How The Gospel Has Not Saved Brazil

In 1997 I made a fateful mission trip to Brazil. Though it was only two months, it changed the course of my life. Since my late teens I knew I was going into ministry, but in the year prior to that first mission trip I had begun to drift. What I felt lacking was a personal vision of how my career should unfold. The inequality, crime, corruption, and social injustice I saw in Brazil contributed to what I believed was a calling on my life to help usher in a transformation of that country. I had no grandiose notions of single-handedly ‘saving’ the entire nation, but I did come to see myself as one small part of that greater initiative. Little could I have imagined that the evangelical revolution in Brazil would make matters worse for many people.

Despite its image as a sexually liberated country, Brazil is actually profoundly traditional on the topic. Men are expected to be ‘manly’ and women to be feminine, and anyone who falls outside that norm are subject to discrimination. Gay men in particular have suffered violence simply for being who they are, even just walking down the street or waiting for a bus. Rather than combatting violence against the lgbtq community, evangelicalism in Brazil actually demonizes them. They are treated at best as having an illness, and at worst as being literally demon-possessed. As a result, gay conversion therapy has apparently been given the green light to continue in Brazil, while elsewhere in the world it is being banned as abuse. More on that here:

As a starry-eyed young evangelical I believed that violence and crime would abate as ‘the gospel’ spread through a population. What I didn’t realize was that evangelicalism is still a religion, one subject to the preferences of those who adopt it. It would have shocked me then to learn that now, in 2017, there are entire gangs in Brazil that identify as evangelical and/or Pentecostal, and who continue to commit crimes and perpetuate the drug trade. Worse still, evangelical gangs have carried out campaigns of harassment against practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions who live in neighborhoods they control. Read about that here and here .

Religions are all malleable, existing in the minds of believers and having no objective reality. That is why they change so much, including among groups that claim to have an unchanging faith. A Southern Baptist from 2017, for example, wouldn’t do very well pretty much anywhere in 1617, all else being equal. It doesn’t surprise me as much now as it would have even just a decade ago that evangelicalism in Brazil is taking the shape of the pre-existing prejudices and predilections of the Brazilian people. That’s precisely what it’s done in the United States and elsewhere.

The only real path forward for any nation is through education and a firm commitment to human rights. Ignorance cannot be eliminated with myths any more than adding wood to a fire can be expected to put it out.


The streets of Rome after dark

A fresco painting of game players in a tavern on the Via di Mercurio in Pompeii

Rome was a place of narrow alleyways, a labyrinth of lanes and
passageways. There was no street lighting, nowhere to throw your
excrement and no police force.

The real city was the backstreets and they should be avoided after
the lights went out or you risked being mugged and robbed by any group
of thugs that came along.

Most rich people avoided going out after dark unless they were
accompanied by private security team of slaves or their “long retinue of
attendants”. The only public protection you could hope for was the
paramilitary force of the night watch, the vigiles.

Exactly what these watchmen did and how effective they were is
unclear. They were split into battalions across the city and their main
duty was to look out for fires breaking out.

If you were a crime victim, you had no other option than to defend
One particularly tricky case discussed in an ancient handbook
on Roman law proves the line between crime and self-defense was very
The case concerns a shop-keeper who kept his business open at
night and left a lamp on the counter, which faced onto the street. A man
came down the street and pinched the lamp, and the man in the shop went
after him, and a brawl ensued. The thief was carrying a weapon – a
piece of rope with a lump of metal at the end – and he coshed the
shop-keeper, who retaliated and knocked out the eye of the thief.

This presented Roman lawyers with a tricky question: was the shopkeeper liable for the injury?

Still, night-time Rome wasn’t just dangerous. There was also fun to
be had in the clubs, taverns and bars late at night, if you dared to go
out that is.

Running the Joint

Roberto Silva was caught with a small amount of marijuana. In prison, he witnessed inmates walk freely outside of their cells, use drugs, talk on cellphones and carry weapons.

Soon, he became one of them.

This is the story of Presídio Central, a correctional facility in Brazil that has become a headquarters for the organized crime. And it all began when a cab crashed into the lobby of the fanciest hotel in town.

Click here for the story.