What is dominion theology? And how it appears in Brazil.


“The 'dominion theology' is a theological approach that emphasizes the idea that Christians have a divine authority to dominate and rule over the Earth. It is based on the interpretation of biblical passages that speak of the dominion given by God to human beings over creation, such as in Genesis 1:28.

In Brazil, dominion theology has been associated with certain groups and religious leaders who promote the idea that Christians should exert influence and control over various areas of society, including politics, economy, and culture, to establish the 'Kingdom of God' on Earth. This approach can be controversial and is often criticized for its selective interpretation of Scriptures and its often-questionable practical application.”


Isadora Rupp | March 17, 2024 (updated 03/28/2024 at 12:36 p.m.)

The Dominion Theology, which preaches the domination of the world by ultraconservative Christianity, has animated part of the political power in Brazil and manifested itself in public acts. Originating from the evangelical movements in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept, when applied to politics, poses challenges to democracy, according to researchers interviewed by Nexo.

In this text, Nexo explains, with the help of two theologians and an anthropologist, what Dominion Theology is, in which spaces it is present in Brazil, and how it affects the Democratic State of Law.

Concept and Origin

Dominion Theology proposes to dominate all fields of social life and the public sphere with the presence and influence of ultraconservative Christianity.

According to anthropologist Christina Vital da Cunha, a professor at UFF (Federal Fluminense University) and collaborator of Iser (Institute of Religious Studies), Dominion Theology has roots in biblical interpretations. The fundamental reference is the book of Genesis.

“Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” – Genesis (1:26)

For Cunha, this theology has more than a “alternative read” about the bible.

“The central characteristic of this theology advocates the domination of the world by Christianity, its values, and belief systems. And this is not new,” Cunha told Nexo.

According to the anthropologist, what happens from time to time is the updating of this theology to meet spiritual needs or institutional and power interests. This is something common and also present in other theological forms.

In the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, there was the rise of a reformed matrix of Dominion Theology, called reconstructionism, and a pentecostal one, better known as spiritual warfare, founded by American theologian Charles Peter Wagner.

Discourses by former First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro, current president of PL Mulher, follow Wagner's line. During the 2022 electoral campaign, during an evangelical service at Lagoinha Baptist Church in Belo Horizonte, Michelle stated that the dispute with the PT was a “war of good against evil.”

Dominion Theology is also expressed in the Seven Mountains Mandate, said Kenner Terra, a pentecostal pastor and professor at Betânia Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, with a doctorate in Religious Studies from the Methodist University of São Paulo.

Created by Americans Loren Cunningham and Bill Bright, the premise of the doctrine is that the Christian faith needs to occupy the seven main areas of society:

“Apparently, there is a certain coherence in the understanding that Christians need to influence culture. The problem is how this is handled, mainly in the spaces of the extreme Christian right and neo-Pentecostals, with a posture of imposition,” Terra said.

Presence in Churches

Christina Vital da Cunha explains that there are differences in how Anglican, Presbyterian, and other churches identified as reformed or Protestant experience Dominion Theology compared to Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches.

While Presbyterians prefer a silent, continuous power project exercised by influence, Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals prefer public confrontation, visibility, and overt persecution of those identified as enemies.

The anthropologist exemplifies this difference by observing the public posture and strategy of leaders such as Supreme Court Minister and pastor André Mendonça and former Education Minister Milton Ribeiro, who are Presbyterians, and pastors like Silas Malafaia, Bishop Edir Macedo, and Congressman Nikolas Ferreira (PL-MG), who are linked to Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostal denominations.

“In political practice, these actors may gather strength, but they have different social origins and styles,” said Cunha.

According to Pastor Kenner Terra, Dominion Theology is not a potent discourse in most evangelical churches, meaning there is no replacement of other theologies, such as prosperity theology, for example, by Dominion Theology, but rather an intersection between them.

“Neo-Pentecostal churches have a special interest in Dominion Theology because of the logic of cultural battle. In this logic, on one side, there are political figures and organizations that want to end Christian principles and who are occupying positions of power. On the other side, there are Christians to save the faithful and protect morality and the family,” Terra said.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded by Bishop Edir Macedo, the International Church of God's Grace, led by Pastor R. R. Soares, and Lagoinha Baptist Church, led by the Valadão family, are some examples of churches marked by Dominion Theology.

“But there is no bloc of evangelical churches with a project that takes into account Dominion Theology. It's more fluid. There is a horizon where it is understood that political agents need to dominate the spheres of society. It's not possible to apply theology so quickly. It's not an orchestrated act,” said Terra.

According to the pastor of Betânia Church, Dominion Theology is different from theonomy, which seeks to establish a legal system based on biblical text, such as in Margaret Atwood's novel “The Handmaid's Tale,” which deals with a fundamentalist totalitarian theonomy that overthrows the United States government.

“Dominion Theology does not go that far. It may be that some radical has this expectation that the Bible is above the Constitution. In a Democratic State of Law, this is not possible. But what there is, indeed, is an attempt to insert and bring to the discussion table Christian perspectives on issues that belong to the public sphere,” Terra said.

Presence in Politics

The mixing of politics with religion was defended by Michelle Bolsonaro on several public occasions throughout her husband's government, most recently in her speech at the rally in defense of the former president on February 25. The 1988 Constitution states that the Brazilian state is secular, separate from the Church, with religious freedom for all beliefs and denominations.

“For a long time, we were negligent to the point of saying that we could not mix politics with religion. And evil occupied the space. The time has come now for liberation. Because I believe in a living God. An all-powerful God who is capable of restoring and healing our nation. Do not give up, women, men, young people, children. Do not give up on our country. Keep praying, keep calling out. I know that our God, from the heavens above, will grant us relief.”

Historian João Cezar de Castro Rocha, a professor of comparative literature at UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro), says that the rally will be seen by historians in the future as a moment when the Dominion Theology project became explicit.

“When Michelle says that the time of liberation has come, what she is saying is: the time has come for the civil State to subordinate itself to faith, not to spirituality, but to their belief. Thinking about this, everything in our country starts to become quite clear and very worrying,” Rocha said in an interview with Agência Pública on sunday.

Ronilso Pacheco, a theologian from PUC-Rio and director of Iser (Institute of Religious Studies), told Nexo that the rally on Paulista Avenue was not a climax of Dominion Theology. “The movements of the extreme right and ultraconservative evangelicalism have been happening for a long time and in various forms, with an educational exchange and think tanks that finance various missions in Brazil.”

Although Michelle's and other politicians' religious discourse, such as Senator Magno Malta (PL-ES), was aimed at evangelicals, most of those present were not followers of the religion, according to a study by the Monitor do Debate Político Digital da USP (Digital Political Debate Monitor of USP).

According to the survey, which interviewed 575 people, throughout the extent of the demonstration on Paulista Avenue, 43% of those present declared themselves Catholics.

The majority of those present were men (62%), white (65%), aged between 55 and 65 years (25%). A profile distinct from the evangelical mass, which is predominantly female, black, and peripheral.

According to Christina Vital da Cunha, the pro-Bolsonaro rally held in late February reveals a religious behavior that is not new, although it has been strengthening with the growth of the extreme right as a political phenomenon and sought to shield the demonstration.

“Any attempt to delegitimize it [the demonstration] or prevent it would be taken as intolerant, an affront to religious freedom. At the same time, it aimed to emotionally lead people as if they were all involved in a war of good against evil, in which the religious domination of politics would be justified,” the anthropologist said.

Pacheco also affirms that Dominion Theology has been present throughout the Bolsonaro government, with a presence in ministries such as Education, Justice, Human Rights, and Foreign Affairs.

“This is Dominion Theology: to conquer the Ministry of Education to determine what content, what books are. Set the agenda for what human rights are. This is Dominion Theology. On Paulista Avenue, it's much more of a big caricature,” the theologian said.

Damage to Democracy

The anthropologist and the two theologians interviewed by Nexo agree that the use of Dominion Theology by politics brings risks and challenges to Brazilian democracy.

For Pastor and theologian Kenner Terra, the anti-democratic attacks on January 8, 2023, are a concrete example of the fragility of democracy in Brazil, as they made a “dangerous symbiosis” between religious discourse and the implementation of a coup d'état.

“The institutions of Brazil are strong, and only a religious coup could destroy our Democratic State of Law so that it becomes a religious State. But even if it doesn't reach that point, the posture of these agents

Ronilso Pacheco evaluates that the insertion of the idea is a “total risk” to democracy. “Dominion Theology composes the idea of Christian nationalism, that Brazil should be guided by ultraconservative Christian and evangelical fundamentalist values. It is a threat because it does not tolerate diversity. It's not domination for nothing. Why does it not tolerate plurality, inter-religious dialogue, only those who submit to their dominion.”

Anthropologist Christina Vital da Cunha affirms that “there is no doubt” that Dominion Theology as a spiritual orientation animated the top of the Executive power in the Bolsonaro government and continues to animate the practice of a group of politicians in Brazil.

“But not only this theological form is a challenge to democracy, to diversity, to overcoming social inequalities, but also the economic greed and class domination of many powerful people, who are not only religious,” said Cunha.

–> Source: O que é teologia do domínio. E como ela aparece no Brasil

–> Further read: [TEOLOGIA DO DOMÍNIO: UMA CHAVE DE INTERPRETAÇÃO DA RELAÇÃO EVANGÉLICO- POLÍTICA DO BOLSONARISMO])https://revistas.pucsp.br/revph/article/download/60331/42102