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.

Rights at Risk in the Dominican Republic (Video)

An overtly racist move by the Dominican Republic is stripping most of its people of African decent of their citizenship. This because they are the descendants of Haitians. Doing so is a violation of international law, as no one is to be left stateless. Having a nationality is a basic human right, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

There is no ambiguity here: Black Dominicans are being deported to a country that is not their home, and where many of them don’t even speak the language. This has to stop. 

For more, visit the UUSC website and send a message to Secretary of State John Kerry to stop military aid to the Dominican Republic until it stops unjust deportations.

Teens of the Tobacco Fields

The topic not adequately discussed in the video above, in my opinion, is alternatives for the young people featured. There’s talk about how by law they aren’t supposed to be working in the fields, as though prohibiting them from working in this fashion were enough. I doubt that they do dangerous, hard work that makes them physically ill for a little extra pocket change. In reality, they are likely working to help support their families. The underlying issues that cause minors to take on risky, unhealthy jobs need to be addressed.

See Also:

(video via US: Tobacco Farms No Place for Teens | Human Rights Watch)

They Dream of Land

In a beautiful short video entitled ‘Down the Stream,’ we get a glimpse into life for children in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. They live their lives on boats, yet dream of land. 

It has been well-argued by many that it is deeply ethnocentric for Westerners to judge lifestyles elsewhere in the world by their own cultural standards. What works in one society may not be for all. And yet, there are some rights that humanity has formally agreed upon as being for all people everywhere. Hearing these children talk about what they want for themselves, it’s clear that their hopes are for what is most fundamental to human dignity: education, health and professions.

One of the key aims of Humanism that has attracted me since first I came out of theism is to promote human flourishing. Many people struggle to survive. Others merely live. As a Humanist, I want to help people flourish.

Videos like this one call for two responses from those who care:

  • Promotion of human rights through international organizations. 
  • Direct action.

The first of those involves communicating with elected officials and encouraging active participation by one’s nation in the United Nations, as well as advocating for immigration and refugee policies that are more favorable to those who need them.

The second is the sort of thing Christians have been doing for years, and which many Humanists and religious liberals have avoided in favor of seeking government action. With groups like Foundation Beyond Belief we are seeing a rise of interest among secular people in taking direct action to alleviate poverty, promote human rights and eradicate oppression.

Down the Stream shows us only a brief moment in the lives of a handful of children in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. There are many more like them there and around the world. Kids whose dreams are like those of any others, if only they could establish themselves on solid land.  

Brazil: Where Inmates Run the Show

The criminal justice system in the United States is in serious need of reform. Still, there are far worse prison systems in the world. Among the horrendously terrible is what we find in Brazil. There, people are arrested and held for weeks and even months before their first court appearance. Enough time to contract a disease or two, be gang raped, join a gang and learn more of the ins and outs of crime. It is a system that violets the national laws of the country, international standards and simple human decency. For more, watch this video.

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Human Rights and Global Goals Need Advocates

Last week I blogged about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the more recent Global Goals to which the nations of the world have committed themselves. The UDHR and Global Goals set for a lofty dream for humanity, one which is embodied in the work of the United Nations itself, and of which we so often fall short.

The United Nations itself is an imperfect body, housing corruption in different aspects of its organization, and frequently making decisions that seem deeply at odds with its charter purpose. Just recently word came out that Saudi Arabia will be heading a Human Rights panel for the UN, despite the fact that religious freedom, freedom of speech, gender equality and most other basic rights are denied within that nation’s borders. Still, we must press on. The alternative to working for a better UN and a better world is entrenched provincialism and endless conflict, starvation and misery.

How can we work to make the world more just, and how can we achieve the 17 goals set forth last week?

First, people need to be taught about the UDHR. With the United States’ decentralized political system I’m not sure if this could be imposed nationwide, and it would certainly be a politically daunting prospect, but it seems to me that the UDHR should be a mandatory subject for public high school education, alongside US and state constitutions, People need to know their rights, with no ambiguity.

Further, still on this same point, the Humanist and religiously liberal communities should be carrying the message of the UDHR to the people, from the pulpit and in outreach. Sermons should be preached and lessons taught on the UDHR. Within the context of progressive Christian churches, this does not mean dropping the lectionary. Rather, an edition of the Revised Common Lectionary could be made that points out to the clergyperson where a particular passage intersects with an article or more of the UDHR. Within other communities, such as the Ethical Societies and Unitarian Universalist congregations, a freer and more creative approach could be taken to communicating the message of human rights. In all cases, this should be the focus of Sunday Schools, youth groups and adult religious education.

Second, we can take steps individually and in our various groups to work towards achieving one or more of the Global Goals. For instance, #6 is “Clean Water & Sanitation.” How about raising money for charity: water? #4 is “Quality Education.” How about supporting Room to Read or Pencils of Promise? Better still…become a teacher (in the US or overseas). There are many private organizations you can support or join to work to resolve whichever of the goals feels closest to your heart. You could even start your own non-profit or take on the role of social entrepreneur and work to make a difference that way.

In the NPR report below about the Global Goals we can hear a naysayer commenting that countries are ‘supposed to grow’ at around 7%, meaning the goals we now have are far too ambitious. Frankly, it’s possible I’ll live to see 2030, and I would love to see the world that much better than what I was born into. Imagine being the generation that lifted every single human being out of poverty, illiteracy and war.

The Global Goals

Today is an important date in history.

On September 25th 2015, 193 world leaders will commit to 17 Global Goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years. End extreme poverty. Fight inequality & injustice. Fix climate change. The Global Goals for sustainable development could get these things done. In all countries. For all people.

It will require tremendous effort on all fronts to reach these goals. Maybe it seems ridiculously ambitious. Yet, every single item is worth the attempt.

See Also:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights