Rio de Janiero

Hopeful sign? Brazil's Christian right and secular left want Carnaval to cover up and tweak its tunes

Hopeful sign? Brazil's Christian right and secular left want Carnaval to cover up and tweak its tunes

These are not happy days in Brazil, the South American colossus that's home to more Roman Catholics than any other nation. Political, economic, social, and health problems abound, as does crime.

Plus there's this: Brazil's famed and raucous carnival season, Carnaval, as it's called in Portuguese -- the pre-Lenten blow out that begins this weekend and ends the first week of March (exact dates vary by city) -- has been caught up in the nation's very own culture war.

Interestingly, both Brazil's conservative evangelical and Pentecostal Christian communities and the nation's secular left are both upset at what until now have been hallowed carnival traditions.

Conservative Christians are upset by the striking, to put it mildly, amount of female flesh on display during Carnaval. (Unfortunately, evangelical and Pentecostal are often incorrectly used interchangeably in news reports about conservative Brazilian Christians in the American press.)

Meanwhile, the progressive left says it's time to do away with long-popular carnival songs featuring racist, sexist and homophobic lyrics.

The Washington Post ran this solid overview of the situation. Here's a taste of the Post story that notes how the right-left criticism has already impacted carnival traditions.

Brazil’s increasingly powerful evangelical church and its progressive movements are both pushing to refine Carnaval to match their often opposing priorities. As a sign of the times, the Brazilian city of Olinda, famous for its street festival, has two new additions this Carnaval: a “Gospel zone” and an “LGBT zone.”

I guess it's up to visitors to make sure they don't stumble into the wrong zone. (I'm jesting, folks.)

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Brazil story tip: More than one recent election has some interesting religion angles

Brazil story tip: More than one recent election has some interesting religion angles

It doesn’t rank up there with America’s political earthquake, but there was a significant Oct. 30 election in Brazil that’s full of religious interest.

Senator Marcelo Crivella, the candidate of the young Republican Party who formerly worked as a bishop and gospel singer in a highly controversial church, was elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the city of 6.5 million that just hosted the Olympics.

He beat a socialist party opponent by a commanding margin of just under 20 points at the same time other conservative upstarts scored wins in local races across the nation. According to Britain’s The Guardian, the voting pattern “underscored the rise of religious conservatism” and the “demise” of the leftist Workers’ Party that dominated Brazilian politics over the past decade.

Crivella’s victory demonstrates the growing socio-political importance of evangelical Protestants. They now claim a fifth of the population in Latin America’s largest nation, which contains the world’s largest Catholic flock. Crivella won despite his past denunciations of Catholicism, homosexuality and popular Afro-Brazilian sects such as Candoble and Umbanda.

The mayor-elect is a follower of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a sizable “independent” body (not tied to “first world” Protestantism) founded and led by his uncle Edir Macedo, a major radio-TV mogul. His denomination claims 5,000 churches and millions of adherents in Brazil and has expanded across Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

A story hook?

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Two divers, two faith-driven stories: Did the Washington Post just miss all the God talk?

Two divers, two faith-driven stories: Did the Washington Post just miss all the God talk?

David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver at the 2016 Olympics in 10-meter platform synchronized diving, finishing right behind a duo from the always powerful Chinese team.

If you saw this in The Washington Post this morning, you read about an amazing story of human strength and courage -- period -- with Johnson winning a medal while performing a dive that almost killed him when he was a boy.

If you read about this duo from Hamilton County Indiana in The Indianapolis Star (or followed the URLs I received this morning from various Christian news lists), you read a very different story. In this version, it's clear that religious faith played a major role as Johnson and Boudia managed to conquer their personal demons and win silver.

Which story is true? They both are, in terms of the basic facts. Which is more complete? It would certainly appear that -- when Johnson (see the video with this post) and Boudia are allowed to tell their own stories -- the religion element is absolutely crucial.

So we face a familiar question: Did the Post team fail to see the religion ghost in this story or was the faith element actually edited out of this dramatic narrative?

This is what the key material looked like in the faith-free version of the Johnson story, published by the Post:

Johnson was just 12 years old and going through a routine diving practice at Indiana University in Jan. 2009 when he attempted a difficult 3 and 1/2 somersault dive. It would later become his favorite move, but that day it was too far advanced and nearly cost him dearly. As he began to spin in the air on the dive, Johnson’s head collided with the concrete platform. He fell unconscious and plunged 33-feet into the pool, hitting the water head first and sinking.

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There's plenty of religion-news gold buried in the Olympics story -- just dig for it

There's plenty of religion-news gold buried in the Olympics story -- just dig for it

I'm a big track and field fan so I'm looking forward to the Rio Olympics, which open Friday. And, yes, I know. The Games are rife with corruption -- so much so that I won't argue if you argue that watching the Games on TV makes me an enabler.

Sigh.

Track and field (or athletics, as the sport is called in most of the world) has major doping problems.

The Olympic organizing movement is a money-grubbing, self-serving organization.

Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro have made a mess of their preparations for the Games Click here for details and then click here.

Still, the Games are obviously way too big a deal for international journalists to give them limited coverage. Rather, they'll go all out covering every angle of the quadrennial circus.

Will that include religion angles? Religion journalists: What's here for us?

Actually, plenty, though being heard above the who-won-what hoopla won't be easy by any means.

Some historical context. Did you know the Olympics as held in ancient Greece were steeped in overt religious devotion?

Now read this overview piece from the Huffington Post on religion at the Rio Olympics. It begins as follows:

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