The idea that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God can experience an unprecedented taste of what it is like to be in opposition to a president seems strange to those who know his trajectory. If Jair Bolsonaro (PL) fails to be reelected, in theory this is what would happen to the religious empire of Bishop Edir Macedo.
The church has been emitting strong signs that it is adamant in its aversion to the PT, a party it has already demonized and endorsed in the past, at the mercy of the electoral winds. At the same time, there is a certain skepticism in the political wings about whether Universal will really go head-to-head with an eventual PT government.
Saints of candidates linked to the church corroborate this mistrust. At least part of the campaign material of important figures at Universal, such as state deputy Edna Macedo and federal deputy Marcos Pereira, was printed, leaving the positions of senator, governor and president blank.
She is the sister of Edir Macedo, and he, president of the party of both, the Republicans, is a rib of the church.
It is common for this type of propaganda to provide a “colla” to the voter: on the front, the candidate for parliamentarian, and, on the back, the numbers of allies. Other church candidates also omitted Bolsonaro, such as Gilberto Abramo, the bishop of Universal in Minas Gerais who is seeking a seat in the Chamber.
On her Instagram profile, Edna promoted her campaign highlighting herself, Pereira and Tarcísio de Freitas, a former Bolsonaro minister who is running for the Government of São Paulo for the Republicans. Pereira, on the other hand, used the network to share an image with the president for the last time two months ago.
Wanted, Pereira declined to comment. Before being confronted about the saints, he had forwarded posts by WhatsApp defining as fake news any shake-up in the church’s relationship with Bolsonaro.
The absence of the president’s name on election flyers, however, was read as an indication that part of the denomination is reticent to support him unconditionally. After all, the Republicans are part of the reelection candidate’s coalition. If Bolsonaro sinks, would it be worth leaving for the embrace of the drowned?
At the same time, in several other instances, Universal doubles down on Bolsonarism.
In an editorial published on Sunday (18), Folha Universal, a newspaper distributed at the door of the temples, states that the left can “cry copiously” at will: the “civic demonstrations” galvanized by the president on the 7th of September made it clear that “the leader of the left in Brazil will not have an easy life”.
A summary with the most important highlights of Folha about the election
Journalist Gilberto Nascimento, author of “O Reino – A História de Edir Macedo and a Biography of the Universal Church”, was the one who Sheet the saints with no indication of vote for Chief Executive.
He infuriated the church last week, when he published an extensive report on the website The Intercept Brasil about the possibility of Edir Macedo disembarking from the Bolsonarista candidacy.
The reaction was fulminating. Universal soon rejected the hypothesis and accused the reporter of having created “the fantasy that the church intends to support” Lula. He called the rumors “liars” and linked them “to an attempt by the PT to confuse evangelicals, who have already woken up to the fact that it is impossible to be Christian and left-wing.”
Nascimento, who has investigated Universal for decades, points to an internal division. “Macedo is in charge today, but the bishop is less present than he always was. He has already been handing the church over to Renato”, he says. Renato, in this case, is Bishop Renato Cardoso, married to the founder’s eldest daughter.
Older bishops in the Universal hierarchy, however, would be less enthusiastic about Bolsonaro’s uncompromising defense, something Macedo’s likely successor embraces.
In the view of this old guard, Renato would be less politically skilled, according to Nascimento. But he, reinforces the author, would not do anything without the approval of the church leader. “But Macedo himself would not attack Lula with virulence.”
Nascimento does not rule out that Universal will take its support for Bolsonaro to the extreme and, if the president does not win, he will stay away from power for the first time.
The beacon church of Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism has sided with every government since calling Lula a devil when campaigning for Fernando Collor in 1989. It would also approach Lula when his time in the presidency arrived.
The relationship between PT and the bishop had ups and downs. Unlike most political peers, Lula made a public apology when Macedo was arrested in 1992, accused of practices such as charlatanism. “If we’re not careful, soon the police will be at your house, arresting without criteria,” he said at the time.
That’s not why Universal stopped beating him. In 1994, Lula suffered several attacks from the church newspaper. In one edition, he appeared in a photo with the national flag. The headline: “No order and no progress.”
The two made peace when the PT entered the Planalto Palace. Lula’s then deputy, José Alencar, was from the PL, a party that concentrated names from Universal, and later migrated to the PRB (currently Republicans), created by the church in 2003. In 2018, Macedo initially supported Geraldo Alckmin. Adherence to Bolsonarism happened at the last minute, when it was clear that the then toucan had no chance.
The taint of physiologism has accompanied not only Universal for decades, but other large evangelical churches. In general, these pastors are where the power is.
It is no wonder that several of those who criticized Lula for years had, when he became president, an apparent revelation that he was not all bad. The speed with which many climbed on its platform was the same with which they abandoned it.
The question that now arises is whether the rupture between the PT and this pastoral elite was too violent in 2018, to the point that there was no climate for reconciliation. The years of distancing coincide with the strengthening of identity agendas, such as feminists and LGBTQIA+, an indigestible agenda for many churches.
Bishop Eduardo Bravo, president of Unigrejas, an arm of Universal, defends evangelical participation in politics. “For a long time there was the idea that Christians should not get involved. However, we know that political decisions directly influence the lives of the entire population”, he tells the Sheet.
Bravo recommends that the segment choose candidates concerned with “conservative agendas and the traditional family” and ends by saying that, “in the current scenario of political polarization, the right is currently represented by Bolsonaro”.
On Friday (16), Macedo himself responded on a social network to a follower who asked who he would prefer to see in the Presidency. “I continue with Bolsonaro and Tarcísio,” he said.
Until when is the question that some church leaders ask themselves.