Fundamentalist Christians attack places of worship and devotees of Candomblé and Umbanda claiming they are “Satanists.” One woman lost an eye.
by Massimo Introvigne
In Brazil, Evangelicals are sometimes discriminated and their organizations are called “cults” by Roman Catholics. However, some fundamentalist Evangelicals use the same “cult” rhetoric against members of the large Afro-American religious communities, including Candomblé and Umbanda. These are syncretistic religions venerating together Catholic saints and traditional African spirits, often identified with each other. Umbanda also includes elements taken from 19th-century French Spiritualism (called “Spiritism” to distinguish it from its Anglo-American counterpart). Fundamentalist Christians insists that these spirits are simply disguises of Satan and his demons. Willingly or unwillingly, devotees of Afro-Brazilian religions are demon-worshippers, they claim.
If some are persuaded that a “Satanic cult” operates next door, or in the home of their neighbors, it is not surprising that they decide to “do something” about it. In Rio de Janeiro, the Centro de Articulação de Populações Marginalizadas (Center for Connecting with Marginalized Peoples) and the Observatório das Liberdades Religiosas (Observatory of Religious Liberties) published a first report on incidents of religious intolerance in the State of Rio in 2015. They reviewed 12 cases, a comparatively small numbers of incidents, although they suggested they should not be treated lightly.
They have now published a second report, launched in September 2022, which shows how the situation is now much worse, and incidents of religious intolerance went from 12 to 47. 44 of them targeted Afro-Brazilian religions, although one was against Catholics (whom radical fundamentalist Evangelicals also regard as members of a “cult”) and three against Jews.
Some fundamentalist Christians appear to cooperate with criminal gangs, which terrorize the poorest neighborhoods of Rio and other cities. In 2021, one of these gangs “ordered” the closure of Afro-Brazilian places of worship, called “terreiros,” in ten neighborhoods of Belford Roxo, in the Baixada Fluminense. They claimed that Evangelicals will come, buy the land after the terreiros would have been demolished, and build Christian churches.
The most frequent incidents targeted individuals, followed by desecrations and vandalizations of places of worship. One Candomblé practitioner denounced that a mob tried to prevent him from carrying on funeral rites for a member of his congregation in a cemetery, and he was only able to perform the ritual after police arrived to protect him.
Vivian Bruna Domingos Braz Fragoso, a 38-year-old manicurist and a practitioner of Candomblé, lost her right eye in 2022 after having been attacked with a sickle by an Evangelical neighbor who accused her of practicing “macumba,” a disparaging term used to denounce Afro-Brazilian religions as black magic.
Christian counter-cultists basically misunderstand Afro-Brazilian religions and ignore one century of academic studies about them. Labels such as “cults” and “Satanism” simply manifest a lack of understanding. However, as the report shows, this ignorance may lead to serious violence.