Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Healing Relationships in Society: The Struggle for Citizenship in Brazil

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Healing Relationships in Society: The Struggle for Citizenship in Brazil

Article excerpt


The article describes the transition to democracy in Brazil and the churches' role in what is generally called democratic consolidation, in and after this transition.

The key term is "cidadania" (citizenship), which is the real participation of citizens in democracy, in which they are conscious of their citizenship and strive to exercise their rights and duties. Today, this participation is being complicated by continuously strong social and economic disparities, as well as by an ambiguous cultural model that runs contrary to the equality of all and a positive notion of law.

During the military regime (1964-85), the Roman Catholic Church took a very critical stance over against the state and provided, especially through the famous Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs), the most important space for opposition. The Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) made a significant move towards a more critical accompaniment of the state's policies following the transfer of the 5th general assembly of the Lutheran World Federation from Porto Alegre to Evian, France, in 1970.

After the transition to democracy, the impact of CEBs declined and the Roman Catholic hierarchy tended to return to more spiritual tasks. Even so, the National Bishops' Conference continues to be an important organ commenting frequently on public issues, as does the IECLB leadership. The IECLB is especially strong in providing an ecclesial model that fosters democracy and approximates ecclesial and secular citizenship. The biggest Pentecostal church in Brazil, the Assemblies of God, contributes more indirectly to citizenship by restoring the lives of marginalized people who become "decent and honourable".

The final part of the article reflects on theological challenges, the concretisation of liberation, a vision for the whole of society, congruence between ecclesial and secular citizenship and the relationship between society and the image of God. If churches would cooperate more ecumenically, they could make an even stronger contribution to cidadania in Brazil, and live out their mission to the world as citizens of both the heavenly and the earthly kingdoms.

I. Introduction

In the last decades of the past century, many countries underwent processes of transition from an authoritarian to a democratic system: Brazil and Peru, South Africa and Mozambique, South Korea and the Philippines, to name but some of them from different regions. (1) These countries are part of the so-called third wave of democratization that began with the "carnation revolution" in 1974, and which ended a long phase of dictatorship in Portugal. (2) These processes involve a variety of actors in society: the government, politicians, the military, economic forces and all that appear in what is customarily called "civil society" (3), viz. a variety of associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and also the churches.

All these elements of civil society serve as intermediaries between the people and the state. In many cases, the churches have become important agents for democracy, before, during and beyond transition. (4) In this article, 1 shall be focussing on the role of the churches in and after democratic transition in Brazil. My main interest here lies on the churches' contribution to a democratic political culture. (5)

The key term is cidadania (citizenship), which came into major use in the 1980s and entered churches and theology mainly in the nineties of the past century. Its use is not univocal, but it could be defined as the subjective side of democracy. If the latter is a system of government formally guaranteed by a set of representative institutions subject to a regular and competitive vote, and through legal texts that describe its basic purposes and rules for its functioning, cidadania is the actual participation of citizens in democracy, and their being conscious of their citizenship and striving to exercise their rights and duties. …

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