September 30, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Church Chain to LGBTQ+ Community: Just Pray the Gay Away

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God marginalizes the LGBTQ+ community by claiming that an Afro-Brazilian spirit possesses Queer-identifying people.

 By Jorge Paniagua

Religious clerics who are part of The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God believe members of the LGBTQ+ community may be possessed by either a demon or, worse, a legion of demons.

If you are a homosexual, or bisexual member of the community, the church’s clergymen have a name for the specific demon possessing you — the Pomba Gira, a female-devil spirit, whose roots lie in Afro-Brazilian culture, popular amongst practitioners of a syncretic religion named, “Quimbanda.” Sound confusing? For newcomers, a Friday night service at this neo-pentecostal congregation may be exactly that.

Pastor Bruno, a religious leader at one of the church’s Downtown Los Angeles locations, said that God didn’t make man for another man. “He made man for woman.” He added that homosexuality is a “desire” — one that does not align with what’s written in the Christian Bible.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was founded in Rio de Janeiro,in 1977 by Bishop Edir Macedo (on whom the movie “Nothing to Lose” on Netflix is based).  The Church has grown to be one of Brazil’s most lucrative neo-pentecostal church franchises. The church’s founder, who is also an author and television personality, has an estimated net worth of $950 million, as reported by a 2013 Forbes article.

Far from a single, neighborhood church, The Universal Church has hundreds of locations across the world. In California alone, there are 79 of these churches, 28 in Los Angeles County. Each one of these locations holds a weekly Friday service focusing on the expulsion of demons, or dark spirits, from the lives of attendees, including those “possessing” members of the LGBTQ+ community.

At this ritualistic service of so-called “deliverance,” pastors and religious clerics rally up church members to the front of the church and attempt to perform a mass exorcism on the congregation.

A usual Friday service begins with a pastor (in this case, Pastor Bruno of Downtown Los Angeles) walking through a crowd of church members shouting through his microphone for the demons, which he is convinced are possessing people, to surface.

He begins praying over certain people — but this prayer is far from orthodox. He, for example, shouts through his microphone while intensely gripping over a woman’s head, “Manifest! Come on! Manifest now!” The woman becomes noticeably agitated by the pastor’s harsh approach to praying for her. She begins shaking her head fervently — almost as if she’s attempting to shake off the pastor’s hand gripping over her.

A few moments after the pastor initially began praying over the woman, the church-goer begins convulsing and shouting herself. The pastor has successfully made the alleged demon within her emerge. The woman, now in a trance-like, exorcised state, begins to wrestle with the pastor. He refuses to let go and continues shouting through the microphone, “The boss! I want the boss to manifest!” Pastor Bruno aims to exorcise the “boss” demon within the woman. In the same prayer he shouts that the curse she inherited from her mother or grandmother. “Come on! The spirit attempting to lure her away from this church,” he addresses the alleged demon. The exorcised woman continues struggling against the religious cleric. 

According to Pastor Bruno, there are some people who are victims of spiritual possession as a result of an ancestral curse. A curse, the pastor is convinced, is acquired from one of their parents. “It’s a curse from a pombagira,” Pastor Bruno said.

An interview between the pastor and demon – through the woman – ensues after the demon’s supposed initial manifestation. The pastor questions the demon for the entire congregation to hear. Church attendees await for this paranormal conversation in silence.

The pastor asks the woman in an exorcised state whether people’s souls go to the cemetery with the body once someone dies. “No,” the demon responds. The woman’s voice sounds like her own — only deeper and more aggravated.

“Then, where does the soul go?” asks the pastor. “Either, heaven or hell,” asserts the demon in a ill-tempered tone of voice. Many members of the congregation — those who were not exorcised — seem clearly startled by the exchange between the two.

Although some churches sternly oppose homosexuality, many religious leaders apart of The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God believe that a member of the LGBTQ community is possessed by a demonic entity.

Pastor Bruno’s interpretation of homosexuality aligns with the ideology of the Universal Church’s founder, Bishop Edir Macedo.  In a book, written by Bishop Macedo named “The Secrets of the Occult,” Macedo writes, “Prostitutes, homosexuals and bisexuals are always possessed by pombagiras (maria-mulambo, cigana, etc.).”

According to a website, run by self-proclaimed witches, named “Tribe of the Sun,” this spirit is also associated with “bars, especially strip bars, brothels, sex clubs and dungeons, and cemeteries.” As result of the spirit’s alleged ability to manifest in multiple forms, Pomba Gira is often referred to in the plural form, pomba giras.

When asked if the Pomba Gira possesses homosexuals, pastor Bruno confidently stated, “Yes.” The clergyman is convinced that the only way to remove this demon is by “looking for God” at The Universal Church. He firmly believes that homosexuals must be liberated from this spirit through the ritualistic services provided at the church on Friday evenings.

Yet, Pastor Nathan, a different clergyman at one of the Church’s Long Beach locations, seemed hesitant to label homosexuals as being possessed by an Afro-Brazilian spirit. He, himself, a Brazilian national, believes that members of the LGBT community have the ability to become heterosexuals if they simply “change” their minds. Furthermore, he added that God cannot bless an LGBTQ person’s life if they don’t follow God’s “word.”

“Your life changes when your mind changes,” Pastor Nathan believes. The clergyman said that all people, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, are welcome to attend the church’s daily services. However, he added that although they may see some blessings as a result of attending the church, they would never entirely be blessed by God as long as they continue being LGBTQ+ people.

As detailed by the Universal Church’s website, the congregation provides what they consider “spiritual help” for its members who may be afflicted by “negativity, anger, constant fear, inability to rest, self-harm tendencies, lack of motivation for life, suicidal thoughts.”

The church draws an abundant amount of inspiration from Brazilian folklore and culture — this inspiration often intertwines with the church’s overall ideology. One of The Universal Church’s main focus is to liberate people from curses and demons drawn in by occult practices. The church’s founder has seen significant financial profit from this focus on “deliverance” from evil.

Editor’s Note, Pastor Nathan and Pastor Bruno agreed to be interviewed for this article under the stipulation that absolutely no audio, video-recording, note-taking or photography would be permitted. The information documented in this article is from the writer’s first-hand experience attending a Friday exorcism and talking with the pastors of The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

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