Why did a church pastor in Bahia refuse to baptize a young black woman?
Note from BW of Brazil: A few months back I remember heading headlines about how the states of California and New York in the US had recently passed laws banning any discriminatory behavior or actions based on the way someone wears their hair. The law once again brought the focus squarely on race as it usually persons of African descent who face this type of bias, constantly being told that their hair is somehow “distracting” or “unprofessional.” Then there was the situation in which a young black male was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before his high school wrestling match because the referee said his hairstyle wasn’t compliant with regulations.
Such policies and attitudes are simply extensions of centuries long bias against the black body. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that such actions were necessary in the United States, but it is a well-known fact that this type of bias exists wherever there are black people living in regions in which they must share space with persons of other races. The 2013 documentary Pelo malo, meaning ‘bad hair’ in Spanish, gave us insight into what kinky/curly hair meant in Venezuelan society. The situation is the same in Brazil, where it’s only been in recent years where masses of black men and women have developed the desire to wear their natural curls, kinks, locks and afros regardless of society’s rejection and negative views of cabelo crespo, meaning kinky/curly hair, that, as in the US, Venezuela and numerous other countries, is considered cabelo ruim, again meaning ‘bad hair’, this time in Portuguese.
As you might have guessed, black people, or people of visible African ancestry in Brazil, have long struggled with developing a sense of pride in their natural hair texture, constantly being ridiculed for having afro textured hair and being forced to acquiesce to Eurocentric standards of acceptable and beautiful hair. To deal with such an imposing standard that was and is often enforced even in the homes of black families, black women simply underwent all sorts of hair straightening techniques, such as the chapinha or the escova, sometimes with disasterous results, while the men often just shaved their hair low, having their barbers set their clippers to ”maquina zero” in order to cut their hair as closest to the scalp as possible.
These days, things have changed, although not completely. Today, growing numbers of black men are seeing their kinky/curly hair as part of their royalty while black women from north to south are letting their hair curl, wave and stand up exactly as its supposed to do. If you’re someone following this same path and in search of guidance and products, we recommend trying the Curly Girl Method!
Looking back on when I first started this blog back in 2011, one of the first stories to go viral was an incident involving a young black girl being barred from school because of her hair. And as you will see in today’s piece, it might be a good idea for Brazil to enact laws such as those recently passed in Cali and New York.
“She’s not fit for this church with that hair!”: In Bahia, black woman is prevented from being baptized by pastor due to her having kinky/curly hair
The case took place in the Assembly of God Church in Jacobina, Bahia and mobilized a group of young black people to protest against the attitude of Pastor José Maurício
Rebeca Santos is a young woman attending the Assembly of God church in the city of Jacobina in the state of Bahia and intended to be baptized on Wednesday of last week (11). The young woman was surprised, however, by a pastor who didn’t like her cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) and refused to baptize her. According to him, her “hair was not that of a believer”. A group of friends of the young woman then decided to hold a protest in the church and received the solidarity of several faithful, but this didn’t change the position of Pastor José Maurício.
The case was divulged by Marta Miranda, one of Rebeca’s friends, through her account on Instagram. “Our friend was prevented from being baptized in the church she attends (Assembly of God) because she has cabelo crespo. The pastor of the church said that she wouldn’t be baptized with ‘that hair’. So her sister had the idea that we should call everyone with cabelo crespo we knew so she wouldn’t feel alone and out of place”, she reported.
“We are so strong and united. I thought it would be embarrassing to go through the full church, but the empathy was greater than the militancy. Happy to know that we’re not alone and we’re not minors or inferior to anyone. We have the right to follow whatever religion we want, as well as to occupy any place. We move on,” she said.
Rebeca made a post on the social network thanking people for the solidarity she received. “I don’t even know how to tell you how FREE I am and the support I’ve had so far. Thank you very much, everyone, without exception. Christ is the best way ever, seeking the gospel is incredible and forgiving is also the best withdrawal of the burden that exists,” she posted.
In an interview, the two revealed that Rebecca was participating in an event in the Church and had her hair praised by a speaker. Countered, José Maurício took the microphone, scolded her and said that he would not baptize the young woman because she “was not fit to be in the Assembly with that hair” and could only continue in church if she changed the look.
Rebecca also said that the pastor tried to convince her to stay in the Church, but she didn’t accept. “After having all the repercussion, he tried to baptize me, but I refused to be baptized. I left that church and went to another, I’m going get baptized in another,” she said. “I would also like to make it very clear that it was not an attitude of the church itself, part of the church supported me. It was something of the pastor himself,” she added, saying that many of the faithful were saddened by the case.
After the repercussion of the act of support on the part of the young people, the pastor said that Rebeca could be baptized, but did not apologize and insisted that Rebeca would need to change her look.
“After he saw a lot of people were talking about it, he texted Rebeca’s mother asking to talk to her. He said she could fill out the baptism form and invited her to a meeting. When she got there, he asked if she could change her hair ‘at least a little’, because he said ‘that wasn’t a believer’s hair’. He demonized her hair,” Marta said.
Marta also said she received several messages with criticisms of the pastor and that many of the visitors to the temple disagree with José Maurício. “Many of the people disagree with his attitude, but they don’t debate him because he’s raising the Church, people get scared. One detail: he is the only pastor of this church who baptizes. He is the one who defines who is baptized or not,” she added.
In today’s political atmosphere, people are increasingly concluding that many attitudes and acts of racism in Brazil today are getting more brazen due to the extremist positions of President Jair Bolsonaro. In my view, blatant and subtle racism has ALWAYS existed in Brazil. But it does seem that people are more likely to openly admit harboring racist sentiments these days. In Brazil of past decades, people were just as racist, but more likely to deny it. With Bolsonaro at the head of the country, people are putting the pieces together as they try to make connections between racist incidents and any leads to the current president.
Looking into the controversial pastor involved in today’s story, inquiring minds found this link once again. Looking through his social network profile, it was discovered and exposed that Azevedo campaigned for President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. After the victory in the second round, he even put as a profile photo a phrase saying that “Brazil is not of spirits, Brazil is of Jesus Christ.
In Facebook posts in September and October 2018, the pastor made it clear he would vote for Jair Bolsonaro and even made a manifesto in favor of the former military captain saying churches could be closed if Jair Bolsonaro wasn’t elected. “I want to express my concern and care to the Church of Christ and tell the brothers that we will look a little further; because closures of churches and all kinds of repression and persecution comes through the door of POLITICS and we need to close this door here in Brazil,” begins the text.
With information from Revista Fórum