“Liberation Theology opted for the Poor, and the Poor opted for [Neo-]Pentecostalism”:
Illustrating the Influence of the “Prosperity Gospel” in Brazil
One of the most significant movements in the history of Christianity is Pentecostalism, and Brazil probably has the largest number of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the world. Pentecostalism is a global phenomenon and exhibits diversity of expression, depending on a combination of factors that include culture, ecclesial traditions, and localized beliefs and practices. Amid this religious diversity certain key ideas appear to be pervasive if not altogether universal. One of these key ideas is the so-called “prosperity gospel”, which refers to the belief that as part of the blessings of the kingdom of God believers have the right to expect both health and material benefit. One of the contradictions with this kind of religious expression is the fact that the people who appear to hold to this view most ardently are in fact the poor of Pentecostalism. Why is it the case the poorest of the poor hold on to a view that is often transmitted from the United States of America and appears to reflect the material aspirations associated with the “American dream” rather than the empirical realities of Latin American contexts? This paper seeks to illustrate how [Neo-]Pentecostals hold on to their belief in the “prosperity gospel”, identifying the key biblical text that is used in this hermeneutic, as well as the cultural practices that support its maintenance. From this analysis, questions are raised about what aspects might inform the so-called historic churches when seeking to negotiate their relationship with [Neo-]Pentecostals.