Here's some of what Reuters missed in its investigation of Brazil's growing evangelical flock

I've only visited once, but even after a short trip, I understood that faith in Brazil is a complex affair.

These days, the traditionally Roman Catholic population is influenced by all kinds of spiritualistic forces, while at the same time evangelical Protestantism, Pentecostalism, Seventh-day Adventism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are playing increasingly important roles.

Reuters, the global newswire, dropped in on an Assemblies of God congregation in a favela, or slum area, of Rio de Janiero, Brazil's second-largest city, and extrapolated much about the spiritual condition of the entire nation:

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -- Pastor Marcio Antonio stands at the pulpit in a one room evangelical church built precariously above barbed wire fences and illegally hung electrical cables, exhorting his flock in a Brazilian favela to improve their morals.
A former drug dealer in Cantagalo, an informally built hillside settlement where most residents lack official property rights, Pastor Antonio and his flock at the Assembly of God Church are part of a growing trend.
Evangelical churches are expanding rapidly in Brazil, home to the world's largest Catholic community, especially in poor favelas, experts and parishioners said.
These communities, which developed from squatter settlements, often do not have the same services as formal Brazilian neighborhoods in terms of healthcare, sanitation, transportation or formal property registration.
"The government doesn't help us so God is the only option for the poor," Pastor Antonio, 37, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation following his Sunday sermon.

It is the "Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters," which claims responsibility for the story. The foundation "covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience," and an end note to the piece says the foundation should get the credit for this piece. So noted.

Whoever is responsible, however, I would suggest there are some missing journalistic elements. First, there's a paucity of voices: Only one pastor, Antonio, is quoted, one academic (in London, England, no less), and two of Antonio's parishioners. No one from the Catholic community, no one from the media, no local academics, just four voices. De Tocqueville this ain't.

To his credit, the Thompson Reuters Foundation reporter asked to speak with Rio's mayor, Marcelo Crivella, whom they called "an evangelical bishop" elected to the office in 2016. More properly, Crivella is a Pentecostal, whose uncle, Edir Macedo, co-founded the controversial and powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The mayor didn't grant an interview.

But are there not others in Brazil who could speak on matters of faith? Why, yes, there appear to be several, such as Professor Maria das Dores Campos Machado of the Free University of Rio de Janeiro, who published a treatise on "Evangelicals and Politics in Brazil: the Case of Rio de Janeiro," in the journal Religion, State and Society back in 2012. She might have been a useful resource, one a lot closer to the action than a scholar in London.

Another journalistic issue is in terms of accuracy. The Thompson Reuters Foundation article said Crivella was the founder of his church; that's demonstrably not the case. The reporter also seems unaware that the Assembly of God congregation featured in the piece is part of a larger, global Pentecostal community: he keeps referring to the "Assembly of God Church" as if it were a solo entity.

Indeed, this brushing acquaintance with organizations and people pops up time and again in this piece. Rather than step back and examine the issue, the reporter appears to swoop in, revive old tropes about the rise of evangelical influence (never mind that left-wing politicians have led Brazil for a 13-year period ending in 2016) and move on:

But analysts say [Marcelo Crivella's mayoral] election, along with the impeachment of former left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff, signals a shift to the right in Brazilian politics. This is in turn linked to the growing power of evangelicals who draw disproportionate support from the urban poor, analysts say.
Part of the unique appeal of evangelical churches for favela residents is the sense of belonging and security they provide, worshippers said.

While the article names and quotes a church member saying they "are like a family" in the Assemblies of God outpost, the "analysts" are nameless. That makes me wonder if the "analysts" are just cover for the quoted King's College London lecturer Jeff Garmany, but you can call me a cynic.

I also question the bit about evangelicals getting "disproportionate support from the urban poor." I've seen plenty of stories about Brazilians from middle-class backgrounds embracing this or that flavor of evangelicalism.

It's also valid to suggest, I believe, that people who embrace a conservative faith lifestyle, such as that preached by evangelicals, Pentecostals, Adventists and Mormons, tends to raise adherents' economic circumstances. If you're committed to living without alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling, for example, you might well direct your efforts (and money) in other ways that improve your lot in life.

There's a lot going on in Brazil's faith sector, and the Thompson Reuters Foundation report took a too-easy road. Next time, perhaps more than a drive-by report would be in order.

Image on this page: Favela of Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Stanislav Sedov, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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