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‘If the President can lie, if the President can steal, why can’t I?’

What one organisation is doing to change the culture of a whole nation

The Bible Society of Brazil is tackling the scourge of corruption in the vast South American country, distributing a million Bibles with key Christian values and principles written into the front.

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The campaign follows the charging of President Michel Temer with corruption in August and the jailing of ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva on corruption charges in July.

Bible Society Brazil’s executive director Rudi Zimmer says the casting aside of Christian values has become endemic over the past 15 years as corruption spread through all levels of society, and Brazilians think they can do what they want.

“People say, ‘If the President can lie, if the President can steal, why can’t I?’,” he tells Eternity.

But with corruption at the top now brought to light – and mass protests by the public – Bible Society hopes to influence the morals of the country with a special distribution of cheap Bibles.

“People say, ‘If the President can lie, if the President can steal, why can’t I?’” – Rudi Zimmer

“We are making a special programme this year for distribution of a million Bibles with the principles of real, honest life at the beginning – politically speaking, family speaking, socially speaking, and the key values for Christians,” says Zimmer.

Rudi Zimmer oversees the largest Bible operation in the world.

Rudi Zimmer oversees the largest Bible operation in the world.

“We are working with churches to have the pastors also use these very cheap Bibles – less than $2 – and people are getting them by boxes and giving them out all over the country so that we can have an influence to get around this whole difficulty.”

Zimmer, who is a Lutheran pastor and theologian of German descent, says the campaign will continue next year, the 70th anniversary of the Bible Society of Brazil.

“Next year we will celebrate the Year of the Bible. Every ten years of the existence of the Bible Society of Brazil we have a Year of the Bible when we give special emphasis to some of the big programmes.”

“Our monthly target is between 700,000 and 800,000 full Bibles.” – Rudi Zimmer

Having worked at Bible Society for 26 years – including setting up its publishing division and serving for 12 years at the helm – Zimmer believes strongly that Scripture is “the only thing that brings people out of what they are.”

Brazil’s Bible Society is the largest Bible operation in the world and its statistics are staggering. Of the 401 million Scriptures distributed last year by the world’s 148 Bible Societies, 278 million were distributed by Brazil alone.

“Our monthly target is between 700,000 and 800,000 full Bibles plus all the New Testaments, portions and selections,” he says.

Zimmer doesn’t even know exactly how many workers he is responsible for – he reckons there are about 520 staff spread across nine regional offices covering 27 states, including the Amazon. On top of that he has 10,000 well-trained volunteers who distribute Bibles and Bible portions at train stations, sports stadiums and other big public venues.

He says the hunger for Scripture in Brazil has intensified over the past 20 years as Christians have migrated from Catholic churches to Protestant churches, prompting a strong reaction by Catholic churches to focus on biblical education.

“Some of them have the prosperity theology, and lots of people go there with big hopes but suddenly there’s a big deception so they leave.” – Rudi Zimmer

“We were at least nominally Catholic by 90 per cent for a long time. What happened is new evangelical churches – charismatic, Lutheran, Pentecostals and other Protestant churches in Brazil – have sprung up and Catholic fell down to 50 per cent,” he says.

Unfortunately, some of these new churches teach prosperity theology with the result that members become disappointed and move on to another church, he says.

“These churches have millions of members but they don’t even call them members because most of these are very fluid – people go from one to the other because of theology. Some of them have the prosperity theology, and lots of people go there with big hopes but suddenly there’s a big deception, so they leave.”

Zimmer says Brazil’s Catholic church now includes an almost Pentecostal movement of more than 20 million members, who open up doors for the Bible Society. For example, Catholic priest Marcelo Rossi has become so popular that he holds at least one big event every year that attracts more than a million people.

“In view of the growth of evangelicalism and Scripture education in the Catholic church, demand for Bibles has increased. So around 1990 we had reached a million Bibles per year; by 2000 we had reached four million; by 2013 almost eight million Bibles. In the last few years the average was seven million-something every year of full Bibles in Portuguese.”

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