There are two things the world is full of: prejudice and faith. ¿What is it that draws our attention so much about the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God? The tithe in velvet bags, the televised exorcisms, the portuñol, the allegations of money laundering or its huge white churches? Or what scares us is the religious influence in politics, which can engender phenomena such as the current alliance between Universal and the Government of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil?
The six chapters that make up the podcast series In the name of God, produced by Anfibia and Podimo, they propose somewhat broader questions that go beyond the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God:What is a religion? And a sect? How do you identify a spiritual scam? What is the difference between a peasant offering and a tithe via online transfer? In short: what is to believe? Because, let’s face it: we all believe in something. It does not matter if it is in Jesus Christ, in energy, in UFOs, in the Holy Spirit, in which coincidences do not exist, in which a better world is possible or in life after death.
Debates about beliefs have existed since the world is world, and philosophy has tackled them countless times. The tormented German Friedrich Nietzsche wrote at the end of the 19th century “God is dead.” A couple of centuries earlier, the Frenchman François-Marie Arouet (better known as Voltaire) stated that “if God did not exist, he would have to be invented.”
In Argentina, the “without religion” constitute a minority. This is indicated by the Second national survey on religious beliefs and attitudes, a work carried out with the support of Conicet and the Center for Labor Studies and Research (CEIL). Almost 69 percent are Catholic, although their relative weight – despite the fact that the Pope is Argentine – is falling, while evangelism is on the rise. In 2008, Catholics were 76.5 and Evangelicals, 9 percent. Today they grew and represent 15 percent.
Taking the case of Argentina as a trigger, In the name of God explores the growth of evangelism in the world, and specifically in Latin America. Here where colonization imposed Catholicism, evangelism has grown in recent years. According to the report of Pew Research Center from 2014, 29 percent of Latin Americans are evangelical. The number grew 15 percent in the last 40 years.
Anyway, Within this universe, many ideological tendencies coexist: progressive, far-right, moderate and infinite etceteras. In large part, there is diversity thanks to the evangelical idea that we can all (and should) bear witness to the Holy Spirit on Earth. Within that great constellation, the Universal is just one more piece. Visible, but only one more, which reminds us to repeat like a mantra: the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is evangelical but does not represent all evangelism.
Its peculiarity, perhaps, lies in its stridency, in its ways. The researcher of the Society, Culture and Religion Area of Conicet and specialist in the subject Marcos Carbonelli, explained: “It is a religious form that was born in Brazil and is characterized by having a very spectacular mode of proselytism, with loud shepherds, mass worship, a lot of media use and a great combination of material and symbolic resources, where the miracle is also very strong”. Therefore, in the headquarters of the Universal Church (there are 227 formally registered in Argentina) anything can happen. For example, what happens during “Liberation Fridays”, a day in which the faithful go up on stage to tell problems: “a pain in the testicles”, a “with a broken spine”, a “deforming rheumatism” . One late night in which dialogues between possessed and shepherds take place:
-What is your name?
“What would you do if you could?”
“Who makes you kneel?”
“What son?” Say it. You know and you will speak. Who makes you on your knees?
-The son of God.
-And what’s his name?
-Say it. Say the name. You are going to speak!
Meanwhile, on the walls of the Almagro temple, on Corrientes Avenue in the City of Buenos Aires, a poster recalls: “We filmed the meetings to show the power of God through the media.”
Because if there is something that its founder Edir Macedo was clear from the beginning, it is that if he wanted to create an empire, he had to do it with the media in his favor. Or, rather, he understood that the media are one of the materials with which an empire is made.
So while the Church expanded to dozens of countries around the world, The media conglomerate they have today also grew: the second most watched television network in Brazil, radios, movies, series, songs. To make matters worse, Macedo built a replica of the Jerusalem temple in San Pablo.
Through archives, specialists and the testimony of Hugo (pastor of Universal), the six-chapter series shows how some see “scams” while others contemplate the “doctrine of prosperity.” Or how they call “spiritual warfare” what others would describe as “overactive exorcism.”
“Is brainwashed in the Universal Church? I always answer yes “, the pastor told us. And he argued: “I was a violent person, with brainwashing I stopped being a violent person “. The man is almost two meters tall, he assures that he was a flamengo barrabrava, that he hurt people, that he preached in Brazil and Paraguay. Now he does it in Argentina, where he also leads the youth wing of the organization, he is a jiu jitsu teacher and the perfect expression of the hymn to meritocracy that the Church proposes.
One of the things he did not like about Catholicism, he says, was that its leader was dead and crucified. Perhaps that is why something seduces him from the fact that the founder of the organization to which he belongs today has gone from being an employee to occupying position 1,638 in the ranking of Forbes in 2015, with more than a billion dollars.
Is Edir Macedo a millionaire because he takes advantage of his followers? Or is what you give in exchange for what they contribute is fair? Do you take advantage of your faithful? Or is it a transparent way to finance yourself? What are the corruption and money laundering allegations about? Does the tithe work the same as an offering?
In the name of God is a documentary podcast produced by Anfibia Podcast exclusively for Podimo, in which we try to organize all that we think we know about the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. It is a series that seeks to investigate why, more than thirty years after its arrival in Argentina, it still seems alien, external, exotic, something that has nothing to do with us. However, we know it very well, whether it be for its shepherds shouting in Portuguese on television, for its bombastic temples or for its slogan, that phrase that has already imprinted itself on the collective unconscious. A clear, simple, efficient, anxious slogan. A phrase that challenges you and speaks to you and your uncertainties. An unpretentious imperative that, in the meantime ‘letting go’ and ‘feeling’, found its target: “stop suffering”.