Clutching pictures of sick relatives, Vera Lucia Oliveira was seeking a miracle—not inside her neo-Pentecostal church, but in the heart of Brazil's largest city.
Oliveira and some two million others took to the São Paulo streets June 3 for the latest March for Jesus, first organized 18 years ago by neo-Pentecostal megachurch Renascer ("Reborn in Christ") and declared a national holiday this year.
Renascer pastor Estevam Hernandes proudly showed off a soccer jersey autographed by star player Kaká, a church elder. "One of the goals of the march is the unity of Christ's church," said Hernandes. "Here are churches of all denominations."
However, the march's strong identification with Hernandes and its emphasis on power pushed away many Christians as well.
"I disagree with the theology behind the March for Jesus, which is one of spiritual warfare and prosperity," said Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, chancellor of Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo. "The March for Jesus is [deemed] a prophetic act … a kind of territorial claim that allegedly destroys fortresses erected by the Enemy in areas where the march happens."
Lopes said it is a "monumental theological misconception" to believe that the march celebrates or promotes church unity. "If evangelicals want to impact our country," he said, "they should do so through lives that exhibit sanctity and ministries that do not cause scandals."
Some observers say the March for Jesus is markedly different in São Paulo than it is in the other 150 nations that take part. "In Brazil, the march has an owner," said Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti of the Anglican Diocese of Recife. "The march has turned into the brand name for a patented pseudo-Pentecostalism. ...