The Rise (and Frequent Fall) of Evangelical Politicians: Organization, Theology, and Church Politics

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ABSTRACT

Latin American evangelicals have become a common presence in legislative politics. Brazil exemplifies the potential clout of evangelical legislators and a troubling tendency toward political corruption. This article explains the quality of evangelical interest representation by focusing on church organization and theology, arguing that evangelicals approach electoral politics via three different modes: rejection; participation as individual, politically engaged believers; and engagement as church corporate project. While individual participation is unrelated to political corruption, the corporate model fosters machine politics, characterized in Brazil by resource-based politics, narrow voter bases, and frequent party switching. We link these characteristics to evangelical involvement in two corruption scandals that occurred during the administration of President Lula da Silva. The analysis shows the central role of evangelical organization and theology in shaping interest representation and suggests future duplication of the church-as-political-machine model, particularly where the “Prosperity Theology” variant of pentecostalism is strong.

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