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Mike Bickle Shifts Brazil’s Conversation Around Church Abuse

In a country where allegations rarely go public, charismatics are grappling with the claims against the influential IHOPKC founder and with his movement’s response.
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Mike Bickle Shifts Brazil’s Conversation Around Church Abuse
Image: Courtesy of IHOPKC
Mike Bickle, founder of IHOPKC

More than 5,000 miles from the International House of Prayer of Kansas City (IHOPKC), the allegations against Mike Bickle have shaken Brazilian evangelicals and forced a conversation on how churches handle abuse.

Dwayne Roberts—founder of the Florianópolis House of Prayer (FHOP) in southern Brazil—was among the leaders who issued a public statement on Bickle a little more than a month ago. The same day, FHOP became the first church to disassociate from Bickle due to what Roberts and FHOP senior pastor Vinicius Sousa called “serious allegations of pastoral abuse.”

In the heart of Florianópolis Island, in a city of over a half-million people, FHOP functions as a house of prayer, missionary base, and local church. It was established a decade ago by Americans Dwayne and Jennifer Roberts, who were among the first staff members at IHOPKC.

FHOP has a significant social media presence: over a quarter-million followers on Facebook and Instagram and nearly 500,000 subscribers on YouTube. Through FHOP Music, the church has gained prominence in the Brazilian gospel scene, with their songs ranked among the genre’s most played.

The impact of FHOP and Mike Bickle himself extends beyond Florianópolis and across the charismatic landscape in Brazil, the most evangelical country in South America. Now, a wide swath of leaders has responded with sadness and bewilderment over the recent scandal.

“There are eccentric and unreliable charismatic leaders from whom one might expect such things,” said Marcondes Soares, pastor at Igreja Episcopal Carismática do Brasil in Recife, Pernambuco. “But Bickle was considered reasonable and highly respected.”

Bickle envisioned a global prayer movement growing out of IHOPKC and had turned particular attention to Brazil in recent years. During a national six-city tour in 2018, he proclaimed that the church in Brazil was on the verge of the most significant revival in its history: “I believe that the hand of God rests uniquely upon the body of Christ in Brazil, preparing it for a global impact.”

Nine of Bickle’s books have been translated into Portuguese. Growing in Prayer: A Real-Life Guide to Talking with God is one of the most acclaimed titles among Brazilian charismatics.

On his two-million subscriber YouTube channel JesusCopy, preacher Douglas Gonçalves has conducted multiple interviews with Mike Bickle, as recently as March 2023. Last year, Bickle gave the keynote address at JesusCopy’s “Lead Like Jesus” youth conference.

Israel Subirá, a composer, preacher, content producer, and son of the preeminent Brazilian pastor Luciano Subirá, spent a year as a student at IHOPKC. He described this period as when he prayed more intensely than he had in his life: “Most of my time in Kansas was spent in the prayer room. And it was amazing!”

FHOP has brought the movement’s focus on intensive prayer to Brazil. Arthur Martins, pastor of Igreja Presbiteriana República in Curitiba, Paraná, said “their influence is noteworthy,” with FHOP’s approach sparking a revival among local churches’ prayer meetings, particularly impacting the younger generation.

“Immersing yourself in this environment naturally leads you to seek the Lord’s intentions for the world and the church’s role in fulfilling his will,” said Letícia Santos, a full-time missionary at FHOP for four years. She describes the experience as a turning point in her life.

But it’s also drawn some criticism. Ronaldo Crispim, pastor at Igreja Presbiteriana Beréia in Goiânia, Goiás, expresses concern about what he perceives as a reductionist view in FHOP’s worship theology and an exaggerated emphasis on only two elements: prayer and praise. Moreover, he scrutinizes the introspective and vertically oriented spirituality embedded in the notion of a “house of prayer,” interpreting it as detached from culture and isolated from daily life.

Now, followers and critics alike are grappling with the news of the allegations against Bickle and the continued calls for an independent investigation.

“In the ecclesiastical environment of the USA, this is quite common. Every two months, a leader from a megachurch is publicly exposed due to allegations of sexual abuse. Regrettably, this doesn’t shock me but evokes a sense of sadness,” said Naamã Mendes, pastor at Igreja Presbiteriana Independente in Maringá, Paraná, who previously pastored in Miami.

By contrast, abuse allegations are rarely disclosed publicly in the Brazilian evangelical context. Typically, these matters are addressed within the ecclesiastical sphere, seldom reaching legal authorities.

In Brazil, the silence surrounding sexual abuse is emblematic, as churches often overlook the issues of abuse response and prevention.

“I am unaware of any collaborative efforts by Brazilian pastors and leaders aimed at preventing sexual abuse within the churches,” said Zé Bruno Santos, a member of Igreja Pentecostal Batista El Shadday in Arapiraca, Alagoas.

Zé Bruno, host of the “Entre Amigos” YouTube livestreams, sees an opportunity for Bickle’s church to model a response for followers around the world. On social media, he said:

I have been closely monitoring this case, and I am taken aback by the way the IHOPKC institution, or more precisely, its leaders, have addressed it.

This marks a pivotal moment in the charismatic world, not in being for or against Bickle, but in how charismatics will confront cases of abuse and injustice within the faith community.

FHOP’s October 27 statement regarding Bickle emphasized that the church vehemently and unequivocally condemns any form of moral failure in any circumstance and said that the leadership team of FHOP is committed to publicly sharing new information as the facts are clarified.

Senior pastor Sousa, though, refrained from commenting further on the matter out of respect for his friends in Kansas, whom he stated are “going through a tough time.”

Three weeks after the allegations were made public, IHOPKC leaders released an initial report that claimed that the concerns raised surrounding Bickle “lacked any semblance of reliability or due process.” IHOPKC leaders stated that the “alleged victims” they identified were either not credible or had recanted, and therefore it was premature to “bring in a third party to investigate.”

The former IHOPKC leaders who brought forward the allegations challenged the response, raising concerns of conflict of interest among the legal counsel, and continued to call for an independent investigation.

Last week, the ministry and advocates continues to clash. Ex-staff members protested the ministry’s 24-7 prayer. Leaders came forward to defend Bickle, and an alleged victim shared her story of sexual abuse in The Roys Report.

“In instances like these, social accountability is vital to compel institutions to be transparent and fair in identifying victims and determining the most effective way to assist them,” said Zé Bruno. “While it may appear righteous for leaders to discourage comments on social media, that is a naive perspective.”

Ziel Machado, pastor at Igreja Metodista Livre in São Paulo, sees several factors contributing to cases of sexual abuse involving religious leaders. “Issues like these are linked to the pride of leaders who choose to work alone,” he said. “Furthermore, when supervision is present, it often tends to focus on task efficiency, overlooking attention to the pastor’s true calling."

Mendes worries about the idolization and shielding of charismatic leaders, which may occur as part of a strategy to protect church growth.

“The spiritual and emotional well-being of both the pastor and the congregation often becomes a secondary concern,” he said, “with church members being viewed as mere statistics rather than individuals deserving of compassion and care grounded in the grace and love of God.”

[ This article is also available in Português. ]

January/February
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