The decision to remove pastor Doug Wilson from the lineup of an evangelical conference in Brazil has brought both an unusual moment of unity between progressives and some conservatives—and spurred a debate over whether cancellation is a political or a biblical response for Christians.
Visão Nacional para a Consciência Cristã, a conservative association led by various evangelical churches, pulled Wilson from its upcoming event after theologian and anti-racism activist Ronilso Pacheco characterized the American pastor as an advocate for slavery in a text published by Intercept Brasil.
Held during the Carnival days in Campina Grande, Paraíba— February 8–13 this year—the Encontro para Consciência Cristã (Meeting for Christian Conscience) features prominent Brazilian Reformed theologians and draws in well over 10,000 attendees.
Last month, event organizers justified the removal, citing concerns for Wilson’s safety. In his response, Wilson wrote a blog post titled “A Word to the Good People of Brazil,” saying he doesn’t endorse slavery but opposes the wars fought to try to subvert it: “My argument has never been that slavery was necessary, but rather that the carnage was not necessary.”
“I believe that Wilson’s name should not even have been considered,” said conservative evangelical theologian Norma Braga, who is based in Rio de Janeiro. “The invitation damaged the reputation of Consciência Cristã not only among non-Christians but also among many Christians who understood the problem of his presence here.”
The pressure to take Wilson out of the event came from some conservatives like Braga as well as from progressive evangelicals who challenged the decision to give him a platform. (His views on slavery aren’t the only point of controversy; on his YouTube channel, Baptist pastor Yago Martins addressed “very dark and painful” allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up at Wilson’s church.)
The Moscow, Idaho, pastor stands out in Brazilian Reformed circles; more than two dozen of Wilson’s titles have been translated into Portuguese. Alongside his wife, Nancy, he is a prominent figure in topics related to family and child-rearing.
“This unique combination makes their books warmly welcomed in various Christian circles,” said Felipe Sabino, the founder and editorial director of Editora Monergismo, which publishes Wilson’s books.
Plenty of Wilson’s Brazilian followers were disappointed to miss the chance to hear from him—and also frustrated with what they saw as a progressive instinct around political correctness influencing evangelicals rather than a biblical sense of grace and justice.
“This sometimes leads to the unjust defamation of fellow believers, denying them the opportunity to provide a rebuttal,” said Sabino and Thiago McHertt, a pastor at the Reformed Church in Joinville, Brazil, in a statement to CT.
They’d rather see Christians hold a higher standard, with the Bible as their benchmark and a presumption of innocence extending to ministers of the gospel.
“Many believers and Christian leaders condemned him hastily, even though they certainly would not appreciate being judged similarly,” Sabino and McHertt continued. “It is important to note that they are not only disregarding judgments from civil and ecclesiastical tribunals, retractions, and clarifications of past issues but also overlooking a fruitful ministry of over 40 years from a man whose children and grandchildren remain steadfast in the Lord.”
Sabino said Wilson’s Brazilian followers appreciate his lively and joyful approach to faith (what Wilson calls “Chestertonian Calvinism”), optimistic view of the church’s future, and commitment to building a distinctly Christian culture.
Critics of Wilson, though, see his popularity stemming from reactionary politics in Brazil. Braga worries that evangelicals are overlooking stances that could be considered misguided from a Christian perspective as long as leaders decry issues like militant feminism, abortion legalization, and sexualization of children.
“There is an entire configuration of sins that are left out if the majority of leaders only denounce issues related to progressivism,” she said, “protecting religious institutions instead of safeguarding and supporting abuse victims, predominantly women.”
The profound political polarization in Brazil is mirrored within evangelical churches—and the responses to the Wilson saga.
In recent years, disagreement over support for former president Jair Bolsonaro disrupted evangelical churches. Many churchgoers left over political clashes. They remain concerned over what they see as the church’s devotion to political power and the lingering divisions fueled by aggressive and violent politics.
Presbyterian pastor Pedro Lucas Dulci in Goiânia says many discussions within churches are being shaped by ideological, cultural, economic, and political preferences rather than theological considerations.
He wants to see the church instead offer a response to contemporary challenges without subjecting the message of the gospel to partisan preferences.
From his perspective, the decision to cancel Wilson’s visit, far from suggesting unity among various theological currents, does precisely the opposite by establishing a culture in which controversies are silenced. Without the presence of the pastor, neither his vision nor that of those who oppose him can be heard. For this reason, Dulci argues that cancellation should never be an option when the goal is to address theological and intellectual differences.
“A change of opinion arises through arguments, dialogue, prayer, understanding, and even repentance,” he said, “but never through cancellation.”