RIO DE JANEIRO: Giociani Lucio, an evangelical Christian, stands on a street corner in Rio de Janeiro waving a flag with images of two would-be lawmakers who support President Jair Bolsonaro, flanking a well-known pastor. "Only Jesus can save Brazil from corruption and from Lula," Lucio says of the leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the frontrunner in presidential elections next month. Bolsonaro has grown close to Brazil's evangelical churches over the course of his four-year term.

With the slogan "Brazil above and God above everyone", Bolsonaro has been a fierce defender of conservative positions such as banning abortion and he also named an evangelical to the Supreme Court for the first time. In Congress, evangelical lawmakers are a powerful bloc with 112 of 513 seats, while they are estimated to account for about 30 percent of the population.

In Brazil, which observes separation of church and state, this conservative branch of Protestant Christianity is reaching the upper echelons of power. And its members are out in the street making a lot of noise ahead of the election. "Religion and politics should mix. This is a representation of the society that we are part of. So we need evangelical policies," said Rafael Moreira Macedo, campaigning outside an evangelical church in the Penha district of Rio ahead of the election, which is also for governors and members of Congress. "There are those who say we evangelicals cannot get involved in politics. Why not?" asks Solange Ferreira, a 65-year-old professor.

Defending Bolsonaro

Most evangelicals are outspoken in their defense of Bolsonaro, repeating the ideas he expresses on the campaign trail, especially his criticism of Lula, and the left due to its alleged involvement in corruption scandals. Lula "defends dictatorships... evangelicals believe more in freedom, while (the left) identifies more with socialism and communism," said Moreira Macedo, 37. "I don't know anyone who will vote for Lula.

Bolsonaro is against everything that is bad for adolescents and adults," said Alessandra Abreu, a 22-year-old married student who has been an evangelical since she started going to church with her mother-in-law three years ago. She said she listens closely to the preaching of a pastor named Silas Malafaia, who is a friend of Bolsonaro and a presidential advisor. "I know he does not tell lies,"said Abreu, who says she is wary of the news industry and social media.

'Vote 22'

According to a poll released Sept 1 by the Instituto Datafolha, Bolsonaro has the support of 48 percent of evangelicals, against 32 percent for Lula. In general opinion polls, Lula is at 45 percent and Bolsonaro at 32 percent. "Of course I will vote for Bolsonaro", said Lucio on the street corner, who is 33, married and has a daughter. "Because the family composed of a man and a woman takes precedence over anything else. If evangelicals are open-minded like me they will hit '22'," Lucio said of the voting machine number that corresponds to voting for Bolsonaro.

But evangelicals are not the only ones in Brazil who believe religion and politics go together. An Instituto Datafolha poll found 56 percent of Brazilian voters feel the two should mix. And about 60 percent of voters feel it more important for a candidate to defend family values than present a sound economic plan.

Moreira Macedo said evangelicals take it on themselves to preach to anyone who will listen. "One comes into contact with a lot of people. Whenever the opportunity arises, I take on the role of disciple of Christ, infecting people in a positive way," Macedo said. "I never counted them but I have convinced a lot people over the course of my life." - AFP