Brazilian Evangelical Presidental Candidate Meets Pushback

About Jandira Queiroz

Jandira Queiroz is a research fellow at Political Research Associates and a longtime reproductive and LGBTQ rights advocate in Brazil.
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In January, I wrote in PRA’s Public Eye quarterly that Rev. Everaldo Dias Pereira, vice president of the conservative evangelical Christian Social Party (PSC), was being tapped by group of Brazilian pastors to run for president in 2014.

Last month, that came to pass, when PSC publicly announced Dias’ presidency. But not all Brazilian conservative evangelical leaders are happy about it.

My article looked at the Brazil expansion of the U.S. Christian Right legal organization, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), attracted to the opportunity offered by a strong conservative evangelical movement with disproportionate political sway. Filipe Coelho, director of operations for the Brazilian branch of the ACLJ, revealed that Dias, a family friend, was under consideration by the influential Interdenominational Council of Evangelical Ministers in Brazil (CIMEB) as a presidential candidate. This is Rev. Dias’ first time running for any electoral position, but he is already one of the most important and articulate members of the PSC.

Conservative evangelicals in Brazil wield significant political influence. Their support for Worker’s Party candidates was vital to the victories of current president Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula. Ever since Lula’s 2002 election, an alliance of conservative evangelicals has successfully blocked advancement of sexual and reproductive rights, passed socially and economically conservative bills in the National Congress, and exerted influence over the president’s agenda.

However, there is significant fragmentation within the evangelical caucus, which brings together a number of parties, including PSC, a party affiliated with the Assemblies of God Church. Another Coelho family friend, Rev. Silas Malafaia, who runs the massive Rio de Janiero Assemblies of God church and leads many of the campaigns and rallies against progressive legislation, has expressed strong opposition to Dias’ candidacy.

Evangelicals are currently close to 25% of the Brazilian population, and PSC hopes to win most of these votes in the first round of the October 2014 elections, giving them leverage during the runoff to push their agenda: the “right to life” (anti-abortion), the right to freedom of expression and “religious liberty” (fighting the anti-homophobia bill), and the defense of the “traditional family” (opposing same-sex marriage).

Rev. Malafaia, who is also close to the U.S. ACLJ leaders, Jay and Jordan Sekulow, voiced the concern that Dias would get a mere 5% of the vote, which would make the conservative evangelical influence seem weaker than it is. He complained that Dias is a politician before being a pastor, and that the ideal candidate is a pastor first. Malafaia claims that other conservative evangelical leaders would not support Dias either.

If Dias and the PSC move forward without the support of Malafaia and other conservative evangelical allies, that will impact the success of his candidacy, and may have repercussions for the strength and unity of the broader right-wing evangelical alliance. Malafaia laid out a plan in the 2012 election for to add “one Assembly of God’s alderman in every city of the country,” about 5,600 total, creating a widespread base of local political and organizing power. His endorsement carries weight, while his opposition suggests that the PSC has deviated from his careful planning.