Note from BW of Brazil: I still remember some years ago, back in 2014, when one of my students asked me if I’d heard and seen the new church of Bishop Edir Macedo in the Brás neighborhood of São Paulo. We had been discussing some aspects of religion, history and symbolism and a few of them were wondering what all of the rituals and symbols that were part of the church’s inauguration were all about.
Without getting much into it too much, the details surrounding the Templo de Salomão (Solomon’s Temple) church that cost 680 million reais to construct would have been fascinating for anyone who had a passing curiosity about hidden meanings and symbols. As I haven’t adhered to any religion for decades (although I do have an interest in symbolism and comparisons of religions), I hadn’t heard about Bishop Macedo’s Neo-Pentacostal church, but when I saw it, I knew I had to look into it. How could I not? The price tag itself would be enough to pique anyone’s interest. But then you discover that the church, a structure of 100,000 square meters, stands 56 meters (183 feet) high, has chairs imported from Spain, is lined with 40,000 stones from Israel and is surrounded by olive trees from Uruguay, you know this isn’t your regular, everyday church.
Then there was the ostentatious inauguration with a number of Jewish symbols, including Macedo himself rocking a full beard with a kippa on his head. With a look clearly influenceed by Jewish rabbis, the Israeli Federation says that it was ‘flattered’ by Macedo’s usage of garments associated with Judaism while some rabbis questioned why he would dress in such a way when he himself wasn’t a rabbi. The church itself was clearly inspired by the original Temple of Solomon – Beit Hamikdash, the most sacred place of Judaism, destroyed in 70 AD. Then there were copies of the menorah and the Ten Commandments. Why was up with all of that, many wondered. I have my own ideas, but what did leaders of Judaism think?
“There is a freedom, people can do whatever they want. But these symbols are usually accompanied by those who follow Jewish philosophy, referring to a very strong Jewish identity,” says the orthodox Rabbi Dvir, also on condition of anonymity. “Although there is an opening in the system, I don’t know if it is appropriate for a person who does not follow Judaism to use these symbols.
Rabbi Alon agrees. “Surely, his [Macedo’s] goal with this is not to spread Judaism, not least because there is a blending with the traditional practices and cults of his religion with the symbols and garments common to us,” he says. “This ends up creating a confusion in people. We see a scene and an actor there, because we know that it is neither a synagogue nor a rabbi”.
Perhaps Macedo was giving a nod to his roots, seeing that he is of European Jewish ancestry, his surname, which is Bezerra, being of New Christian origin, with the Macedo family being recognized by the Spanish government as a Sephardic. The owner of Rede Record has continued to develop ties with the Jewish community in recent years.
Last June, his Universal Church group inaugurated Record TV’s international presence with a ceremony in Tel Aviv to begin the network’s operations in Israel. A few days before that, in May, at the Templo de Salomão church, Macedo received the Gold Medal of Jerusalem from the Ambassador of Israel to Brazil, Yossi Shelley, and the Consul General of Israel in São Paulo, Dori Goren. This award pays tribute to people whose work promotes relations between Israel and Brazil and helps build a better society. Although it may strike some as strange, it shouldn’t, given the growing alliances between Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Jews.
Still, all very curious indeed. Macedo obviously welds a huge influence in Brazil, being a billionaire, the leader of a church with around 1.8 million followers as well as owning one of Brazil’s top three television networks, Rede Record. Unfortunately for followers of African origin religions, Macedo has also used his vast influence to consistently demonize religions such as the Canbomblé and Umbanda. As such, Macedo must be pointed out as being at least partially responsible for the ongoing violent attacks of sacred items and temples of these religions as well as its followers.
It is against the backdrop that I was definitely interested in hearing these latest of many accusations levied against Macedo and his church.
Pastors of the Universal Church of Angola accuse Brazilian leadership of racism and abuse of power
Angolan leaders broke with the church of bishop and businessman Edir Macedo; there are accusations of imposed vasectomy on pastors and religious women are being forced to abort
By Guilherme Soares Dias
A group of bishops and pastors of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) in Angola took control of the institution’s 35 temples in Luanda and about 50 in other provinces of the country, such as Lunda-Norte, Huambo, Benguela, Malanje and Cafunfo. The information is from BBC Brasil.
The Angolan bishops and pastors accuse the Brazilian leadership of the church of currency evasion, illegal expatriation of capital, racism, discrimination, abuse of authority, imposition of the practice of vasectomy on pastors and interference in the conjugal life of the religious.
According to the British news agency, they further complain about privileges given to Brazilian bishops and called for a greater appreciation of the Angolan episcopate.
Universal is led by Brazilian bishop and businessman Edir Macedo and is present in more than 95 countries, with around 10,000 temples. In Angola there are about 500 thousand faithful.
The break declared by the Angolan religious is an unprecedented movement, which began in November 2019, with the release of a manifesto criticizing the Brazilian leadership of the church. There, control will be assumed by Bishop Valente Bezerra Luiz, who was vice president of the church in the country and will now be called the Igreja Universal de Angola (Universal Church of Angola). Dissidents say they already own 42% of the temples.
According to the note, Bishop Honorilton Gonçalves, the main church leader in the country and former vice president of TV Record, is said to be persecuting, punishing and intimidating Angolan bishops and pastors. In addition to the imposed vasectomy on pastors, religious women are being forced to have abortions.
So far, Universal’s Brazilian management has not positioned itself on the accusations and, sought by BBC Brasil, has not responded to requests for an interview.