In Brazil, the right-wing government has close ties with right-wing Christian groups. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before.) The groups are so intertwined that, over the summer, we learned that President Jair Bolsonaro‘s government spent nearly $6 million (in U.S. dollars) promoting him on Christian media outlets owned by his evangelical buddies, specifically leaders of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
When local journalist J.P. Cuenca heard that, he thought of the famous line attributed to people like Diderot and Voltaire, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
Cuenca wrote on Twitter, “Brazilians will only be free when the last Bolsonaro is strangled with the entrails of the last pastor from the Universal Church.”
It’s a play on words, obviously. It’s saying this partnership has been bad for the people in the nation, and there’s plenty of evidence to back that up.
But as the New York Times reported in a piece yesterday, Cuenca has both lost his job as a columnist and been the subject of more than 130 lawsuits by religious leaders who claim he threatened their lives.
“Their strategy is to sue me in different parts of the country so I have to defend myself in all these corners of Brazil, a continent-size nation,” he said. “They want to instill fear in future critical voices and to drive me to ruin or madness. It’s Kafka in the tropics.”
Mr. Cuenca searched his name in a database of legal cases and found the first of dozens of strikingly similar lawsuits by pastors from the Universal Church, seeking monetary damages for the distress they said the tweet had caused them. They were filed under a legal mechanism that requires the defendant or a legal representative to appear in person to mount a defense.
Some pastors have found receptive judges, including one who ordered that Mr. Cuenca delete his entire Twitter account as a form of reparations. But another judge found the action meritless and called it in a ruling “almost an abuse of the legal process.”
The laws are obvious different in Brazil, so some of these lawsuits may succeed. But the bigger picture is that some Christians — allies of the authoritarian president — couldn’t handle basic criticism in the form of satire. Instead of earning anyone’s respect, they’re using the courts to get their way, knowing they have a powerful ally in the government. There’s no “turn the other cheek.” There’s no forgiveness of people who think differently. There’s just cruelty and bad-faith legal arguments.
In that sense, conservative Christianity is no different in Brazil than it is in the United States, where evangelical leaders are advancing the same bogus “election fraud” arguments that Donald Trump has been promoting — with no evidence. They just say it’s God’s Will and expect their gullible, thoughtless followers to join in.
The lesson from all this is simple: We can’t expect Christian leaders to do the right thing. Ever. They seem to fail at every opportunity. And they relish playing the victims.
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