New York —

From the south to the north of the continent, some evangelical groups resist the danger of COVID-19 and the measures against the pandemic, unlike others that offer online religious services

In Chile, an evangelical leader with coronavirus died after going to a massive event. In Peru or Colombia they surprised pastors reunited with the faithful despite the confinement. And in Brazil or the United States, many evangelicals downplay the threat of COVID-19.

From south to north of AmericaVarious evangelical groups have taken the lead in resisting the social distancing established to combat a pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the continent.

That attitude caused cracks within the evangelical community itself, where others warn about the danger of the new virus and chose to offer only online services.

But the phenomenon also placed a special focus on that religion and the strong support of its devotees to presidents such as the American Donald Trump or the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, who seek a return to normality despite the growing pandemic in their countries.

Behind those positions there are from reasons of faith to economic interests of some churches that fear that the crisis will decrease prosperity and the contributions they receive from their followers, according to experts.

“If you stop working, decrease your tithe,” Cecília Mariz, a professor of sociology of religion at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told BBC Mundo.

A special test

Although they are a minority, evangelicals grew as a religious force in Latin America in recent decades, while the percentage of Catholics fell.

Evangelical is the religion that has grown the most in recent years in Latin America: one in five people in the region (19%) defined itself as such in 2017, according to a Latinobarómetro survey in 18 countries.

This occurred at the cost of a loss of support for the Catholic Church, whose faithful became 59% of Latin Americans according to the same survey.

The change gave more influence in the political debate to the evangelical churches on issues such as their rejection of abortion or the recognition of gay rights.

But these groups are far from acting monolithically and the coronavirus pandemic now it became a peculiar test of strength for them.

In Argentina, an evangelical pastor and senator from the Mendoza province caused controversy last week by criticizing the isolation measures for the pandemic imposed by the national government.

“There are more deaths from abortions than from covid, so we would have to be locked up so that there are no abortions,” Héctor Bonarrico compared during a virtual session of his legislature and claimed subsidies for evangelical churches.

His proposal was wrecked in a divided vote. And their comparison raised several objections.

“God provides”

In Brazil, where the coronavirus is progressing alarmingly and has already caused more than 10,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University, President Bolsonaro faces mounting criticism for opposing confinement and for calling covid-19 a “flu”.

But evangelicals maintain strong support for Bolsonaro.

.Criticized for his response to the coronavirus, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was endorsed by evangelical leaders.

According to a survey by the Datafolha firm carried out in April, evangelicals in Brazil evaluate the president’s administration more positively and are more opposed to confinement than the general population.

Influential evangelical leaders like Edir Macedo, from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and Silas Malafaia, from the Assembly Church of God Victory in Christ, are great critics of social isolation in Brazil, aligned with Bolsonaro.

In different Brazilian evangelical churches, in-person services continue where, despite measures taken to keep distance between the faithful and give disinfectant gel at the entrance, up to 3,000 attendees are observed at the same temple in quarantine.

“They believe that God can solve it,” said Mariz. “The idea is that ‘God provides everything’ and you don’t need to be isolated.”

.Silas Malafaia is one of the Brazilian evangelical leaders who supports Bolsonaro.

This contrasts with the attitude that other pastors of various denominations have assumed in defense of the suspension of worship in person and offering services online.

“But it is a minority,” said theologian Kenner Terra, who faced a wave of criticism for defending social isolation.

“The fact that you consider the WHO recommendations is almost like an‘ act of resistance, ‘”Terra told BBC Brazil.

“The call of God”

Different types of churches in Latin America have temporarily closed their doors to the pandemic and have sought to adapt by offering religious services through social networks.

But others chose to have face-to-face meetings.

.Un evangelical worship held in person in Santo Domingo during the recent Holy Week.

Evangelical groups in Nicaragua have participated in public activities, some of them promoted by the government of Daniel Ortega, criticized from the outside for avoiding taking measures against covid-19 recommended by health specialists.

From the Catholic Church, Nicaraguan cardinal Leopoldo Brenes warned on Sunday that going out “is risky.”

In areas of Colombia and Peru Away from the capitals, police interventions have been reported to stop an ongoing evangelical meeting that was bypassing the restrictions.

In Chile there were cases where the shepherds themselves were infected with covid-19 and they still held services with their faithful.

Mario Salfate, a Chilean pastor, attended a religious meeting with about 300 people on March 16, when there were already warnings and measures in his country about the danger of the virus.

A few days later, Salfate tested positive for covid-19 along with three other participants in the meeting. He died in mid-April.

.Como in some parts of Latin America, the opening of certain churches in the USA. Despite the pandemic, it generated differences in the Christian community.

In the US he died the same month, after contracting the COVID-19, Evangelical pastor Gerald Glenn, who had defied the notices about the risk of infection by claiming that “God is greater” and would continue to preach in his virginia church.

White evangelicals ranked as the US religious group least likely to believe that covid-19 poses a public health risk in a March poll by the Pew Research Center.

And, despite Trump’s controversies with the coronavirus, three out of four white Protestant evangelicals indicated in the same poll that Trump responded well to the outbreak of infections.

“That was much higher than what we saw among other religious groups,” Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, told BBC News.

With the argument that the measures against pandemic They go against their freedoms, some conservative evangelicals in the US have joined protests encouraged by Trump himself in demand of the reopening of activities.

. Donald Trump received broad evangelical support in the 2016 election and maintains it to a large extent.

A large majority (82%) of Americans who regularly attend churches now have such religious services on TV or the internet, according to another Pew poll in late April.

But some pastors hold group meetings, such as Rich Vera, who led a ceremony in Florida on Sunday calling attendees to sit closer to him: “There is no coronavirus here,” he said, with no scientific proof possible.

“The call that God placed in my life is to preach the gospel, to lay hands on the sick so that he can heal them,” Vera replied when the BBC recently asked her if she is responsible for maintaining physical contact with her faithful. “That is my call.”

.