Combating Religious Intolerance on Social Media – an interview

by Iyalorisa Melissa de Osun

Since the end of August I’ve been sharing and translating news about acts of religious terrorism against terreiros of Candomble and Umbanda primarily in Rio de Janeiro. There have been a number of movements coming out of these attacks on Afro-Brazilian religions – marches, demonstrations, forming political parties, etc.  The other day I noticed a few of the Brazilian FB pages that I follow posting stories of people’s conversion from Christianity to Candomble. I didn’t realize, initially, that what seemed like random posts were actually a part of a bigger movement.

credit: The Internet Offends Me

One of the tactics that the Evangelical church uses in Brazil is to preach that Afro-Brazilian religions are evil, and that their adherents worship the devil. There are countless stories of people who used to practice Candomble, but “saw the light,” started going to church and got saved.  These narratives are dangerous because they actually preach hatred, that there is a right and wrong way to develop a relationship with God, and that those who do not follow their way are cursed.

A few days later, in a Candomble FB group I saw a call for submissions asking for the stories of those who used to be Christian and now follow an Afro-Brazilian religion. The campaign – Testemunhos de Axe – was looking for people willing to share their stories about leaving the church and joining a terreiro.  I reached out to one of the organizers, Renata Cassini, to find out more about the movement. After just a few days of publishing the call on social media, Testemunhos de Axe received scores of submissions and have published over 30 stories.

Below you’ll find my interview with Renata with more information about Testemunhos de Axe:

CUSA: Can you talk about the history of Testemunhos de Axe?

RC: The idea came up at a meeting with a friend, Joao Paulo. We were talking about affirmative action against religious intolerance taking place in Brazil, and we were really shocked after the recent attacks on Candomble terreiros in Rio by drug dealers who call themselves Evangelicals.

I, myself, was raised in an Evangelical family and initiated into Candomble as an adult. We had the idea of putting out the call on our Facebook pages looking for people who had the same experience. I launched it on my page, Raiz Ancestral, Joao launched on his page Nao Mexa na Minha Ancestralidade and a friend joined the cause and launched the campaign on his page, Orisa Lewa. The objective was to create a counter narrative to the testimonies coming out of the church that preach salvation and prosperity only after converting to Christianity.

CUSA: A lot of people criticize movements against religious intolerance, saying that protesting won’t change anything. What differentiates Axe Testimonies from the other movements?

RC: I saw the Pentecostal movement grow by demonizing Afro-Brazilian religions, spreading the ideaology that its followers were [evil] “macumbeiros,” people that aren’t good, that are possessed by the devil, and aren’t successful in life because of the religion they follow. When we publish real stories from people affirming that… they left Christianity and initiated into an Afro-Brazilian religion, that they’re happy this way and prosperous – this widespread ideology won’t sustain itself.  That’s what makes this movement different. We try to show the perspective of those who [converted from Christianity] to deconstruct all the prejudice built up for years with testimonies of those who converted to Christianity.

CUSA: What do you hope the outcome will be of sharing these testimonies on social media?

RC: Honestly, we weren’t expecting this much support and submissions.  Like I said, the idea came from my personal experience and I didn’t expect the turnout to be so good. I hope the campaign goes to show that adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions don’t need to be saved by another religion, because they already have their own faith. I hope they perceive that we need to simply respect one another and their choices.

CUSA: Is there anything else folks should know about the campaign or religious intolerance?

RC: We, the adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions, are a minority that fight to have our constitutional right of religious freedom guaranteed. Our struggle is daily. We suffer constant attacks, principally from Pentecostals who openly preach that their God is the only possible God and we need to be saved. So, all this affirmative action against religious intolerance is valid and very important. However, we urgently need fundamental action to change the view that the communities have today about our religion since for years an understanding has been instilled that we are possessed by the devil even though, in our beliefs, demonic figures don’t exist.