Este ensaio Mulheres Afrodescendentes e Protestantismo: uma abordagem brasileira tem como objetivo destacar alguns elementos críticos da história e do contexto brasileiros quanto ao protestantismo de missão, escravidão e pós escravidão, imigração europeia e branqueamento do Brasil, racismo, mito da democracia racial, como base para a compreensão da participação e ação de mulheres Afrodescendentes no protestantismo brasileiro. O ensaio foi apresentado na oficina de mesmo título realizada como parte do programa de imersão 2018 para estudantes do Programa de Doutorado em Ministérios do Centro Teológico Interdenominacional de Atlanta, Geórgia, EUA. A oficina teve lugar na tarde do dia 13 de agosto de 2018, na Faculdade de Teologia da Universidade Metodista de São Paulo, em São Bernardo do Campo.
This essay was prepared for the workshop entitled Women of African Descent and Protestantism, a Brazilian Approach for the 2018 Immersion Travel to São Paulo, Brazil, for Students of the Interdenominational Theological Centre, Doctor of Ministries Program, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The essay aims at highlighting some critical elements of the Brazilian history and context and Brazilian Protestantism as basis for understanding of women of African descent participation and action in the Brazilian Protestantism.
Some elements about the implantation of Protestantism in Brazil
The Mission Protestantism arrived in Brazil three hundred and fifty-five years after the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church. As per José Carlos Barbosa, author of Negro não entra na Igreja, Espia da banda de fora (Black people don’t enter the church, spies from outside) the arrival of Protestantism […] was possible because of sociopolitical-economic conditions, which he describes as being the signing of the commerce treaty between Portugal and England, in 1810, the movements of national liberation that produced the political independence [in Brazil], in 1822, the expansion of liberal ideas [in Brazil], the leadership of the world capitalist system taken over by England, the strengthening of the United States of America, and immigration from other countries. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 34).
The Fluminense Evangelical Church, later Congregational Church: In 1855, arrives Robert R. Kelley and his wife Sarah P. Kelley He was a Scottish physician and missionary to Rio de Janeiro, running away from the religious persecution of the Counter-Reformation in the Iha da Madeira. In 1958, Kale starts in Petrópolis his first Church. It was the first missionary created church in Brazil with no direct connection with any protestant denomination whatsoever. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 36).
The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America: In 1859, arrives the missionary Ashbel Green Simonton to Brazil. In 1865, two other Presbyterian missionaries. Alexander L. Blackford and J .F.C. Schneider joined him. Together they organized a Presbyterian Church in Brotas, State of 850 Paulo. In 1868, the mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States is established in Campinas, also in the State of 850 Paulo. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 42).
The Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States of America: The first missionary work developed by the Methodists started in 1836. However, it ended in 1841. In 1867, Rev. Janius E. Newman establishes the first Methodist congregation in Saltinho, near Santa Barbara, in the State of Sao Paulo. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 40).
The Baptist Church: The Baptists also tried to implement their mission in 1859. However, the work only began to grow and develop in a second attempt from 1882 onwards. Several missionaries were sent to Brazil as William Buck Bagby and wife, Anne Luther Baby. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 45).
Both southern (pro-slavery missionaries), and northern (anti-slavery missionaries) from the United States (all White, from European ancestry) had main roles in the Mission Protestantism. Duncan Reily in his introduction to Negro Não Entra na Igreja makes the following comments regarding the Churches and their position concerning slavery:
[…] in the period which major American denominations established their missions in Brazil, the United States was as a country and a religion deeply divided because of slavery. […] while in the south (where people strongly believed that the society would disintegrate if slavery was abolished) the Pro-Slavery Argument was prepared (aiming to demonstrate by means of history, philosophy and even the Bible, that slavery was not a harm but a positive asset even for the enslaved themselves), the abolitionist movement grew in the North. In the course of time, that dichotomy would lead to the terrible Civil War (1861-1865). (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 82).
The different theological and ethical views concerning slavery made Protestants to show little preoccupation with the fight for abolition. On the contrary, several members of different denominations were settlers who owned enslaved.
The Presbyterians remained also faithful to the southern practices. In 1886, the Presbyterian Eduardo Carlos Pereira published a booklet in favor of the abolition of slavery, which was repelled by a Presbyterian missionary in a true pro-slavery treaty.
The Methodists, human rights and abolition of slavery supporters in England and in the United States, when arriving to Brazil get used with the slavery environment and made almost nothing in favor of the enslaved. The Brazilian Methodism during the period preceding to or even after the “liberation” of enslaved, the Methodist Church did not speak against slavery in the country.
In the United States, the fundamentalism of Protestant denominations stimulated the search for Bible based justifications of slavery to calm down southern pro-slavery consciousness.
Quoting Noah’s story, they identiﬁed the curse of Cam, because he found the Patriarch naked and drunk, as the curse of Blacks. The main agents of North American immigration for Brazil were Southern Protestant pastors from the United States, for instance, Rev. B. Dunn who saw Brazil as a New Canaan. As defeated confederates of the Civil War, they saw they could rebuild their lives. Homes and properties, and the slave force, inclusive. Approximately 2.000 to 3.000 southerners came to São Paulo. The opportunity of ﬁnding abundant lands with slave labor force was certainly a decisive point for entire families used to a slavery-based life style to come all the way down from the south of the United States to the southeast of Brazil. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 82).
However, it is important to mention that the practice of John Wesley in the Methodist movement, expresses a different experience. During his stay in the United States in 1737, many times he affirmed to be contrary to slavery. He strongly opposed to the slave traffic and formed a society to ﬁght for its ending – Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade. In his evangelization work he sought to catechize enslaved, striving for their insertion in the Methodist movement. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 82).
Concerning the theological justifications, Barbosa states that:
[…] an emphasis given by the Protestant preaching that became convergent among the several denominational groups, concerns to the statement that all men are equal before God because of the universality of sin. That doctrine was emptied of its social fight content, thus hindering Protestantism implemented in Brazil to have a more radical insertion on social issues, especially regarding Black slavery. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 82).
In the same line of thought, Barbosa refers to Rev. Simonton of the Presbyterian Church. Simonton was from the North of the United States, being considered a strong slavery oppositionist. However, he did not engage in the abolition movement in Brazil. His goal was to insert his Church in the Brazilian religious system, which shows the lack of commitment to the surrounding reality.
Daniel Kidder, a Methodist missionary who stayed for a short period in Brazil, expressing his opinion about the end of slavery and whom would replace the Africans, said: “when enslaved exist no more in Brazil, the answer will be that […] there will still be a man and a better man, immigrants from Germany, Portugal, Azores and Madeira will come.” (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 92). Later he included people from the United States as well in that list. At that time, the first European immigrants have arrived in Brazil. Further elements concerning this subject will be presented below.
The Protestant theological understanding of that time showed a deep dichotomy between body and soul, between Church and society, between the things of God and the things of the world. Spiritualized understandings of faith and life prevailed. Involvement, commitment with and transformation of reality was impossible. The missionary’s Protestant theology in Brazil was conservative and paternalistic.
In general, the Brazilian Protestants only took a position against slavery when abolition was already unanimity in the Brazilian society. Even those few Protestants that were in favor of the abolition were only due to a moral and religious obligation. They were incapable of taking more concrete attitudes towards the solution of slavery, which even to this day has been generating great consequences, with the majority of black population living in the margin of society. (BARBOSA, 2002, p. 92).
From the above, it is true to say that Protestants were concerned about the Africans and their descendants’ conversion and their education within the Protestant culture. They were not concerned about their emancipation.
Elizete da Silva in her analysis of Protestant ethics and practice in the state of Bahia from 1880 and 1930, speaks of the distance between the discourse and the practice of this group. That is, “the differences between the theologically conceived and the daily life of the faithful, including the clergy itself,” an opposition is clearly observed. “[…] although the theological discourse taught the unity of all human beings, without distinction, it was possible to perceive positions that allowed the prejudice against blacks to be overlooked, and thus the distinction between people be maintained”. (PEREIRA, 2010, p.98)
Political, social and economic issues would be left to the State alone. They had a slave mentality, and sought to emphasize individual conversion, the life of prayer and devotion, and personal ethics. As Duncan Reily asserts in the introduction of Negro não entra na Igreja, “the struggle for justice and freedom for all” was lacking in this Christian life.
Brazil’s Whitening Population Strategies: The Interconnection of the “Liberation” of Slavery and the European Immigration.
The growth of the immigration and the possibility of free European and white labor force was another striking transition of the period that aggravated that situation.
The XIX century was marked by attempts of replacement of the slave labor force by immigrant labor force, enabling sparse experiences with paid jobs to begin. The immigrants recruited in Europe arrived to work in a number of jobs as farming, emergent industry, commerce, railroads construction, construction and maintenance of highways, civil construction in general, etc.
The Imperial government strategy was to populate the country by means of immigration. This kind of colonization sought to guarantee the immigrant free access to land property. (COSTA, 1998, p. 113)
It is inescapable the simple verification of the facts: the white immigrants from Europe had their travels to Brazil paid by the government, and furthermore they were given land, all subsidized by the State. The freed enslaved and their descendants received nothing to guarantee their survival and their insertion in the society. Let alone, compensation for all the work, without which the reaches of their owners and of the country would have never been accumulated.
Obviously, at that time there was already a lot of resistance by the extensive agriculture farmers in giving to the Imperial government part of their properties for settlers’ settlement. Farmers detained the best and largest estates. The monopoly of the land by farmers greatly impaired governmental projects. Therefore, the Imperial government passed a legislation related to the use of unoccupied land, in 1850, that was regulated in 1854.
The economic transformations occurred during the second half of XIX century, such as high prices of coffee in the international market, improvement on communication media, enhancement of transportation means, possibility to use large scaled mechanized processes on coffee processing, the urbanization phenomenon (characteristic of the second half of the century), the increase of population changed the economic conditions in the coffee plantation areas, creating new perspectives for the free market. (COSTA, 1998, p. 233).
Although the immigration to Brazil was not new – since 1828 large groups of immigrants had arrived here – the year of 1887 witnesses the arrival of more than 32 thousand immigrants. In 1888, the very year of the “abolition” of slavery, the government of Province of São Paulo was authorized to receive more than 100 thousand immigrants. The newspaper Correio ltalo-Americano (Italian-American Courier) informed in 1887 that 152 thousand Italians had departed to the Americas, of which 132.553 were to arrive to Brazil. (COSTA, 1998, p. 238-239).
In June 28, 1890, the Decree 528 reopened the country to the European immigrations and defined that the entrance of Asian and African natives would only be allowed pursuant to the authorization of the Congress. (VIOTTI, 1986, p. 34). Therefore, the law differentiated who was entitled to immigrate, strengthening the ongoing whitening policy. The opening of the harbors to the arrival of immigrants, and the implicit policy whitening and Europeanization became a practice in many countries of the Americas with the leadership of United States of America. Brazil followed that practice closely.
Immigration Protestantism has found its expression as missionaries/pastors came to Brazil together or to follow their flock to provide pastoral care, such as the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession of Brazil that accompanied German immigrants and the Episcopal Anglican Church that accompanied the British immigrants who came to Brazil motivated by the benefits offered by the policies of the Brazilian empire. Brazil was already facing a shortage of agricultural labour, a problem that would become more acute in the future after the abolition of slavery, and also the need to walk by that was considered to be empty and on used parts of this territory baby at the house the emperor promote it immigration of German (Lutherans) and Swiss (Reformed) farmers who settled in government-giving lands in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and Rio Grande do Sul. The first immigrants arrived in 1820.
The Brazilian theologian, Leonard Boff, commenting on the coming of European immigrants to Brazil at the end of the XIX century called it as “second invasion”. Boff says:
Thousands of Europeans immigrants (Italians, Germans, Spanish, Polish, Swiss and others) left aside by the industrialization processes in their countries of origin were sent to Brazil, diminishing the revolutionary pressure exerted on the exploiting of industrial classes. Indians, Blacks and poor people perceived them as new invaders. Their descendants were soon incorporate to the projects of the ruling classes for the creation of prosperous regions, especially in the south of the country, many times at the expense of plundering Indigenous lands and exploiting the low wage work force of blacks and mulattos who were not prepared for that new level of development. (BOFF, 2000, p. 32).
The issue on the whitening of the population in the State of São Paulo is an example to be mentioned. The already mentioned 1872 census indicates that 37,2% of the population of the city of São Paulo was people of African descent (Blacks and mulattos). Twenty years later, in 1893, the percentage was 11,1% and, according to 1934’s estimates, it reached 8,5. The whitening policy assumed very clear proportions in the state, and between 1890 e 1929, 2.316,729 white immigrants arrived to Brazil. “The demographic Europeanization was such that in 1897 there were two Italians for each Brazilian.” (DOMINGUES, 2003, p. 264.)
The whitening and Europeanization process in Brazil were influenced by several racial theories that searched to prove the differences, the superiority and inferiority among races in vogue at the second half of XIX century. Several countries had already taken juridical measures to restrict free Blacks and mulattos’ access to the right of citizenship. (GRINBERG, 2002, p.177) Those racially-based measures were barriers to citizenship participation at the very moment in which a great number of African-descendants was striving for its insertion in the Brazilian society.
The racist theories circulating within the Empire strengthened the situation. One of the French theoreticians defending racial superiority and inferiority, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, was minister of France in Brazil and counselor of the Emperor D. Pedro ll. Gobineau published an Essai sur l’inegalité des races humaines (Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races). Gobineau “perceived Brazil as a “futureless” country due to the large quantity of people of African descent and mixed people. He claimed that the country needed to “whiten”. Such theories supported by the Darwinist spirit and by pseudo-scientific theories of white superiority were becoming common then. Later, those theories supported the Nazi-fascist theories of Arian superiority. Anti-Blacks racism continued to be reinforced.
In the passing from the XIX centuries to the XX century, Brazil continues to build its ideal of a nation. Whitening is part of it.
The Denial of Racism in Brazil and the Myth of “Racial Democracy”
The historical elements described herein help to understand how little by little a national identity was built in Brazil that strove to be white, ignoring slavery-arisen inequalities and, consequently ignoring the existence of racism in Brazil in the past and nowadays, thus feeding what will be known as the “myth of the Brazilian racial democracy”.
There are many intellectuals and texts that contributed to such a conception. Nevertheless, Gilberto Freyre, a Brazilian writer, through the publishing of Casa Grande e Senzala in 1933 exerted a deep influence on the ideology of racial relations in Brazil. Freyre passes the idea of a softened slavery and interprets the relationship between the slave and its owner as fraternal and paternalistic. This interpretation influenced the Brazilian social formation, which falsely, began to be understood as if the “three races”, White, Black and Indigenous, lived all free of inequalities and discriminations. The myth of the Brazilian racial democracy has in there one of its strong influences. This myth will be reinforced as the national identity – Brazil, a nation where all races live in harmony, without conflicts or segregation.
It is true that racial segregation was never legally adopted in Brazil, which is a differentiated experience of that lived by the United States of America and South Africa. However, making a closer analysis on the Brazilian reality and on the statistical data supplied by organizations as the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, it is possible to clearly identify the occurrence of a de factosegregation.
The myth of racial democracy is deeply rooted in the mentality of the Brazilian population, although often people are not conscious of it. This myth is still on the way, preventing that the demands of people of African descent and other social movements for the adoption public policies of affirmative action to benefit African ancestry population be considered by many as “privilege”.
However, one cannot deny that all along history, connections of negative qualities with the image of African descent population has fed prejudice. Often, due to the absence of positive images associated to this population, people of African descent also internalized the stereotypes of their own oppression. Such traps of racism are impediments to self-identity and self-assertion as well as to affirm the positive history of people of African ancestry; especially in a country marked by explicit and subliminal messages stating that white is “better’. The valorization of African descendants’ history and culture in Brazil not only opens the possibility of rescuing self-esteem of the population but also opens possibilities for a new consciousness of the Brazilian White and Asian populations regarding these issues.
Some notes on People of African descent, the Protestant Churches and Racism
While Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists did not refuse to receive African descendants as members of their churches, we can conclude from the literature that the former enslaved were not the object of Protestant missionary activity. That in part is a result of the conversion of their masters. There are accounts, however, in the Annals of the Presbyterian Church, that show that it was not by imposition exclusively that the African descendants joined Protestantism.
For Roger Bastide, “a small elite of blacks and mulattoes, free craftsmen of the city, was drawn to Protestantism. The reasons for these conversions were the anti-slavery of the Protestants and the fact that Protestantism represented a new channel of social ascension because it required the learning of reading, and this in turn, carried in the illiterate rural mass the constitution of a new elite.” (FLORIANO, 1985, p. 10)
Several testimonies of people of Africa descent emphasized the fact that in attending the Methodist Church they were encouraged to be “educated.” Among the people of African descent within the Church at the time stood out those who had formal education and thus had leadership positions. Amongst those there was a majority which denied the existence of racial discrimination within the church. (NOVAES, 1985, p. 61)
Protestantism in Brazil was not and is not divided along ethnic lines as in the United States for example, nor as in the official Brazilian Catholicism, with the creation of black brotherhoods and sisterhoods. It is a fact, however, that there are denominations which have predominance of certain ethnicities such as the German ancestry in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná and Santa Catarina what is the case of the Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil (IECLB) with greater, lesser or no presence of people of African descent. The Baptist Church of Bahia in the period of 1880 – 1930, had the majority of African descent people and “mulattos” (PEREIRA, 2010, p. 101)
Women of African Descent and Protestantism
Starting from a wider perspective of African descent women in Brazilian context, it is pertinent to share the reflections of Sueli Carneiro, Philosopher, writer, activist, founder and executive coordinator of Geledés – Black Women Institute. She has a sharp analysis on the situation of women of African descent in her text Enegrecendo o feminismo: a situação da mulher negra na América Latina a partir de uma perspectiva de gênero (Turning feminism Black: the situation of black women in Latin America from a gender perspective) that is relevant for the arguments of this presentation:
We black women are part of a contingent of probably majority women who have never recognized this myth [of female fragility] in themselves, because we have never been treated as fragile. We are part of a contingent of women who have worked for centuries as enslaved in the fields or on the streets, as saleswomen, quituteras [cooking experts], prostitutes […] Women who understood nothing when feminists said women should win the streets and work! We are part of a contingent of women with identity of object. Yesterday, at the service of fragile sinhazinhas [wives and daughters of enslave owners] and of enslaved masters obsessed with sex. Today, they are maids of liberated women and madams, or export-type mulattas.
The historical conditions in the Americas that have built up the relationship of blackness in general and of black women in particular are well known. We also know that in all this context of conquest and domination, the social appropriation of the women of the defeated group is one of the emblematic moments of affirmation of superiority of the winner.
When we speak of breaking the myth of the queen of the home, the idolized muse of the poets, what women are we talking about? Black women are part of a contingent of women who are not queens of nothing, who are portrayed as anti-muses of Brazilian society, because the aesthetic model of women is the white woman. When we talk about securing the same opportunities for men and women in the job market, are we securing jobs for what kind of woman? We are part of a contingent of women for whom job ads highlight the phrase, “Good looking is required.”
When we say that woman is a by-product of man, since it was made from the rib of Adam, what woman are we talking about? We are part of a contingent of women from a culture that has no Adam. Originating from a violated culture, folklore and marginalized, treated as a primitive thing, devil thing, this also alien to our culture. We are part of a contingent of women who are ignored by the health system in their specialty, because the myth of racial democracy present in all of us makes it unnecessary to register the color of patients in the registration forms of the public network, information that would be indispensable for assessing health conditions of black women in Brazil, as we know from data from other countries that white and black women present significant differences in health. (CARNEIRO, 2011).
This analysis of Sueli Carneiro clearly situates critical elements of the lives of women of African descent in Brazil. There are historical and pervasive conditions that in lesser or greater degree affect all women of African descent. This analysis provides elements for a sharper understanding of the lives of women of African descent in Protestant churches as well.
- Central role: There is a centrality of the role of African descent women within their families, even more if they are single parent, bread-winners for entire families… Resilience, resistance and perseverance are their everyday and life long way of living.
- Faith in God: It is important to underline that is faith in God, Father, Mother, Creator of All Things…, in Jesus Christ, brother, savior, companion…, in the Holy Spirit, “Ruah”- the (she) spirit, the Wisdom…, that lead women of African descent participate in the life of the churches, being that participation as an individual, with their children, with their spouses, with friends, with relatives… To be a woman of African descent in Protestantism is a journey of faith!
- Women of African descent participation and service in their churches: Happens according to and in response to their own vocation and calling. They are Sunday school teachers’ and directors, care takers in nurseries, singers and choir directors, organ and piano players, participants and leaders in Bible study, prayer groups and church women’s groups participants and leaders, they are the cleaning ladies of the sanctuaries and churches premises, the cooks and chefs in church kitchens… They are representatives of their parishes in the District, the Regional and the National Church Councils. They are confirmation classes’ teachers, lay pastors, evangelists and pastors of local churches, of university chaplaincies, professors…
- The lack of space in pastoral ministry: Despite of the power to contribute to the life of the churches, many women of African descent are not finding space in their own churches to develop their potential especially with regards to pastoral ministry. Even when formally trained pastors with Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees on Theology and other graduate studies as well, patriarchy and racism operate in several ways to hinder their full participation: poor pastoral placements and assignments to develop pastoral ministry, poor housing or salary conditions, or local congregations that still resist/reject in having a women of African descent as a pastor.
- “Outsider-within locations”: This reality interconnects with the concept “outsider-within locations” developed by the U.S. Black feminist, Patricia Hill Collins. The concept speaks about “social locations or border spaces making the boundaries between groups of unequal power. Individuals acquire identities as “outsiders within” by their placement in these social locations.”(COLLINS, 2002, p.300). Collins states that the Black women within the feminist movement occupy the place of “outsider within”, for being feminist and pleading their own place as Black woman, as a political subject, but at the same time being “someone from outside” by the way in which she is seen and treated within the feminist movement itself.” (In RIBEIRO, 2017, p.45). People of African descent and women of Africa descent in particular, in variety of levels and ways remain “outsiders within” the lives of churches and congregations in Brazil. More common than not, their views and plights are overlooked and ignored.
- The intersecting of oppressions as key to theological reflection: Women of African descent reflecting about racism, and its dynamics within the churches and in Brazilian society, keep the political approach of intersecting oppressions on their analytical framework. That attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact in their lives. As Sueli Carneiro says:
For us, therefore, a feminist perspective is required in which gender is a theoretical variable, but as Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter say, that “it cannot be separated from other axes of oppression” and that “it is not possible in a single analysis. If feminism must liberate women, it must confront virtually all forms of oppression.” From this point of view, it is possible to affirm that a black feminism, built in the context of multiracial, pluri-cultural and racist societies – such as Latin American societies – has as main articulating axis on racism and its impact on the relations of gender, since it determines the very hierarchy of gender in our societies. (CARNEIRO, 2011)
- Black consciousness: The clash between a theological/biblical interpretations and the personal consciousness of Negritude led many women of African descent to develop a theological approach that speaks to them and to other African descent women. The approach of African descent feminist theologians’ nurtures Black consciousness and a critical look at our own place and role in church and society. Here is short expression of that written by Betty Ruth Lozano, an African descent woman theologian, from Colombia:
Some of us have been learning to read the Bible with eyes of a black woman. To discover in us a God who knows how to be pregnant, to take by the hand, to teach to walk, to take in tender/loving arms, to sit us in God’s lap, a God without age that facilitates our relationship with everyone without distinction of age, sex or race. We also discover in our ancestral legacy the God of our ancestors who manifests through air, fire, water, earth and that transcends time and space. He, she is our strength to fight here and now. To some of us the figure of Oshun, African deity, has helped them to value themselves as women and to raise their self-esteem. We can say that I am an image that much of what we have discovered. Thanks to this experience, I now feel beautiful black mind, provocatively black, defiantly black, happily black! (LOZANO, 2002, p. 7).
- The starting point of theological epistemology: African descent women have the objective conditions of their own lives and that of their community, such as their lives as single mothers and bread winners, their struggles with discrimination on job searching, inadequate child support, poor housing and health system conditions, police aggression and brutality, police killing and extermination of youth of African descent – in Brazil we call that it genocide -, as entry point and lenses to analyze and interpret reality and to think theology.
- Elements of a theological thinking: Since a long time there are women of African descent studying theology and getting degrees in graduate studies addressing patriarchy, the de-colonial critique, gender, racism, from an African descent feminist critique and approach. Education has been key for them to raise up their prophetic voices. The resistance and resilience of these women are contents of their own theological thinking and of Black theology itself. In the search for knowledge and understanding of the presence of people of African descent in the Bible many studies have been developed. For example: Where does people of African descent appear in the Bible or parallels that can be drawn between African descent women under situations of oppression and the situation of women in the Bible (Hagar is one example that can be mentioned).
- Violence against Women is another theme for theological reflection of women of African descent and White women as well. The engagement is on breaking down the conspiracy of silence on domestic violence, the sexual violence that happens with women of the churches, being them women of African descent or of other ethnicity. Actions for awareness raising and information sharing on VAW to ecumenical groups of women using didactic materials specifically written to address VAW in churches have been developed. Workshops, seminars and conversation circles are spreading in many cities in Brazil. According to the Map of Violence 2015, the murder of women of African descent increased by 54.8%, while White women decreased by 9.6%. This alarming increase shows us the lack of a racial ethnic view when thinking about policies to combat violence against women. The existing policies are not really reaching out to or protecting women of African descent from being killed by domestic violence. (RIBEIRO, 2017, p. 42).
- Cultural and religious elements of oppression: In spite of the ethnic diversity of Brazilian society, the standard remains that of the White European ancestries. There is a lack of respect for the cultural and ethnic identity of people and women of African descent, especially as far as the religions of the African ancestors expressed in Religiões de Matriz Africana (Religions of African Roots) as t is called in Brazil. That oppression also has elements linked to cultural features such as clothing, hair and hair style, of the body and danding, etc., etc. The demand to conform to White culture standards. Intolerance to African Brazilian cultural elements is still present and harmful to the extreme of death, violence and burning of places of worship (terreiros) of African Brazilian religions, particularly Candomble.
A reflection of Elizete da Silva (In: PEREIRA, 2010, p.101) when speaking about the Baptist Church, points out to leaving all African cultural and religious tradition behind is the essence of being part of the Baptist Church. She says that:
The silence of colour in the documentation of Baptists and silence among the independents was also a way of erasing the African roots in a predominantly black community, but undergoing a process of conversion, or de-institutionalization, which considered all cultural manifestations of African origin sinful and erroneous. […] Members of the Baptist Church should forget their African ethical origins, old practices, and take on the new discourse of the Anglo-Saxon gospel preached by American missionaries and absorb new civilized attitudes, compatible with the doctrinal corpus that was being taught. Thus, at the same time as the Baptist community exerted a religious attraction for the black population, it had a pedagogical role that was in line with the political project of the Bahian republican elite that was to modernize Salvador, […] that is, less African and more European and American.
- Pressure to conform and emotional collapses: The pressure of confirming to the predominant White standard and Western culture in all its forms has brought many men and women of African descent to emotional collapses and breakdowns. There is a constant struggle between who you are as a person in your own culture, history and gender and what is expected of you. Often times the parameters of what is failure or what is success are defined and guided by indicators that do not correspond to actual experience and reality, or culture, or historical conditions and realities of African descent men and women. Many African descent women of Protestant background and practice are often working to advance their development and empowerment processes, searching for alternatives of participation and action in civil society movements, in the academia, in the schools, in the struggle for racial and social justice… Their protagonist presence goes beyond the potential and boundaries of Protestant churches.
- The sorority to be nurtured and built amongst women of African descent in Protestant Churches: Sisterhood remains a strategy to be explored for the “empoderamento” of women of African descent in Protestantism and in Brazilian society. In Brazil, there is a need for safe spaces and opportunities of sharing, of learning, of reflecting and building strategies among African descent women from the churches. There is a need for a network of support, exchange of experiences and strategies of struggle that could contribute to alleviating the burden of loneliness in the daily struggles of life and feed the existing resilience and resistance.
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