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09/07/2015

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicalsTheNewYorkTimes

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AMERICAS

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgein
Evangelicals
BySIMONROMERO

JULY24,2014

SOPAULO,BrazilItoccupiesanentireblockinthisteemingmegacity:
a10,000seatrenditionofSolomonsTemple.
Toweringinsharpreliefagainstthegraffitisplatteredtenements
nearby,itbeckonswithmonumentalwallsofstoneimportedfromIsrael
andtheflagsofthedozensofcountrieswhereitsowner,theUniversal
ChurchoftheKingdomofGod,isnourishinganevangelicalChristian
empire.
AhelicopterlandingpadwillallowEdirMacedo,the69yearold
mediamagnatewhofoundedtheUniversalChurchinaRiodeJaneiro
funeralhomein1977,todropinforsermons.Thesprawling11story
complexfeaturesotherflourishes,too,likeanoasisofolivetreessimilarto
thegardenofGethsemanenearJerusalem,andmorethan30columns
soaringtowardtheheavens.
TheUniversalChurchsparednoexpense,saidRogrioArajo,the
architectfortheproject,whichisscheduledtobeinauguratedonJuly31.
Onatourofthesite,headded,Wesoughttobuildacolossus,something
thatwouldmakepeoplestopandgaze,andthatswhatwedelivered.
ThereplicaofSolomonsTemple,whichtookfouryearstobuildata
costofabout$300million,capturesthesurginggrowthofevangelical
faithsinBrazil.Althoughthiscountryof200millionpeoplestillhasmore

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09/07/2015

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicalsTheNewYorkTimes

RomanCatholicsthananyothernation,thenumberofevangelicalsin
Brazilclimbedto22percentofthepopulationin2010from15percentin
2000,accordingtocensusfigures.
Largeevangelicalchurches,particularlyPentecostalinstitutionslike
theUniversalChurch,arealsowieldinggreaterpoliticalcloutacrossBrazil,
reflectingasizableevangelicalvotingblocinCongressandtheeffortsof
candidatesacrossthepoliticalspectrumtoappealtoevangelicalvotersin
thepresidentialelectionsthisyear.
Brazilsleftistpresident,DilmaRousseff,isexpectedtobehereforthe
inaugurationofthetemple,underscoringhowshedrawssupportforher
governingcoalitionfromablocofconservativeevangelicalleaders,
includingMr.Macedosnephew,MarceloCrivella,aUniversalChurch
pastorandgospelsingerwhountilrecentlywastheministeroffishing.
NoonehasreshapedBrazilsreligiouslandscapequitelikeMr.
Macedo.Areligiousbroadcasterandfounderofthechurch,Mr.Macedo
nowtravelsbyprivatejetonaspecialdiplomaticpassport(aprivilegealso
allowedinBrazilforhighrankingVaticanofficials),espousingprosperity
theologyandPentecostaltenetslikeexorcismandfaithhealing.
Withapersonalfortunesometimesestimatedat$1.2billion,Mr.
MacedorosefromobscuritythroughhiscontrolofRedeRecord,oneof
Brazilslargesttelevisionnetworks,andhisaggressiveexpansionofthe
UniversalChurch,duringwhichhehasfoughtaccusationsofcorruption,
includingtaxevasionandmoneylaundering.
Mr.Macedowasjailedfor11daysin1992onaccusationsof
charlatanismandfraud.Hehassuccessfullyfendedoffothercriminal
investigations,includingallegationsbyprosecutorsthatheandother
churchleaderssiphonedoffdonationsfromfollowerstoenrichthemselves.
Inthepastyear,hehascultivatedasomewhatwizardlyappearance,
growingaflowinggraybeardwhileoccasionallydonningwhatappearsto
beaskullcaplikethosewornbymanyobservantJews.

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09/07/2015

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicalsTheNewYorkTimes

ThereplicaofSolomonsTempleincludesseveralmenorahsinsidethe
structure,wheresermonswillbegiven,inadditiontoalargemenorahnear
theentrancethatresemblestheoneinfrontoftheKnesset,Israels
legislature.TheflagofIsraelalsofliesnearby,alongsidethoseofthe
UniversalChurch,BrazilandtheUnitedStates,amongdozensofother
countries.
Thereisjustonebiblicalfaithitisimpossibletodisassociate
ChristianityfromitsJewishroots,saidCssiaDuarte,aspokeswomanfor
theUniversalChurch.SheemphasizedthatMr.Macedohadbeenabsolved
inanarrayofjudicialinvestigationsintocorruptionallegations,
strengtheningthechurchspreachingofthegospel.
ScholarssaythattheUniversalChurchspromotionofJewish
symbolisminitsreplicaofSolomonsTemplestemsfromaquestfor
historicallegitimacyinachurchthatisjust37yearsold.Theoriginal
SolomonsTempleisthoughttohavebeenconstructedinancient
JerusalembyKingSolomonaround1000B.C.anddestroyedaboutfour
centurieslaterinasiegeledbyaBabylonianking.
Macedowasapioneerinseeingsymbolsandritualsconnectedtothe
OldTestamentandJudaismaslinchpinsinthecreationofachurchcapable
ofcapturingheartsandminds,saidRodrigoFranklindeSousa,aspecialist
inbiblicalhistoryatMackenzieUniversityinSoPaulo.
Sofar,leadersinBrazilsJewishcommunityhavegenerallytakena
relaxedapproachtothenewSolomonsTemple.Ontheonehand,theres
thefavorablewayinwhichJewishcultureandhistoryaretreatedinthe
structure,saidNiltonBonder,aBrazilianrabbiwhosewritingsonspiritual
themesarewidelypublished.Ontheother,theresthebizarreaspectofthe
projectsdimensionsandaggressivemarketing.
ThetemplewillbeoneofBrazilslargestreligiousstructures,making
theiconicChristtheRedeemeroverlookingRiodeJaneiro,whichisonly
abouthalfastall,looklikeatrinketincomparison.

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09/07/2015

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicalsTheNewYorkTimes

ThemonumentaltemplewillbeapowerfulsymbolbothofBrazilas
theepicenterofglobalPentecostalismandoftheUniversalChurchasthe
leadingcongregationchallengingtheCatholicChurchinBrazil,saidR.
AndrewChesnut,anexpertonLatinAmericanreligionsatVirginia
CommonwealthUniversity.
TheprojectisalreadyrallyingsupportamongsomeUniversalChurch
worshipers.Igetthrilledjustbyseeingthetempleinaphotograph,said
MauriceadosSantosRibeiro,72,aretiredbankemployeewhofrequentsa
branchofthechurchinRiodeJaneiro.Shesaidthatagroupfromher
congregationwasplanningatripheretoseethetemple.Imcountingthe
daysuntilwego.
AsifemphasizingBrazilscompetitivereligiouslandscape,thetemple
dwarfstwootherchurcheslocatedjustacrossthestreet,oneCatholicand
theotheroperatedbyanotherPentecostalgroup.
WhiletheUniversalChurchprojectsitsinfluencethroughMr.
Macedostelevisionnetworkanditswebofoperationsinmorethan100
countries,includingabout60,000worshipersintheUnitedStates,the
institutionfacesimportantrivalsinBrazilthathaveadoptedsimilar
expansionstrategies.
RicardoMariano,asociologistattheUniversityofSoPaulo,saidthat
theUniversalChurchrecentlylostsomegroundinBrazil,withmembers
decliningtoabout1.8millionin2010fromabout2.1millionin2000,even
asBrazilsevangelicalChristiansgrewinproportiontotherestofthe
populationduringthattime.
IfthenewSolomonsTempleismeanttolurenewattentiontothe
UniversalChurch,thatstrategyisworking.
Passersbystopinfrontofitdayandnight.Sometakepictureswith
theircellphones.Manystareatitinamazement,expressingtheirreactions
onacrowdedsidewalkwherewatchmen,describedasGuardiansofthe
Templeontheiruniforms,patroltheentrance.

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09/07/2015

TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicalsTheNewYorkTimes

Thetempleissoenormous,sobeautiful,butalsosoostentatious,
SolangeBarbosadeNascimento,58,aseamstresswhoworshipsatanother
BrazilianevangelicalchurchcalledPeaceandLove,saidonerecent
morning.Iwonderiftheycouldhavespentallthatmoneyanotherway,
justcaringforthepoor.
MarianaSimescontributedreportingfromRiodeJaneiro.
AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonJuly25,2014,onpageA4oftheNewYorkedition
withtheheadline:TempleinBrazilAppealstoaSurgeinEvangelicals.

2015TheNewYorkTimesCompany

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