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Evangelical atop Brazil’s presidential race

BRASÍLIA, Brazil (BP) — An evangelical who belongs to a leftist political party but takes conservative positions on social issues like abortion and illicit drug legalization holds a slight lead in polling prior to Brazil’s presidential election.

Marina Silva, 56, was the running mate of Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos but became the party’s presidential hopeful after Campos died in a plane crash Aug. 13. Silva leads incumbent Dilma Rousseff by two points in the latest poll of a likely runoff election between the two. Rousseff’s Workers Party is a liberal party that has run Brazil since 2003.

Silva “seems to genuinely fear God and exhibits faith in Jesus Christ,” Tiago Santos, editor in chief at the Brazilian evangelical publishing house Fiel Ministries, and Franklin Ferreira, a theologian at Martin Bucer Seminary in Brazil, told Baptist Press in coauthored email comments.

Among the ministry partners listed on Fiel’s website are Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and 9Marks, a ministry associated with Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Ferreira taught for more than a decade at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Rio de Janeiro.

A former member of the Communist party and a longtime environmentalist, Silva converted to evangelical Christianity in 1997, shocking her family, the New York Times reported. She served within Rousseff’s Workers Party as a senator and the environmental minister of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva before leaving the party to run for president as a member of the Green Party in 2010.

Popular in part because of her upbringing in extreme poverty, Silva is referred to by many Brazilians as simply Marina. Most of Brazil’s evangelicals, who are largely Pentecostal and Charismatic and make up 23 percent of the population, are expected to vote for her. If elected, she would be Brazil’s first black president.

Silva and Rousseff are projected to be the top two candidates in the first round of voting Oct. 5 and face each other in a runoff election Oct. 26, which is required by Brazilian law if no candidate receives more than 50 percent in the first round. Silva’s lead over Rousseff was 10 percentage points but has narrowed as the election approaches.

“On ethical issues, she basically holds conservative and evangelical positions,” Santos and Ferreira said. “She is against the legalization of illicit drugs and abortion. She has publicly defended the right of confessional schools to teach creationism as an alternative to evolutionism.”

On gay marriage, Silva “seems to maintain an ambiguous stance,” Santos and Ferreira said.

“She avoids using the term ‘marriage’ to describe the civil union between people of the same sex,” they said. “Although her political party, PSB, which is a center-left wing party, has expressed support for the bill on the congress about civil unions, Marina … in her government program, modified and simplified the language given to this matter and treated it as a civil rights matter and not as marriage. Marina has suggested that a referendum should take place for the population to decide on these matters.”

Brazilians, the majority of whom are Catholic, “are basically conservative and contrary to” homosexual marriage, Santos and Ferreira said.

“One complicating factor” regarding Silva “is the fact that her political career has been developed in political parties that range from the extreme left to the left wing,” Santos and Ferreira said. “She is currently part of a social democratic party. The American reader must keep in mind that political views and philosophy in Brazil are strongly influenced by the European political model. So, in Marina’s case, even though she comes from a conservative evangelical Pentecostal denomination, she is, however, under the influence of leftist evangelical leaders.”

Although most evangelicals “will probably” vote for Silva, Santos and Ferreira said members of their Reformed evangelical circle plan to vote for Aecio Neves of the Social Democratic Party, which is variously defined as center-right, center-left and centrist.

“Almost all of the 32 existing political parties of Brazil are either extreme left, left or center,” Santos and Ferreira said, noting that there are “only two center-right wing parties with virtually no real visibility or impact in our society.”

A popular destination for Southern Baptist mission trips, Brazil needs the prayer of U.S. Christians, Santos and Ferreira said. They requested prayer for “true revival” and that Brazil would not succumb “to the strong movement of resurgence of the leftist and populist authoritarian vision known as Bolivarism, which has affected neighbor countries … and caused so much social upheaval and chaos.”

Santos and Ferreira long for “a sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit” that causes Brazil to “return to the Scripture as the unfailing, unerring and inspired Word of God, causing many real conversions and the rediscovery by the church of vital doctrines such as regeneration and justification by grace through faith alone.”

Such a revival has never occurred in Brazil, they said, but would “bring profound ethical transformation in the lives of believers resulting in lasting and impacting changes in society.”