After Jair Bolsonaro's outrageous statements, why was he so popular with evangelicals?

Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro swept to power in part because of the support of Brazil's powerful evangelical movement. A charismatic right-wing populist, he's been compared in that respect to Donald Trump – and not just in his politics. Bolsonaro has made comments that have drawn outrage from many who have been deeply alarmed at his views – particularly expressed in a country that lacks the deep-rooted democratic traditions and the checks and balances that characterise the US. While Donald Trump has considerable power, he has found – to his frustration – that he cannot govern by tweet.

ReutersJair Bolsonaro with his wife Michelle before casting their votes.

Jair Bolsonaro, however, has stormed to Brazil's presidency against a background of deep dissatisfaction with the corruption and incompetence of the outgoing leftist PT (Workers' Party). A nominal Catholic who attends a Baptist church, he has done so with the backing of many, though not all, of Brazil's evangelical Christians. They like his support for Israel – he has said he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brazil because 'Palestine is not a country', and that his first foreign trip after his victory would be to Israel.

After his victory on Sunday night, Evangelical Focus reports, he said – referring to his recovery from an assassination attempt: 'I want to thank God for the opportunity, and thank God who, through the hands of the doctors and other medical staff, performed a real miracle.' He appeared with a Bible and a Brazilian Constitution on the table and ended by thanking voters for their 'support, prayers and trust'. He's also opposed the legalisation of abortion, saying on Twitter that, 'The money of Brazilians will not finance NGOs that promote that practice.'

According to a BBC analysis, he draws for his wider support on popular demands for security – he wants to relax gun laws so that, 'Every honest citizen, man or woman, if they want to have a weapon in their homes – depending on certain criteria – should be able to have one.' He wants to introduce market-friendly policies to revitalise the economy, and he's also said he wants to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, opening the way for widespread development in the Amazon region. This is regarded with horror by enviromentalists campaigning against deforestation, but has won him the support of landowners and agribusinesses.

ReutersSupporters cheer Bolsonaro's victory.

All this, however, is just normal for a particular kind of politics, however terrifying Bolsonaro's attitude to climate change might be. What is more profoundly troubling, however, is his long record of statements that indicate a detachment from the norms of civilised behaviour. Here's a selection of his statements gathered by The Intercept and Jacobin:

1. 'The pau-de-arara [a torture technique] works. I'm in favour of torture, you know that. And the people are in favour as well.'

2. 'Through the vote, you will not change anything in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing! It will only change, unfortunately, when, one day, we start a civil war here and do the work that the military regime did not do. Killing some 30,000, starting with FHC [then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso], not kicking them out, killing! If some innocent people are going to die, fine, in any war, innocents die.'

3. 'I will not fight nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing in the street, I'll hit them.'

4. 'I'm a rapist now. I would never rape you, because you do not deserve it...slut!' (speaking to Congresswoman Maria do Rosário, November 11, 2003).

5. 'I would be incapable of loving a homosexual child. I'm not going to act like a hypocrite here: I'd rather have my son die in an accident than show up with some mustachioed guy. For me, he would have died.'

6. 'I would not employ [a woman] with the same salary [as a man]. But there are many women who are competent.'

7. 'Beyond Brazil above all, since we are a Christian country, God above everyone! It is not this story, this little story of secular state. It is a Christian state, and if a minority is against it, then move! Let's make a Brazil for the majorities. Minorities have to bow to the majorities! The law must exist to defend the majorities. Minorities must fit in or simply disappear!'

8. 'I'll give carte blanche for the police to kill."

9. 'The situation of the country would be better today if the dictatorship had killed more people.'

10. 'Pinochet should have killed more people.'

Just a couple of years ago, commentators would have wondered how someone who broke every rule of political discourse could have aspired to high office with the support of evangelical Christians. Now, not so much. But we have learned that evangelicals are prepared to overlook a great many failings in their candidates as long as they hit the right note on the hot-button issues that matter – particularly Israel, abortion and homosexuality. What Brazil's future will be like under Bolsonaro – and whether Christians will continue to support him if he carries out his more extreme threats – remains to be seen.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods

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