Evangelicals have mixed feelings about mayor Marcelo Crivella, the latest symbol of Protestant ascendancy in Catholic Brazil.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro has always features prominently in the city’s raucous Carnival, a licentious celebration that runs the five days before Ash Wednesday.

But this year, for the first time in memory, the mayor skipped it.

That’s because, for the first time in its 450-year history, Brazil's second-largest metropolis is being run by a pastor.

“In my case, it would have been demagogy,” Marcelo Crivella explained in a statement.

The 59-year-old was elected in October to govern the city of 6.5 million that is known for both the beauty of its beaches and for its violence, largely controlled by organized crime connected with drug trafficking.

Crivella is a licensed bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), the largest—and most controversial—denomination that belongs to the so-called neo-Pentecostal movement. He’s also the nephew of the UCKG’s leader and founder, Edir Macedo.

With a theology based on positive confession and on the importance of giving money as a way to obtain divine favor, the UCKG claims about 2.5 million followers. Its churches are spread throughout Brazil, as well as more than 50 other countries.

The UCKG also controls various businesses, such as radios, newspapers, banks, and TV stations—including Record, Brazil's second-largest network.

The church has a clear ambition for political power, embodied by the hundreds of politicians in the Brazilian congress and in state and municipal legislative houses that number among its members.

Crivella himself is a senator, elected by the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), which is strongly connected to the UCKG. He was the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture during the first term of former president …

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