people wear white in a circle

Afro Brazilian religious groups are under attack

​​​​​​​As evangelicals grow in number and political influence in Brazil, members of other religious traditions are feeling uneasy. Some have even been attacked. Evangelical activists have targeted many Afro Brazilian religious centers and destroyed icons, and have even attacked clergy members.

The World

An Afro religious Umbanda ceremony. 

Michael Fox/The World

Religious intolerance is a problem in many parts of the world. But in Brazil, it’s become a big issue in recent years for some Brazilians, and in particular, for people who practice different forms of the country’s Afro Brazilian religions — Umbanda and Candomblé.

They have been facing prejudice, discrimination, attacks on their places of worship. And, researchers say, it’s only getting worse.

“Since the creation of Brazil, there has been a project to exterminate the Black population and everything that could be related with Afro Brazilian culture,” said Livia Casseres, the coordinator of racial equality at the Rio de Janeiro ombudsman’s office. “Today, we are in this situation of complete abandonment by the state. And rising levels of violence and intimidation.”

Every few days, there’s another headline about a new attack on an Afro Brazilian religious temple — stoning, vandalism, fire and death threats.

Members of African-derived religions in Brazil say the current wave of attacks they’re facing is an extension of the racism and persecution that goes back to the days of slavery, first from the Catholic Church, then the Brazilian state. But today, researchers say, fundamentalist Christians are behind most of the attacks.

And in Rio de Janeiro, many of them are aligned with criminal groups.

“In Rio de Janeiro, there’s been a growing relationship between some radical neo-Pentacostal sectors and criminally armed paramilitary groups,” Casseres said. “And this has pushed the violence against religious temples to absurd levels.”

In 2019, those groups made a violent push to shut down 15 Afro Brazilian places of worship in one neighborhood. Last year, there were 1,564 cases of religious intolerance just in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone. That’s according to the Public Security Institute, a Brazilian nongovernmental organization. It shows an increase of more than 10% compared with the previous year.

Members of Afro Brazilian churches blame President Jair Bolsonaro for fueling this climate of fear and hate, with his incendiary rhetoric.