Prominent Pastor in Brazil Spreads Hate and Propaganda

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Published:
January 28, 2022

Danilo,* 25 years old, who lives in the state of São Paulo, was washing the dishes when he received a video on his cell phone. When he watched it, he immediately had an anxiety attack. "My stomach started hurting and I had an attack of hiccups, so I could barely speak," he said to Zelota magazine. Priscila,* 31, who lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, also had a breakdown. "I stayed in bed all afternoon crying; it made my stomach churn," she said. "I didn't say anything to anyone because people wouldn’t understand, but I was sick all day."

The video that ruined Danilo and Priscila's Saturday was broadcast live on September 18 and so far has over 50,000 views. Pastor Gilson Grüdtner's sermon titled "The Touch of Immortality" was streamed on the official YouTube channel of the Brazil Adventist University São Paulo Church and has served as a platform for the vilification of Adventists who do not fit into the pastor's identity model. Grüdtner called the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ movement a “symbol of Sodom and Gomorrah” and used terms like “sexual option,” while claiming to only be defending “monogamous marriage between a man and a woman” in the Bible “without offending anyone.”

The phenomenon is not unprecedented. In November 2020, scandalized by an image of the cross with a rainbow on social media, Grüdtner used the university church’s pulpit to call the Adventist who published the image a “son of the devil,” claiming that the person was waiting for the “advent of hell.” In a conversation with Zelota, Priscila, who is pansexual, says that she felt “very bad” since the first time she heard Grüdtner talking about the subject. "I have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and when these aggressive speeches trigger my anxiety, the physical and psychological symptoms are horrendous," she said. "It feels like the whole therapeutic process goes to waste."

The speeches continued in January 2021 when Grüdtner, unhappy with the new US President Joe Biden, preached about an alleged worldwide satanic conspiracy that would involve Biden and the Jesuits imposing a “gender ideology” upon the world. In August 2021, again speaking at the Brazil Adventist University São Paulo Church, Grüdtner promoted Brasil Paralelo (in English, Parallel Brazil), a YouTube channel and streaming service known as the “Netflix of the right,” giving the justification that the Adventist Church should follow the channel’s lead in speaking against “gender ideology.” Currently, the channel is accused of spreading fake news and trying to rewrite Brazil’s history. The channel is tied to current president Jair Bolsonaro and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the National Congress into whether it spread COVID-19 misinformation.

Even for Danilo, who is heterosexual, Grüdtner's attacks against LGBTQ+ Adventists are disturbing and remind him of similar phenomena in his own denomination, the Jehovah's Witnesses. "The image that the Adventist Church gave me with that video was one of fear, of control," Danilo said. "All the progress that the church provides seems to go down the drain with something like that."

Propaganda and Hate

In contrast to Gilson Grüdtner's behavior in one of the most influential Adventist churches in Brazil, according to Adventist Church regulations, it is not a recommended procedure for pastors to call people they don't agree with "children of the devil.” According to the Seventh-day Adventist Minister’s Handbook, the Code of Ethics for pastors includes:

10. Relate with propriety to both men and women.

11. Respect the personhood of every individual, without bias or prejudice.

12. Love those to whom I minister, and commit myself to their spiritual growth.[1]

The Adventist Church also has several statements regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. One of them states, "The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that all people, regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation, are God’s children and should be treated with civility, compassion, and Christ-like love." Another statement on transgenderism, voted on by the General Conference, says, "The Bible commands followers of Christ to love everyone. Created in the image of God, they must be treated with dignity and respect." Grüdtner's insistence on identifying the LGBTQ+ movement with Sodom also lacks theological foundations; not even the latest statements voted by the Adventist Church regarding homosexuality, although conservative, quote the biblical passages about Sodom as relevant to the subject.

The use of the pulpit to promote political propaganda such as Brasil Paralelo is also not in accordance with the official South American Division document about the church’s position on politics. According to the document, the Adventist Church "does not authorize the use of the physical space of its churches, administrative headquarters, and institutions for any kind of political-party-electoral propaganda" and warns that pastors "should be constantly careful not to give statements that demonstrate preferences for ideologies, candidates, or parties."

Grüdtner’s behavior falls under reason nine for discipline listed in the official Church Manual, which prohibits "disorderly conduct which brings reproach upon the church."[2] Such discipline can even be the basis for the dismissal of an elected/nominated person, as stated in Article B 45 20 of the General Conference Working Policy: "The phrase ‘for cause’ when used in connection with removal from an elected or appointed position, or from employment, shall include but not be limited to 1) incompetence; 2) persistent failure to cooperate with duly constituted authority in substantive matters and with relevant employment and denominational policies; 3) actions which may be the subject of discipline under the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual.”

To obtain explanations on the matter, Zelota magazine contacted Edilson Valiante, ministerial director for the Central Brazil Union. Valiante replied that the most ethical way to get an answer would be to contact Grüdtner first. According to Valiante, out of respect for the administrative hierarchy, Zelota could also inquire with both the ministerial director and the president of the Southern São Paulo Conference, where Grüdtner is employed.

"You are asking me some questions that you should ask him first. Talk to Pastor Grüdtner. He answers to a ministerial director in the Southern São Paulo Conference as well, and he has his president there. Our ethics demand respect to the hierarchy," Valiante said.

Zelota contacted Grüdtner in search of clarification. "Buddy, since you only speak ill of me, I don't owe you any explanation,” he said. “You are very disloyal in what you write. You have written some articles quoting me in a distorted, disloyal, and even illegal way.”

When questioned about his public attacks against an Adventist church member, Grüdtner justified his actions based on Scripture. "You do your work, I do my work, and one day we will be accountable before God. Everything I do is biblical and within the Spirit of Prophecy. And the expression that I used is an expression that Jesus used,” he said, referring to his comments calling a church member the “son of a devil.”

When asked about the political propaganda he expressed from the pulpit by recommending the far right channel Brasil Paralelo, Grüdtner dismissed the church's official documents on politics and appealed to his freedom of conscience. "That is a matter of my conscience before God. I have no hatred. I am a good person, and I will always defend the Bible and the Word of God,” he said. When asked specifically whether Bolsonarist political propaganda aligns with God’s Word, Grüdtner said yes: "In my conception, of course it does!"

Zelota also contacted Alberto Duarte de Oliveira, ministerial director of the Southern São Paulo Conference, but he insisted he was too busy to answer questions.

Zelota next spoke with the president of the Southern São Paulo Conference, Luiz Carlos Araújo, who expressed willingness to answer but said he was not aware of the specific statements made by Grüdtner. He explained that, as president, his obligation is to seek out Grüdtner for a personal conversation: "What I normally do is sit down with him to say, 'look, your attitude isn't cool, you shouldn't stand up and speak this way.' We usually talk about this with the pastor."

Araújo said he would look into the events and later talk to Grüdtner to get more information about what happened. "The first measure is this: I'll talk to him and ask him to avoid this kind of controversy in the pulpit," he said.

The Son of the Devil

The Adventist Church member Grüdtner called a "son of the devil" is Jonathan Monteiro, a 24-year-old forest engineering student from the city of Seropédica in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Monteiro, who is gay, also manages social media accounts with thousands of followers, such as "I Am a Young Adventist," "Gay & Adventist," and "Jonathan Invites," the latter focused on recording podcasts with guests on topics related to sexuality. He is also on the editorial board of Zelota magazine. The post that triggered Grüdtner’s reaction included the caption, “For love he gave himself up to save us.”

In an interview for this story, Monteiro explained that he saw the image as a representation of Christ's grace, which is why he decided to post it. "I didn't choose my sexual orientation, and I am no less worthy to exist, be happy, or even be saved because of something I didn't choose,” he said. “This is what the rainbow represents—our struggle for recognition and an embrace that I see in Jesus.” Watching Grüdtner’s violent reaction in November 2020 to his post, Jonathan reached out to the pastor via email and asked what he meant, or if there was a misunderstanding. Grüdtner refused to give further clarification, replying, “A misunderstanding, and may Jesus bless you always!”

Monteiro views his pages as a ministry and seeks to provide support to Christians or other interested people who don’t fit the institution's cis-heterosexual mold. Evelyn,* from the State of Paraná, saw in Monteiro’s posts a non-violent way of living Christian spirituality. Atheist and averse to Christianity due to the prejudiced and authoritarian speeches of many leaders, she decided to receive Bible studies and is now a baptized member of the Adventist Church.

His work also helped save Junior, 27, from suicide. Born in the city of Lins in the State of Sao Paulo and raised in an Adventist family, Junior was always committed to his local church, but from the age of 18, he already knew he was not sexually attracted to women. Although his parents and grandparents encouraged him to embrace the grace of Christ and be authentic with himself, other Adventists often pressured him and questioned his family. "I developed depression and thought about suicide several times,” he told Zelota. “There was one time I even tied the hangman's knot, but I didn't have the courage to commit suicide. At the moment when I thought there was no solution, Jonathan appeared like an angel. The material I had access to was about the books of the Bible and homosexuality. Those words came as a balm to my heart. The last desire to commit suicide for being who I was faded away after I read about the Book of Leviticus.

"Thanks to Jonathan, I went back to my roots about First Love. It was he who reminded me of the Jesus I heard about growing up. Today I can be myself. I am free in Christ."

The Need for Action

Gilson Grüdtner’s actions have hurt church members, damaged the church's image to those outside the denomination, and defamed the ministry of a lay member. In addition, he uses the pulpit as a political platform by recommending Bolsonarist propaganda media as a gospel message. His attitudes violate pastoral ethics and ecclesiastical-administrative guidelines in Brazil and worldwide. The Southern São Paulo Conference, the Central Brazil Union, or the South American Division should take action out of respect to their official guidelines. At this point, it is the institution that must act.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those interviewed. 

The original version of this story appeared in Zelota magazine and appears here as part of Spectrum’s Brazil Week 2022.

 

Notes and References:

[1] The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial Association. Seventh-Day Adventist Minister’s Handbook, 2009.

[2] The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 2016.

 


This story was written by the editors of Zelota magazine, an independent journalistic effort covering the Adventist Church in Brazil and Latin America.

Image credit: Zelota magazine

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