political environment on social issues has obviously not moved to the left as far as the American environment has.
Here in American politics, I have often wondered why it doesn’t seem possible for any left-leaning individuals to support liberal policies on economics, environmentalism, and other things, while still remaining faithful to the Bible theologically as well as fully opposed to abortion and gay marriage. There’s no logical reason why one couldn’t, it seems to me, and often I think conservative Christians are too “religious” in their economic views, speaking as if socialism is against the Bible. (I think socialism is a bad idea, but more for pragmatic reasons than biblical reasons: I don’t think it works well. Although I do think socialism may infringe on property rights, but there is probably room for disagreement there, biblically speaking). But every time I encounter a Christian who leans toward the left on economics, etc., it seems like inevitably that person can’t be bothered to worry too much about abortion and gay marriage other than paying lip service to opposing abortion – as if the liberal positions always take priority. They may even support gay marriage. And usually, for some reason they tend to be squishy on biblical authority as well: is the bible really inerrant? is homosexual behavior really a sin? They often lean toward “no” on those questions. But Brazil’s politics confirms what I’ve long suspected: there is no necessary, logical connection to being a Christian and supporting conservative economic policies. (Of course, it’s not necessary to be liberal or socialist either, to be clear. Sometimes liberal evangelicals act as though conservatives are unbiblical or something). Here in the U.S., I’m not sure what exactly led to social conservatives aligning with fiscal conservatives and libertarians on economic issues so uniformly, but perhaps the two parties are so thoroughly divided on social issues, particularly abortion, that there is a tendency to conform on other issues as well, in order to fit in.
I wish Brazil’s evangelicals the best. But I do hope they remember what the Lord told the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4:6): “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” They may install one of their own in the presidency and continue gaining in influence, but they need to remain humble and remember that the future of their nation is in the Lord’s hands. And power can corrupt an evangelical just like a Catholic or a nonreligious person. Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, in their excellent book Blinded by Might, detailed the mistakes of the American religious right after their triumph in Reagan’s victory in 1980. I pray Brazil’s evangelicals avoid that mistake, or else Brazil may turn out to be worse off because of it.