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For Brazilian Administrators, Church and State Aren’t So Separate

Title Image by Spectrum. Photo credits: Michelle Bolsonaro and Jonathan Borba.

This is a new monthly series featuring perspectives from Brazil. This report focuses on the ideological and political advocacy of prominent church influencers. 


When discussing Adventism and politics in Brazil, the devil hides in the details. Officially, the Adventist Church teaches political neutrality and non-partisanship, however, words and actions by some denominational leaders and media figures reveal a growing partisan bias. Behind the scenes, selective enforcement or loosening of working policy indicates a clear preference for the politics of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former president who is affectionately called “Tropical Trump.”   

One way that this reveals itself is through the clear alignment of many Adventist administrators and pastors with the views of Olavo de Carvalho. An author with a background as an astrologist before he became a self-proclaimed philosopher, de Carvalho was described by the New York Times as Bolsonaro’s “Rasputin” or “Steve Bannon.” A far-right conspiracy theorist who used Marxism as a foil, De Carvalho, like Bolsonaro, was a vaccination skeptic. Last year, he reportedly died from COVID-19.

Editor of the denomination’s Vida e Saúde (Life and Health) magazine, Michelson Borges, has played an influential role in the Church’s Brazilian publishing house for many years. Two books published by Borges are mandatory reading for Pathfinders. História da Vida (“The History of Life”) advocates Young Earth creationism, while Nos Bastidores da Mídia (“Behind the Scenes of Media”) demonizes popular culture and progressive politics. 

But the more explicit political views of Borges are publicized in his blog and YouTube channel, widely accessed by many of the million Adventists in Brazil. In addition to clearly being influenced by de Carvalho’s speculative political theories, Borges directly recommends one of de Carvalho’s books, O Mínimo que Você Precisa Saber Para não Ser um Idiota (“The Least You Should Know in Order Not to Be an Idiot”) in one of his videos. Borges also has a staunch ally in Adolfo Suárez, the director of the South American Division’s Latin-American Adventist Seminary (SALT). Suárez, who speculates about a progressive menace, spent months tweeting excerpts from Alisa Childer’s Another Gospel?, which is an attack on the late Rachel Held Evans and progressive Christianity. 

Also, Suárez helped organize a “spiritual marathon” named “Adventism in Liquid Times.” The series of lectures, first suggested by the homophobic pastor Gilson Grüdtner, featured Borges, Suárez, and other denominational leaders focused on promoting far-right political views. The main attraction was Adventist apologist and television show personality Rodrigo Silva. He confused mainstream and fringe theories. On “liquid modernity,” he speculated that its founder Zygmunt Bauman called his own theory a Communist conspiracy. Silva also favorably cited de Carvalho’s (Bolsonaro’s “Rasputin”) conspiratorial attacks on Karl Marx. During the program, Silva, who is also a professor at the Adventist University Center in São Paulo, admitted to having never read The Communist Manifesto.

Silva skyrocketed from pastor to biblical archaeologist to Adventist celebrity after starring in the TV show Evidências (Evidence). The show uses archaeological details to defend beliefs against scientific revision and is broadcast by Novo Tempo, Brazil’s Hope Channel. While he holds no church office apart from his position as teacher in the Central Adventist University of São Paulo’s (UNASP) Theological Seminary, he might be the most widely known Adventist in the country. His YouTube channel has over 2.5 million subscribers and he has been a guest on many high profile TV and YouTube shows. He is also an advisor to the biblical shows produced by Record TV, a neopentecostal, Bolsonaro-supporting television channel which has grown massively in the last few decades. 

Showing the influence of Olavo de Carvalho’s reactionary theories, Silva is an outspoken Bolsonaro supporter. In addition to his occasional YouTube political rants, he promoted Ana Campagnolo, a Bolsonaroist congresswoman who attempted to censor school teachers, and he taught classes in her online “antifeminist” course. He also made multiple political posts filled with dog whistles during the latest presidential elections and seems to be closely associated with Michelle Bolsonaro, the former First Lady. They have posed in pictures together on Instagram.

From left to right: Rodrigo Silva and his wife; Michelle Bolsonaro; Damares Alves; and Mayara Noronha Rocha

Silva, Suárez, and Borges appear to be not only supported, but favored by top Brazilian Church administrators. This denominational favoritism has led to formal and informal persecution against Adventist pastors and laity seen as too moderate, as observed in the attacks on the New Seed Adventist Church in São Paulo. It comes as no surprise that Adventists have been confirmed participants in the January 8th Brazilian Congress attack by Bolsonaro supporters. 

As Zelota magazine has documented for two years, the facts mentioned above are just the tip of the far-right iceberg that’s floating North. All members of the Adventist Church who value separation of church and state would be wise to note the prospective future as Ted Wilson continues to elevate Brazilian reactionaries to key General Conference positions. If the very top of Adventism’s leadership shifts to Brazil, traditions celebrating conscience freedom should not be taken for granted.

 


André Kanasiro has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of São Paulo and a master's degree in Literature (Hebrew Bible literary criticism) from the University of São Paulo. He is the editor and co-founder of Zelota, an independent Adventist magazine from Brazil.

Title Image by Spectrum. Photo credits: Michelle Bolsonaro and Jonathan Borba.

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