I bring to this consultation a Latin. American perspective on church and society that is rooted in the reality of Brazil. My experience of God stretches from the church pew to base communities in their struggle for life, dignity and justice. I see the task of my Brazilian church as being:
a) o stimulate people, and to be stimulated by them to recognize 'the presence of a compassionate and benevolent God amidst poverty and the difficulties of everyday life, and to confess faithfulness to Christ. This confession of faith is proclaimed in a country characterized as much by injustice and suffering as by hope and faithful trust.
b) o reawaken trust and self-confidence, specifically in those people written off by society and pushed to the margins. Every human being is of inalienable value and has inalienable cultural, social and political dignity. In the following text I shall describe and explain this aspect by use of the term cidadania.
I begin my contribution with a quote from a woman called Maria Clara. To the question, "Have you always been a religious person?", she replied:
I grew up in a Catholic family. Today I go to the Protestant church (1). I'm often a bit confused. I'm not quite sure what it is I'm looking for there. I think that I go to church regularly not because of religion but because of the people who go there, because of the group's spirit. Every time we repeat the phrase, "The Spirit of God is amongst us" there are some who think it's just nonsense. 'But I don't agree with them. The people who are there with me and next to me treat me with great love. They care about me. Now I also attended spiritualist meetings and know a bit about Buddhism too. All religions point to a higher power that I call God. I have to thank him daily that I am alive and healthy. (2)
This quotation is a good representation of how religion is being lived out in postmodem times in Brazil. Its characteristic features are:
* the rupture with family religion combined with the need to experience individuality in new ways;
* the search for religious experience rooted in miracles, healing, human warmth and feeling;
* the intensive search for spirituality without the mediation of priests or bishops;
* active participation in the church;
* the atomization of the religious landscape.
Religion has made the transition from the altar to the individual. In this transition everyone helps themselves to religious symbols and sews together his or her own religious blanket and biography. One of the most noticeable results of this new movement is the atomization of the religious landscape.
Fragmentation of the religious landscape
The results of the 2000 census in Brazil, published by the Brazilian Geographical Statistical Institute (IBGE), show a 70.7% growth in Protestant churches over the last ten years. Today, 14.45%, or 26.1 million, of the total population of around 170 million people belong to these churches. This compares with an 11.9% drop in the share of the Roman Catholic established church, whose membership now stands at 73.77% of the total Brazilian population.
We normally differentiate between three categories of Protestant churches:
* churches that came into being through European immigration in the 19th century, and above all the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which gathered German and Swiss immigrants;
* churches such as the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist that entered the country later as the result of mission from the USA;
* so-called Pentecostal churches that, from 1910, and again through the influence of foreign missionaries, emerged from within the Protestant churches but are now fully under Brazilian leadership and manage without any foreign help.
As in other parts of the world, it is the Pentecostal churches that have shown the strongest growth. …