Brazil used to be known as an anti-Israel country. Dominated for years by the leftist Workers’ Party, its elite society was largely shaped by anti-Israel intellectuals, academics and political activists for Arab countries.
But behind the scenes, a grassroots revolution was taking place. Masses of people began flocking to the country’s evangelical and Pentecostal churches. There, they heard a different message about Israel than the story being told in the left-leaning Brazilian press and educational system.
And the new message resonated. Evangelicals in Brazil grew from 6.6 percent in 1980 to 22.2 percent in 2010, according to the 2010 census. Today, evangelicals constitute an estimated 27 percent of Brazil’s population. By comparison, American evangelicals make up about 25 percent of the religious landscape in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.
Like their U.S. cousins, Brazil’s evangelicals have become a political force to be reckoned with. The evangelical caucus in Brazil’s congress is among the largest with nearly 200 members. Overwhelming evangelical support for Jair Bolsonaro is widely credited for his presidential victory last October.
Although often disparaged in the media, Bolsonaro received loyal support from evangelicals after he promised to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem.
One of those supporters, Dr. Josimar Salum, met with Bolsonaro multiple times, worked on his campaign and has been part of a group of pastors who urged Bolsonaro not to waver on Jerusalem.
“We had a meeting with Jair Bolsonaro in October 2017 in New England that included about 70 Brazilian pastors,” said Salum. “In the same time period that President [Donald] Trump was speaking about moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, we were able to make the case that Brazil needed to change its foreign policy towards Israel and move its embassy to Jerusalem.”
Asked to explain their goals, Salum said: “Brazilian Christian Zionism is a movement to bless Israel not only with words, but with concrete actions. It is no use merely to carry the flag of Israel, to sing songs and to speak good words about Israel. Christian Zionists must engage in the daily defense of Israel, be defenders of the Nation of Israel in their spheres of influence, and stand against anti-Semitism around them.”
Salum has been at the forefront of forging ties with influential pro-Israel groups such as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), one of the oldest educational pro-Israel organizations in the United States.
“CAMERA provides the education we need to understand the issues in relation to Israel, and the constant need to be vigilant concerning the antisemitism that Jews face everyday,” Salum said.
Last weekend Salum presented a conference in collaboration with CAMERA titled a “Night to Bless Israel,” which was hosted by the pro-Israel Brazilian pastor Elias Monteiro of International Community Church in Framingham, Mass.
The well-attended event brought together an array of organizations: the Brazilian Ministers Network, the Pastors and Leaders Fraternal Alliance, and the Brazilian Evangelical Pastors Association of the USA.
The keynote speaker was influential evangelical pastor Dr. Robert Stearns, who heads Eagles’ Wings, a global network of pro-Israel evangelicals.
According to Dr. Tricia Miller of CAMERA, the “Night to Bless Israel” was a historic and precedent-setting event that signals the new bonds between American and Brazilian evangelicals.
“It was the first time the Brazilian Christian community in the U.S. hosted such an event, which was designed to educate and mobilize Brazilian Christians for effective, informed support of Israel,” said Miller. “Plans are already in the works for educational seminars to be held in other Brazilian churches, followed by the second annual ‘Night to Bless Israel,’ to be held in the fall of 2019.”
Because the evangelical Zionist movement is relatively young in Brazil, the organizers of the event felt that more educational conferences are sorely needed.
“It is necessary for Brazilian evangelicals to learn about Israel so that their pro-Israel actions are conscious and not just sentimental,” said Salum. “Therefore, the ‘Night to Bless Israel’ has been established as a movement based on these four pillars: teaching, celebration, prayer and action.”
“We plan to encourage the movement with all we have,” said Miller. “In my eyes, Dr. Josimar Salum and the other leading pastors are genuine heroes. It is brave and principled men like Portuguese pastor John Amaral, and Brazilian pastors like Elias Monteiro, Marcos Aurelio Nogueira, Leidimar Lopes, Roberto Paiva and Flávio Souza who are making positive new changes not only in Brazil but throughout the world.”
“These Brazilian pastors represent a crucial counterweight to anti-Israel propaganda that manifests itself in some quarters of Brazil’s media and academic world, where BDS has gotten traction,” said Dexter Van Zile, a CAMERA analyst. “What groups like CAMERA offer is decades of professional research and knowledge that can help the pastors push back against the anti-Israel misinformation campaigns that flourish in their country. These pastors and their congregations are very proud of Brazil’s early support for Israel’s creation. They just need information.”
With ties being made between evangelicals in the United States, and with the help of educational organizations like CAMERA, the Brazilian pastors are not showing any signs of backing down. Shifting the largest country in South America in a pro-Israel direction is their unwavering goal.