Jesus E John Wayne in Brazil
“Evangelical masculinity serves as the foundation of a God-and-country Christian nationalism, but that hasn’t stopped American evangelicals from exporting aspects of this ideology globally, to places like Uganda, India, Jamaica, and Belize. Evangelicals in Brazil, drawing on their own culture of machismo and borrowing from the playbook of American evangelicals, helped install Jair Bolsonaro—a thrice-married strongman known for his misogynistic statements, his antigay agenda, and his defense of ‘traditional’ family values—as the nation’s president” (Jesus and John Wayne, 301).
When beginning my work on Jesus and John Wayne, I initially intended to include a chapter on the global spread of white evangelical masculinity. At a certain point, I realized that the topic was more than I could take on in just one chapter. I was also up against a looming deadline to get the book out before the 2020 election, and so I ended up condensing dozens of pages of research into a long paragraph in the conclusion of Jesus and John Wayne. (The rest of the paragraph focuses on connections between American evangelicals and Putin.)
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Once the book released, it started getting attention not only in the United States, but globally as well. It was featured in the national media in Japan, China, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. I started hearing from Christians in these places and elsewhere—Kenya, South Africa, South Korea—telling how their own faith communities had been swamped by the American evangelicalism of John Piper, John MacArthur, and TGC, and how American Christian radio and publishing had flooded their faith communities and dominated their markets.
I heard, too, from women who testified to patterns of abuse in their own Christian churches and institutions that mirrored the horrific stories contained in the last chapter of Jesus and John Wayne.
And, I heard from evangelicals in Brazil.
Just weeks after Jesus and John Wayne released, I participated (remotely) in an academic conference bringing together scholars of Brazilian and American Christianity. The parallels were obvious, and sobering.
Since then, I’ve been connecting with Brazilian scholars, pro-democracy activists, and evangelicals themselves, comparing notes and sharing resources. (One fascinating study is João Chaves’s The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South, on the influence of SBC missionaries in Brazil.) It was Brazilian evangelicals themselves who pushed for Jesus and John Wayne to be translated into Portuguese.
In a somewhat surprising move, Thomas Nelson Brasil bought the rights. (Thomas Nelson is the premier Christian publisher in Brazil, and a conduit for many of the American evangelical products spilling over into Brazilian churches.) Since its publication was announced, Jesus and John Wayne been stirring controversy among Brazilian evangelicals, I’ve heard, and also gathering a lot of pre-orders.
I’m immensely grateful to Thomas Nelson for bringing Jesus and John Wayne into conversation alongside the other Christian resources it publishes. And I’m especially grateful to the many Brazilian evangelicals and activists who pushed to make this happen. (Special shoutout to Ronilso Pacheco for his advocacy, and for writing the foreword to the Portuguese edition.)
The book releases today, just in time to speak into this October’s election. Four years ago, seven in ten evangelical voters backed Bolsonaro. This time around, any chance Bolsonaro has will come down to maintaining or strengthening this support. Bolsonaro is Catholic, but his (third) wife is an outspoken evangelical, and he has adopted the language of Christian nationalism that appeals to his country’s growing conservative evangelical population.
From the Financial Times:
Dressed in yellow and green and waving national flags of the same colours, thousands of Brazilian Christians listened to their president Jair Bolsonaro cast his re-election bid in biblical tones.
“It is a fight between good and evil,” Bolsonaro said last month at a “March for Jesus” event in Vitória, the capital of coastal state Espírito Santo. “I believe in God and I believe in you. And this victory will be ours.”
Behind in opinion polls to his leftist rival, ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the far-right populist is on a mission to whip up enthusiasm among a group that was key to his rise: Brazil’s growing community of evangelical Christians, now estimated to make up almost one-third of the country’s 215mn population…
At large-scale Christian gatherings around the country in recent weeks, Bolsonaro — a Catholic — has reinforced his hardline messaging. The former army captain has railed against abortion, drugs, “gender ideology” and communism, playing on audiences’ fears about a return to leftwing rule. “It’s not by chance that he’s focusing on this segment to recover his popularity and votes,” said Ana Carolina Evangelista, a researcher at the Institute of Religion Studies. “It’s a rerun of the strategy from 2018: a focus on the spiritual battle.”
In the coming weeks, I’ll be appearing on a number of Brazilian podcasts and giving several interviews to Brazilian media. To celebrate the book’s release, I’ll also be donating all Substack paid subscriptions that come in in the next month to efforts to make the book as accessible to Brazilians as possible and to support the Brazilian pro-democracy movement within evangelical churches. (I’m doing the same with any royalties from the book; I don’t yet have all the details figured out, but I hope to have the logistics in place soon.)
Let me close by again thanking everyone who made this possible, and especially the Brazilian Christians who are advocating in their own churches and communities for the pursuit of democracy, justice, and love of neighbor.