By Gustavo Giraldes, MSc Development Studies
On 7 October 2020, prosecutors in Angola ordered the closure of three temples of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a neo-charismatic evangelical congregation. With headquarters in São Paulo, Brazil, it is currently the biggest group of its kind.
The ruling by the Angolan justice is the latest in a series of other UCKG temple closures since August 2020. These closures stem from accusations of racism, tax fraud, and money laundering against its Brazilian leadership from dissident groups formed by some of its Angolan members, in a political struggle that has been going on for months.
Start of the rupture
“The splinter group accused the UCKG of racist practices such as performing vasectomies and chemical castration on its Angolan associates, as well as of tax evasion.”
Despite only being formally announced in June, the feud between the two groups began in November 2019 when over 300 Angolan pastors, led by pastor Valente Bezerra Luís, moved away from the UCKG. The splinter group accused the UCKG of racist practices such as performing vasectomies and chemical castration on its Angolan associates, as well as of tax evasion. The charges led the Prosecutor General’s Office of Angola to open judicial proceedings against the church on December 5th 2019. Members of the Angolan group took control of over 80 temples in the Angolan capital Luanda and in neighboring cities on 22 June 2020. This group formalised the rupture with the Brazilian loyalists in a note the following month.
Álvaro da Silva João, Angola’s prosecutor general, said that there were ‘enough indications of the practice of crimes of criminal association, tax fraud, illicit export of capital, abuse of trust and other illegal acts.’ Angolan political scientist Agostinho Sicatu declared that the UCKG has ‘always worked as a company’ since arriving in the African nation, and that it was responsible for ‘the suffering of many citizens who believed in it, and because of their faith, ended up selling their belongings.’
The leaders of the Brazilian congregation denied the accusations by the Angolan pastors, saying that they can easily be proven false by the fact that many of its pastors are of ‘different origins and skin tones’ and that many of them had children. UCKG also labeled the takeover of the temples as ‘criminal practices,’ and declared that the closure of its temples is ‘contrary to the rights to religious practice, conscience and thought.’ In Brazil, Angolan migrants have reported being subject to racist and xenophobic attacks since the start of the feud by supporters of the church.
Who is the UCKG?
Founded in 1977 by its current leader, bishop Edir Macedo, the UCKG has grown to become the biggest neo-charismatic evangelical church in Brazil.
With millions of members in different countries, the church has accrued much political influence. In addition to UCKG, Macedo also owns Record Group, which is one of the biggest media conglomerates in Brazil. RecordTV, Brazil’s second biggest television network, and MyTV, a UK-based television channel, are part of this conglomerate.
The church also has strong affiliations with right-wing political party Republicanos. It is the 10th biggest party in Brazilian politics, with 76 members in the country’s congress. In 2016, after supporting her candidacy two years prior, the party voted for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. In the second round of the 2018 elections, the party backed far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who eventually won. This year, Flavio and Carlos Bolsonaro, sons of the president and congressmen themselves, have both joined Republicanos.
UCKG’s activities also extend beyond Brazil. Apart from Angola, where it has 512 pastors, the congregation has temples and representatives in several other African countries. It also runs its Help Centres in regions of London such as Croydon, Hackney and Peckham.
Featured Photo Caption: UKCG Church in Cabinda, Angola. Credit: Raiurd Walter.