Q&A with Marilia Cesar, the Brazilian journalist challenging the status quo in churches

Marilia Cesar. Photo by Wes Parnell.

Marilia Cesar. Photo by Wes Parnell.

This is an edited transcript.

In this episode of the Religion Unplugged podcast, our executive editor Paul Glader joins Brazilian journalist Marilia Cesar in São Paulo. Though Cesar works as a financial journalist, she has also written four books, many on religion. 

Marilia Cesar: My first book is about the bad experiences some Christians had in Neo-Pentecostal churches, which are growing in Brazil and South America. I attended a church like that for many years, and at some point I realized that the pastors were having very abusive relationships with the Christians, and that caught my attention. I felt that I should write about that. It was a very successful book by Brazilian standards. It sold a lot and I believe it helped a lot of other Christians who were having the same experience.

Paul Glader: So what was your experience as the book came out, and was successful, and sold very well? What impact did it have on the church in Brazil, and what was the response from Christian people? 

Cesar: I think the response was very positive. Many churches came to me to ask for seminars and presentations about the subject of the book. Here in Brazil, we have some very well known leaders that do this prosperity theology, and they are known for asking for money for everything. My book talks as well about people who are immature Christians— they want someone to look after every field of their life. They want someone to tell them who to marry, what job to accept, what profession to follow. So it’s not only in the financial area but in the emotional area there is a lot of abuse also. 

Glader: So let’s talk about your second book related to a hot topic, which is gay people and God. What did you say in your book? 

Cesar: Yes this was a big problem for me in the beginning, and I think this discussion here in Brazil is not as advanced as it is in America or other European countries. There are Christians disguised within the churches. They cannot say who they are or how they feel, because they don’t find the environment warm enough to hear their doubts and their questions about their sexuality. When I started with this research, many pastors friends of mine said, “Don’t do that. Don’t write about that.” Nobody likes to talk about this because it is stigmatized. I found really wounded people in this area of sexuality, who are pastors and faithful people. They were real Christians, who take things seriously, and who were suffering with this area of sexuality. I tell their stories in the book, and then I heard from theologians, and psychologists, and people from many different areas to hear different opinions about the subject. 

Glader: I wanted to hear also about this woman in politics here named Marina Silva. For American listeners, you might think of someone like Erin Brockovich or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But let’s hear about the story and the subject of your book. 

Cesar: The book is called “Marina: Life With a Cause.” It’s like a biographical report, and it was written while she was the Minister of the Environment. Marina was raised in the Amazon jungle in a small, very poor state of Brazil. Her father was a rubber producer. Since she was a child she wanted to study, and learn, and read, and she couldn’t read because they were all illiterate. She  managed to go to the capital of Acari (Sp?) , and with a lot of trouble learned how to read and write when she was 16. She became a Christian when she was 40 years old. Brazilians don’t like her specifically because of that— they think she is a fundamentalist and she is not open minded, but that is not true. I can tell you that is not true. 

Glader: I saw she ran for president three times, including last year, and at one point was doing very well.  As someone who knows her, and who wrote a biography of her, does she want to continue in politics, and may she run for president again, or is she steering away toward other things now?

Cesar: Well, I couldn’t tell precisely but, as far as I know I don’t think she will run again for president because the message she got last year in the elections was very negative—she only got 1% of the vote, because she was seen as too soft— as a woman. They wanted someone like a macho-man-tough-guy to address Brazil’s many problems with violence and corruption. And Brazilians voted for who is our president now. His speech is violent and he favors everybody having access to guns, and in some points he can be compared to Trump. But Trump has a very strong party, and Bolsonaro has a really tiny party that is not expressive at all, so you could not really compare him to Trump. As far as I see, Marina will be in the opposition helping to confront this actual government, because it has many problems. 

Glader: So she’s still in the government? 

Cesar: No she’s not.  She belongs to a party that she helped to create, whose name means “network” and she is trying—with this very small party— to mount an opposition against Bolsonaro. But with the message she received last year— very little votes— I don’t believe she will run again. But I might be wrong. You never know. 

Glader: My last question for you, before we wrap up, is what are your new projects either books or topics you’re working on for the newspaper? 

Cesar: I am starting to research female submission—how to read those Bible passages today in the 21st century. In Brazil, we have really terrible statistics about violence against women. Like 90 cases of aggression against women or so every day. Many of the ladies are evangelical women and they get beaten by their husbands or partners, and they go to the churches to complain to the pastors: “Look he’s beating me what should I do?” The pastors say: “You should pray for him—that he should be a better husband, that he converts, that he comes to Christ and becomes a better man.” So she will spend the rest of her days getting beaten and praying for her husband. The statistics say that around 40 percent of the women in the domestic violence cases here in Brazil are evangelicals. These are terrible figures, so I want to write about that. What is the role of the church in helping? How can the churches address this question—to deal differently with this? That is my next project, and it has a title already. It will be called: “Eve’s Daughters.” 

Glader: That is fascinating.  It’s been such a pleasure to meet you this week and be in Brazil with The Media Project. 

Cesar: Thank you it was very nice meeting you. 

Glader: Thanks again everyone, and for Religion Unplugged, from São Paulo, Brazil, this is Paulo Glader saying “ciao.”