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He Needs Money

 Valdemiro Santiago         Sillas Malafaia Edir Macedo
 (Investigated for (Politically active (Suspicion of larceny, 
  improper use of  minister) embezzlement and 
  donated money) money laundering)

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!  But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money!
George Carlin

As funny (or not) as the quote above may be, the point about “needing money” is certainly pertinent in Brazil where many religious institutions enjoy a friendly tax environment and operate profitably. Recently, a scandal involving a large religious institution (Igreja Mundial), suspiciously broadcasted (that is an inference by the writer) by an open TV channel owned by a rival church (Igreja Universal), showed that minister Valdemiro Santiago bought properties in the state of Mato Grosso with a total value of 50 million Reais (c.  US$25 million).  These properties were registered in the name of the church (and therefore tax exempt)[1]. Santiago is now being investigated by the public prosecutor for the improper use of donated money, and because many of his temples have eviction orders for non-payment[1].

In an interview by Folha de São Paulo[2], there are two questions answered by Valdemiro worth mentioning (free translation):

The “Mundial” (church) already has two elected deputies. What are your political ambitions?
Valdemiro: Politics is necessary. It is not harmful. God made politics. I belong in the altar, but I intend to one day see people from the church working with politics. If any alliance can bring benefits, I put myself at disposal. I have friends in PT, PMDB, PSDB, PSC, PTB (political parties).

Does the farm belong to you or the church?
Valdemiro: Look, things get mixed. I have already sold cattle to pay for TV time. Even the cattle not being church property, in this case. I have not many resources, if you noticed. My last CD sold one million copies at 20 Reais each. I can afford a calf, right?

More politically involved, and also responsible for spreading hate and opposition to issues such as rights for homosexuals and abortion rights, is minister Sillas Malafaia. This minister sometimes appeals to “scientific evidence” to ”support” his statements against abortion rights and in favour of creationism. In an interview on 19 May 2012[3], Malafaia stated that the ministers of his church earn between 4 and 22 thousand Reais per month (c. US$2,000 - 11,000 per month, the minimum monthly salary in Brazil is US$250). Some parts of the interview are worth noting (free translation – please note the minister uses a lot of slang, so the translation is loose):

After all these years after this invitation [he was invited to be a politician], do you consider joining politics today?
Malafaia: I´m a minister, my friend. I´m a guy to influence people to be, not to be myself. Here in the state of Rio de Janeiro I helped elect my brother (Samuel Malafaia - PSD) as the third most highly voted state deputy, and helped other three federal deputies. I want to influence people. Be, never.

On average, how much do your ministers earn?
Malafaia: Each one has a different income. Each one has a different value. I have ministers that earn between 4 and 22 thousand Reais. Ministers whom I send to other states pay for their houses, bills, school for their kids, gas. I give them dignity. I don’t work with ‘morons’, I had two ministers that were lawyers and owned lawyer offices. I asked them: my friend, what do you want to be? Minister or lawyer? What is your call? Minister? Then close your office and come with me.

You state you are the only minister to talk about money amounts. How much do you pay for your time on TV?
Malafaia: I cannot say how much I pay for Bandeirantes due to a contract clause. For Rede TV I pay 900 thousand Reais per month (c. US$450,000). For CNT I pay 450 thousand Reais (c. US$225,000). I give you the numbers, my friend, I have no problem with that.

Finally, the most famous businessman of the Brazilian religious scene, Edir Macedo, who runs a church that already attracted international attention in the documentary “L’Universelle: Une Menace au Pays des Croyants” (French).  In this documentary the church is criticized by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal as deluding people to receive the tithe, shamanism, and incitation of hate towards homosexuals. Macedo´s church, the “ Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus”, owns a TV channel, “Rede Record”.

Macedo was arrested in 1992 for shamanism and involvement with drug trafficking, but released one week later[6]. Later, he and nine other members of his church were investigated by the Criminal Prosecution of New York on suspicion of larceny, embezzlement and money laundering in U.S. territory in 2009, along with a Sao Paulo Public prosecutor[7], but the case was closed because “investigations were illegal”[8].

Atheist journalist Eliane Brum addressed the relationship between churches and capitalism in her November 2011 article for Época magazine[9] “The hard life of an atheist in an increasingly evangelic Brazil”. The article recounts the story of an “atheist female journalist” (almost certainly her) in a taxi cab, in a conversation with a religious driver who shows negative surprise after finding out about her disbelief.  She notes:

"Why are atheists a threat to the new evangelic denominations? Because those churches - and this is no big news - works in a capitalist system. Governed by the market rules. Therefore, in these new churches, there is no way to be an evangelical non-practicing. It is possible, (...) to jump from one to another, as a consumer facing windows that try to entice them to enter the store by the shine of their products. This difficulty to "retain a loyal customer" while managing the church according to a business model  makes the neo-pentecostal behave more aggressively and also to seek new market shares."

The main reason churches are so profitable and some control so much money and power, is their tax exempt status, as well as the lack of government regulation. In times when many world economies show the need for (and consequences of the absence of) fiscal austerity, the justification for continued tax exemption should be debated among all people. Unfortunately, Brazil is also well known for corruption and the association of political power with money, being graded at 3.7 in the Corruption Perceptions Index of 2011 (1 being the most corrupt, 10 being the least corrupt). This is likely to limit the appetite of parliamentarians to tackle this problem.

[1] Record News (Portuguese) - accessed on 10 Jun 2012
[2] Folha online (Portuguese) - accessed on 10 Jun 2012
[3] Portal IG (Portuguese) - accessed on 10 Jun 2012
[4] UOL News (Portuguese) - accessed on 10 Jun 2012
[5] Wikipedia (Portuguese) - accessed on 10 Jun 2012
[6] Wikipedia (Portuguese) - accessed on 15 Jun 2012
[7] UOL News (Portuguese) - accessed on 15 Jun 2012
[8] R7 News (Portuguese) - accessed on 16 Jun 2012
[9] Epoca Magazine (Portuguese) - accessed on 15 Jun 2012