Evangelical Gangs in Rio De Janeiro Crusade Against Afro-Brazilian Religions
(Photo : flickr.com)

Ironic may it seem, but evangelical drug trafficking is widespread in Rio de Janeiro, according to an article by Latino Rebels.

With the 30 percent increase of evangelical population in Rio, in the first decade of this century, it is no wonder why even some of the most notorious drug dealers claim to be spreading the gospel.

The Brazil's Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance reported that over 100 Afro-Brazilian religious facilities nationwide were attacked by drug trafficking groups this year, posting a higher record than that of the previous years. Sixty percent of these incidents reported between 2011 and 2017 occurred in Rio de Janeiro, according to national emergency hotline report.

This evangelical crusade is not new. In fact, persecution of these Afro-Brazilian religions, whose devotees are largely poor black Brazilians, has been around even before 19th century.

However, compared to the past decades, the current wave of religious bigotry is more personal, and more violent. Washington Post recently reported that Afro-Brazilian priests were harassed and murdered for their faith. Terreiros, African temples, have closed due to death threats and Candomblé and Umbanda practitioners fear leaving their homes.

From January to September 2019 alone, reported that such incidents have increased to 200 from last year's entire record of 92, according to Rio's Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, a group created in 2008 by religious minorities.

Along with the increase in religious hate crimes is the growing influence of evangelicals in Brazil's culture and politics. Currently, there are 195 evangelical lawmakers out of 513 seats in Brazil's lower house of Congress. This number has given them the capacity to shape the national debate on social issues like abortion, religion in schools and gay marriage.

The increase in the number of evangelicals in Brazil can be attributed to the prosperity doctrine spread by Pentecostals and Neopentecostal churches.

The prosperity doctrine promises personal salvation and financial success to people who trust God, work hard and cut out all alcohol, gambling and other vices, which attracted many residents coming from Rio's impoverished neighborhoods.

While evangelicalism is on the rise, traditional religions are losing members. From 2000 to 2010, there had been a 9 percent drop in the number of Catholics in Brazil, and 23 percent decrease from the followers of the Afro-Brazilian religions Candomblé and Umbanda.

Some evangelical leaders such as Edir Macedo, the multi-millionaire bishop of Brazil's Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, see these Afro-Brazilian religions as dangerously un-Christian, even evil. Macedo wrote in his 1997 book "Orixás, Caboclos and False Gods or Demons" that Afro-Brazilian religions "seek to keep us from God."

"This struggle with Satan is necessary...to eternal salvation," he added.

Before the book was banned by federal authorities in 2005, the book sold 3 million copies. Moreover, Macedo still delivers this message to his estimated 5.2 million followers at 13,000 affiliated churches.

Macedo, along with other evangelical preachers have called their followers to wage war against these African religions.

Many responded, including a handful of drug kingpins, who expel Afro-Brazilian religion followers practicing their faith in gang-controlled neighborhoods such as Baixada Fluminense, one of Rio's most dangerous corners. Brazil's Institute for Public Security reported that 2,147 of the 6,714 murders reported in Rio state this year occurred in the said neighborhood.

Meanwhile, there are also other Evangelicals, Catholics, Baha'i, Buddhists, Jews, Hari Krishnas and other Brazilian faith communities, that are actively fighting back against the rampant religious discrimination in Brazil. In September, an estimated 100,000 people joined Rio's annual walk for religious freedom, one of the largest gatherings since the procession's inception 12 years ago, in solidarity with Afro-Brazilian religions.