by Ronaldo de Almeida and Clayton Guerreiro
Translation by Giovanna Imbernon Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
Originally published in Portuguese April 13, 2020 link
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. But what to do when a virus (agnostic and uninvited) threatens to infect the group of faithful and to make them sick and, in some cases, to lead them to death?
As expected in times of apocalyptic feelings, religions are challenged to guide their followers and to give meaning to the possibility of collective death approaching.
Afro-Brazilian religions do not have a unified control center, however, regarding the news coming from several places, terreiros (worship places) have adhered to social isolation. The Brazilian Spiritist Federation (FEB) oriented its Spiritist Centers to follow the Health Department’s directives and emphasized that the activities continue, albeit online.
Likewise, Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques orient their communities to maintain sanitary isolation. Political leaders in Israel and Palestine started an agreement for a temporary suspension of historic conflicts. It is worth dying for the political-religious war, but not for a newborn virus.
Pope Francis revealed the Catholic Church’s position on this. The recommendation is to stay at home, while the temples are opened for prayers without agglomeration. History will note this scene when Pope Francis celebrated alone, under light rain, a mass in St. Peter’s Square, granting forgiveness to those who died due to the virus.
The most controversial cases, however, are coming from the evangelical community, in which the reaction towards the theological-sanitary issue varies according to the genuine faith, solidarity feeling, religious demagogy, and irresponsible opportunism.
Generally speaking, historical Protestants and Pentecostals have been following the sanitary orientations to close temples for service but keeping them open for prayers or individualized support. Online services exploded on digital networks. For this evangelical community, the virtuality of the Internet is not an obstacle for the presence of Christ.
However, in the opposite direction, some Pentecostal leaders have resisted, from the beginning to the cancellation of cults. Silas Malafaia, Bishop Macedo, R.R. Soares, Valdemiro Santiago, among other less significant names, have spread the messages of Messias Bolsonaro. Three are the main points in this stance.
First, the relation between the Laws of Man and the Law of God. Whom to obey? Claiming the churches are the last resort for the desperate ones, Bolsonaro, and those leaders evoked the freedom of religion granted by the Constitution, but not considering the peculiarity of the moment and the fact that the Constitution itself guarantees the welfare of all citizens, religious or not.
Second, the central role of temples in religious practice, especially among those who draw upon the Internet, television, and radio. It is no coincidence that religious and non-religious people are accusing those leaders of having economic interests. Finally, what happens to the collection of offerings and tithe if the temples are closed? It is interesting how both discourses seem alike, of those leaderships and retailer businesspeople. If the small business (temples too?) closes, it breaks.
Third, the apocalyptic discourse. From the Plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus to the prophecies in The Revelation, preaching indicates that the virus is some kind of scourge of God or sign of the second coming of Christ. In those cases, mass deaths are inevitable. Attention: it works as a technological vaccine for miracle-making churches saying they cure thousands of people every week but cannot stop the ongoing pandemics.
Photo: Bolsonaro visits Solomon’s Temple
Finally, it is worth mentioning the disastrous event of the churches La Porte Ouverte, in France, and the Shincheonji Church of Jesus¹, in North Korea. By insisting on the spiritual immunity against the coronavirus, both became centers of dissemination. Subsequently, the founder of the Korean church even apologized to people publicly, but it was too late. God could have forgiven him, but the virus – which has no beliefs – has not.
Let us pray (alone)!
Ronaldo de Almeida is a professor at the Anthropology Department at University of Campinas. and researcher at Cebrap. Author of “A Igreja Universal e seus demônios” from Ed. Terceiro Nome, yet to be translated to English.
Clayton Guerreiro is a Ph. D. Student in Social Sciences at University of Campinas.