The Assembly of God is Brazil’s largest Pentecostal church, claiming more than 14 million members. Part of the first wave of Pentecostal churches, two Swedish missionaries from Chicago introduced the church to northern Brazil in the 1910s and it retains a headquarters in Belém. Unlike other imports, the church empowered Brazilian converts from its first days and relied on Brazilians to evangelize their compatriots. Brazilians served as church planters, ministers and leaders, independent of foreign mission boards and pastors.
Church doctrine demands a radical break with converts’ prior lives and churches historically advocate an sober lifestyle, proscribing smoking, drinking, fashion, cosmetics, television, football, fighting, and attending non-religious festivals. For poorer populations, this provides an obvious, and often attractive, alternative to the prevalent sexual competition and cultural violence within their neighborhoods and the church typically attracts Afro-Brazilians and others on the economic margins. However, as members of better economic standing join the church and second generation youth rebel against lifestyle restrictions by leaving, ministers have begun to offer a more relaxed reading of traditional rules.
The church became politically active in the 1980s, announcing its intention to ultimately send at least one representative to each State Parliament. The politicization paralleled a formalization of a national church hierarchy, which now channels its political activities through the General Convention of the Assemblies of God in Brazil, founded in 2001. In this effort, the church’s theology of clean living proves an asset in winning votes as adherents have a reputation amongst their neighbors for honesty and plain dealing.
Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan D. Rose, Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism (New York: Routledge, 1996).
John Burdick, Looking for God in Brazil: The Progressive Catholic Church in Urban Brazil’s Religious Arena (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
Maria das Dores Campos Machado, “Evangelicals and Politics in Brazil: the Case of Rio de Janeiro,” Religion, State and Society, Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 69-91.
Kei Otsuki, “Ecological Rationality and Environmental Governance on the Agrarian Frontier: The Role of Religion in the Brazilian Amazon,” Journal of Rural Studies 32 (October 2013), pp. 411-19.