The first item here is from Brazil, where “Religious gang leaders say they’re waging a holy war.” Robert Muggah provides plenty of background and context for this very strange story:
The fastest-growing denominations in Brazil are the hard-line Pentecostals and Neopentecostal churches — including the wildly successful Assembly of God and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
Rio de Janeiro saw a 30 percent increase in evangelicals from 2000 to 2010. Over the same period, the number of Catholics and followers of Candomblé and Umbanda dropped by 9 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
Most converts are poor people attracted to the evangelical doctrine of personal salvation. Today, evangelical leaders in Rio’s impoverished favelas routinely deliver a message of fidelity, purity and prosperity.
Some of them also have a dim view of Afro-Brazilian religions. For preachers espousing a binary spiritual worldview, “good” Christians must wage holy war against “evil” practitioners of [Afro-Brazilian faiths] Candomblé and Umbanda.
… Parishioners — including a handful of drug kingpins who control favelas across Rio — are heeding the call to arms. For these evangelical criminals, Candomblé and Umbanda are Satan’s work, and they must be stamped out, one terreiro at a time.
Fernandinho Guarabu, a 38-year-old don in Rio’s Terceiro Comando Puro gang, is an example. Sporting a tattoo of Jesus Christ, Guarabu is known for violently “cleansing”his community … of practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions.
Guarabu is, apparently, a devout evangelical Christian. His earnest faith led him to get that Jesus tattoo, and it has filled him with a fiery zeal to rid his community of what he considers false religion.
But nothing about Fernandinho Guarabu’s evangelical Christianity causes him to question his role as the leader of a lethally violent drug gang. He attends church and worships alongside his fellow devout Pentecostal evangelicals, and nothing that he encounters at church — in the worship, the sermons, the scripture readings, the prayers, the fellowship — challenges him about his violent, predatory behavior. Church is just where he goes to thank God for his success and to pray for the blessing that will allow his enterprise to continue to prosper.
The best possibility here is that the religion of Guarabu’s evangelical church is impotent and irrelevant — powerless and meaningless when it comes to changing the lives of evil men. The worse possibility is that there is something about this form of evangelical religion that is actively toxic — that it somehow feeds and empowers the evil of evil men.
But that story takes place in a far away land, in a different hemisphere. So let’s look at our second item, which occurs much closer to home. This one is from Friday’s latest formulaic installment of Dateline’s melodramatic true crime series, an episode called “Secrets of Silver Lake.”
“What doesn’t this case have?” Dateline’s Josh Mankiewiciz says, “Sex, lies, murder, infidelity that is accepted, infidelity that is not accepted, a Bible passage used to justify or explain away a murder, a motorcyclist in a disguise — what do you not have here?”
It’s the kind of twisting, twisted tale that Dateline has become famous for ever since the program abandoned it’s loftier ambition of being NBC’s answer to 60 Minutes and started chasing the ratings such prurient stories have proven to produce. You’ve got your happy family with what everyone thought was the perfect marriage — with the slow unveiling of a history of marital affairs. But this one has an added element: white evangelical piety.
This isn’t a minor detail adorning this story, the crime and investigation are saturated with it. Police recordings of phone calls between the shooter and his accessory reveal conversations spoken entirely in the language of evangelicalese. Key evidence involved their repeated references to David and Bathsheba and talk of “God’s plan” for them involving their own plan to kill. The crime itself seems to have been planned during prayer sessions, most of which was otherwise spent in actual prayer, with the conspirators just, Lord, just asking, Lord, to just give them the strength, to just, Lord, get away with murder.
These California killers turn out to have a lot in common with that Brazilian drug boss Guarabu. We see their genuine, fervent religiosity and we’re forced again to consider the two possibilities we looked at in that first item. Either their evangelical faith was meaningless and impotent or, even worse, it perhaps somehow contributed to their criminality.