CESE supports Ecumenical Amazonizar Network in fight against fundamentalism and religious intolerance

Within a political scenario that involves the violation of rights and the growth of hate speech, fundamentalism is advancing across the country.  This approach to power is based on racism and aimed at threatening democracy and curtailing the rights of minorities.

In the Brazilian Amazon, the political environment of conflict caused by influential economic groups has led to destruction, violence and deaths in the territories and the situation has become even more grave.  There have been frequent persecutions and instances of religious intolerance of original peoples and traditional populations, manifested by the Christian fundamentalism of Neo Pentecostal churches.

Strategies to contain this movement and to strengthen ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue in the states of the legal Amazon constitute the aims of AMAZONIZAR (an ecumenical mission to study and protect the Amazon), which is supported by CESE’s Small Projects Programme. The initiative comes from the Ecumenical Amazonizar Network (Rede Ecumênica Amazonizar), whose mission is to represent union and dialogue on Amazonian soil and to value respect for difference, by combatting fundamentalism and religious intolerance.

A range of diaconal activities have taken place, including meetings, workshops, acts and celebrations between religious institutions, civil society organizations and traditional communities.  All of these have expanded arenas for training and fraternal discussion between the organizations, and have strengthened the work of this coalition.

“Receiving support from CESE is a concrete sign of their commitment to several causes, to dialogue, to ecology and to the Amazon,” said Iuri Rogério Lima, member of the network’s coordinating team.  Iuri, who is also a member of the Anglican Community of Manaus, explained the pioneering nature of these activities in the intersection between fundamental human rights agendas, the recognition and appreciation of traditional ways of life, the defence of the environment and the struggle against religious intolerance: “We are a young network, located in the heart of this great ecosystem, which intends to dialogue with ecclesial and faith communities, and with social movements too.  We come from this perspective, which is new to the region,” he said.


The Brazilian context

In addition to promoting deforestation and mining in the Amazon, the Federal Government has granted posts to fundamentalist evangelical missions so they can operate in bodies that are supposed to defend indigenous rights.  According to an article published (in Portuguese) by the independent investigative media outlet Repórter Brasil during the first year of the pandemic, foreign websites have offered vacancies for evangelizers within Brazilian indigenous communities, providing public graphics about the level of religious conversions within ethnic groups. For Iuri Lima, this has opened a gateway to increased hate speech and intolerance throughout the Amazon.

“There have been situations in which entire indigenous communities have refused to accept the application of the COVID-19 vaccine because of religious fundamentalism.  The churches argued that the vaccine was the devil,” he noted, revealing other atrocities: “Many of these traditional communities were affected by conservative discourse from Christian churches, which disparaged their cultures and their millenary knowledge of health and education.”

Tools for collective discussions

In addition to training in how to combat fundamentalist threats, the resources CESE provided supported the production of a Booklet to Combat Religious Intolerance and Religious Fundamentalism in the Amazon.

The publication has three major strands: respect to life, cultural identity and combatting fundamentalism, and, according to Iuri, is an instrument aimed at schools, social movements and traditional communities. “It is not material for the academy. On the contrary, it is for locations affected by the wave of conservatism, which has necessitated this grassroots discussion.  That is why it is written in accessible language, very close to the one the groups use themselves.”

According to Iuri, the publication is already in use in a number of places in the Amazon, including quilombos, Umbanda worship houses, indigenous schools, and associations in Manaus, Porto Velho and Macapá. “We have had the opportunity to launch it in the most indigenous city in Brazil, in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in Acre.  What is great about all this is what we are hearing. People who have had contact with the booklet have given us very positive feedback about the respect for their cultures,” he said.  There is also a plan to launch it in other capitals in the North and within the Amazon.

As an ecumenical organization, CESE continues to believe in important initiatives such as this, ones that work for the defence and guarantee of Human Rights through the prophetic witness of communities of faith. It is from this standpoint of generous dialogue that the Ecumenical Amazonizar Network positions itself at the disposal of tradition communities and the service of the Amazon: “We are the expression of God’s heart in the Garden, which is this great biome.  Our presence, although humble and small, is that of Samaritan and servant.  We believe that, with persistence, our work, as a bridge of dialogue within a network, can become a mark of hope in such difficult times,” Iuri concluded.

Photos: Ecumenical Amazonizar Network Archive