SILAS MALAFAIA’s books, which sell in the millions in Brazil, have titles like “How to Defeat Satan’s Strategies” and “Lessons of a Winner.” The Gulfstream private jet in which he flies has “Favor of God,” in English, inscribed on its body.
As a television evangelist, Mr. Malafaia reaches viewers in dozens of countries, including the United States, where Daystar and Trinity Broadcasting Network broadcast his overdubbed sermons. Over 30 years, Mr. Malafaia, 53, has assembled thriving churches and enterprises around his Pentecostal preaching.
Still, he might have garnered little attention beyond his own followers had he not waded into Brazil’s version of the culture wars. After all, Brazil has evangelical leaders who command larger empires, like Edir Macedo, whose Universal Church of the Kingdom of God controls Rede Record, one of Brazil’s biggest television networks. Others, like Romildo Ribeiro Soares, of the International Church of God’s Grace, are known for greater missionary zeal.
But it is Mr. Malafaia who has recently attracted the most attention, with his pointed verbal attacks on a broad array of foes, including the leaders of Brazil’s movement for gay rights, proponents of abortion rights and supporters of marijuana decriminalization.
“I’m the public enemy No. 1 of the gay movement in Brazil,” Mr. Malafaia said in an interview this month here in Fortaleza, a city in Brazil’s northeast where he came to lead one of his self-described “crusades,” an event mixing scripture and song in front of about 200,000 people. Tears flowed down the faces of some of the impassioned attendees, while others danced to the performances that served as his opening act.
Brazil’s elite is seeking to understand the rise of such a polarizing figure, and how it might influence the nation’s politics. Piauí, a magazine that is the rough equivalent of The New Yorker in the United States, ran a lengthy article this year on Mr. Malafaia’s rise from obscurity in Rio de Janeiro, where he grew up in a military family, to the power he now wields.
BEYOND Mr. Malafaia, the broad expansion of evangelical faiths, particularly Pentecostalism, in recent decades is altering Brazil’s politics. (While Pentecostalism varies widely, its tenets in Brazil include faith healing, prophecy and exorcism.) Leaders in Brasília must now consult on a range of matters with an evangelical caucus of legislators with resilient clout.
About one in four Brazilians are now thought to belong to evangelical Protestant congregations, and Pentecostals like Mr. Malafaia are at the forefront of this growth. In a remarkable religious transformation, scholars say that while Brazil still has the largest number of Roman Catholics in the world, it now also rivals the United States in having one of the largest Pentecostal populations.
Not everyone in Brazil is enthusiastic about this shift.
In a November essay, the journalist Eliane Brum wrote of the intolerance shown toward atheistsin Brazil by some adherents of born-again faiths, describing what she called the “ever more aggressive dispute for market share” among big churches.
Ms. Brum’s essay unleashed a wave of reactions from Pentecostals. Mr. Malafaia’s words were among the most caustic.
During the interview here, he called Ms. Brum a “tramp,” and repeated his contention that “communist atheists” in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and Vietnam were responsible for more killings than “any war produced for religious questions.”
Whether by design or default, his aggressive language has often become a spectacle. In November, Época magazine reported that Mr. Malafaia, during heated comments about taking legal action against Toni Reis, a prominent gay-rights advocate, said he would “fornicate” Mr. Reis.