05.12.09

Questions About Pentecostalism in Brazil

Posted in Excerpts at 08:19 am by admin

Questions About Pentecostalism in Brazil

 

Dad Preaching in Brazil
Dad Preaching in Brazil

In my book, Divine Betrayal, I criticize the way I was expected to be and act as the daughter of an Assemblies of God missionary.  Yes, it was difficult, especially in the 1940’s and 50’s because of the very strict and specific rules of conduct imposed on the church members at that time.  Although many of these rules still exist, they are by no means as rigid as in the past.  I am often asked: Do you think the Pentecostal movement in Brazil is harmful?  Are you against the Assemblies of God? Do you think it is a bad church? My answer is an emphatic “No!”

I think that the Pentecostal movement has been a positive force for change in Brazil and that there are obvious reasons for its popularity. First, I want to describe what a large movement this is.  The majority of Brazilians are Catholic, but this number is decreasing significantly year by year.  In the 1980’s, 89% of the population said they were Catholic; today the number is 64%.  Over half of these non–Catholics say they are Pentecostal.  It’s estimated that there are 24 million Pentecostals in Brazil, versus 5.8 million Pentecostals in the United States. In Brazil this number is mainly found in three denominations: The Assemblies of God, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and The Church of the Foursquare Gospel. 

What is the appeal of this movement?  I think it is easy to understand when you look at the Brazilian cultures and the impact of these churches on those cultures. When you read about my childhood, you get a picture of a typical poor neighborhood in Brazil; barely enough food to survive, no medical help, disease, death, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, and prostitution. Sadly, these problems are still widespread in Brazil. The Assemblies of God church provides a safe haven which meets the needs of the poor.  I will try to describe how this works for a poor family.

First, the woman visits the church and there she finds wonderfully loud music. She is free to sing at the top of her lungs, clap her hands, cry out loud, and speak praises to the Lord as she wishes.  The weight of her miserable world is lifted, if only for a day.  Not only that, but the church members act as a supportive family and she is able to ask for forgiveness of her sins, without a priest, and then be assured that Jesus will be by her side and help her make it though another day.  What a cathartic experience!  The sermon gives her hope for the future. She hears that Jesus loves her, there is a purpose for her suffering, and that her reward will be in Heaven, where there are indescribable riches and streets paved in gold.

Chances are, the woman returns to her home smiling, as if the weight of the world is off her shoulders.  She will be more pleasant to live with and will be able to convince her husband to go with her the following Sunday to see for himself what this is all about. The husband agrees, thinking he will be able to hide in a corner and observe the scene. When he enters the church, someone comes up to greet him, asks his name, and welcomes him to the church. Next, they take him up to the front pew, as it is the custom that visitors sit in front. He is too shocked to say no.

The music impresses the man, too. There are large musical bands, a well-practiced choir, and most of the congregation sings along as loudly as possible. Before you know it, he is also singing.  During prayer time everyone prays out loud, and many cry out loud. While this may shock him, he is still interested in what is happening.  The minister makes a point of welcoming all visitors before his sermon.  The sermon is upbeat and the message alternately hopeful or frightening, telling of eternal damnation and hell for those who do not follow God’s way.

At the end of the service, members come to greet him, and often he discovers neighbors he recognizes but does not know personally.  Overall, this has been a strange but positive experience for him. There is often a positive result from all of this.  If he decides to become “born again,” as his wife is, his life will change. The man stops smoking, drinking alcohol, and spending his money on prostitutes and gambling.  He is able to hold down a job, and the result is a rise in family income and a decrease in family violence.  Another common result is better health in general for the family.

No wonder the Pentecostal churches are growing so quickly in Brazil.  They are a positive force and do wonders for the lower classes of Brazil.  Recently, I read an article which describes this same phenomena going on in the worst slums of Brazil, and it resulted in people giving up, not only alcohol, but drugs and drug trafficking as well. The Pentecostal churches are helping desperate people to live better lives right now in their current circumstances and to hope for better things in the future.

So, my answer to the question of whether or not I am criticizing the Assemblies of God is this. I think the Assemblies of God churches are doing great work in Brazil and I am not criticizing what they are doing.  It is the right religion for many people and is a very positive influence on their lives. But none of this changes my faith in God or the choices I make for my personal religious system. Nor do they change the facts of my childhood experience and the need to tell the truth about what happened then. I wrote Divine Betrayal for my family and to help others, not to criticize an organization or a specific religion.

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