Church leaders in Brazil have been debating the results of the nation's latest census data that show [a] decline in numbers of Roman Catholics and an increase of people identifying as evangelical - writes Edelberto Behs.
While most say they are not surprised by the results, they expressed frustration at the lack of specifics within the data, the Latin America and Caribbean Communication Agency (ALC) reports.
During a roundtable discussion broadcast on Rádio Gaúcha of Porto Alegre, the Rev Walter Altmann, a Brazilian Lutheran pastor and Moderator of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee, expressed concerns at the statistics.
The data compiled by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) shows the evangelical population growing from 15.4 per cent in 2000 to 22.2 per cent in 2010. But from there, classifications get murky, the ALC reports.
Of those who declared themselves as evangelicals, 60 per cent said they considered themselves Pentecostal, 18.5 per cent described themselves as "evangelical mission" and 21.8 per cent, or 9.2 million people, were labelled "undetermined," a classification that not even the IBGE itself was able to define accurately. It includes Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, evangelicals and Protestants.
Altmann said it was impossible with this data to determine if Lutheran Church in Brazil had gained or lost members.
The Rev Irineu Rabuske, a Roman Catholic priest, said that the 2010 Census data came as no surprise to the Catholic Church, since declines in membership have been recorded since the nation's first census in 1872, when it was essentially the only denomination in the country.
Pastor Eliezer Morais, of the Assembly of God, attributed growth of his denomination to its simplicity, the ALC reports. "We proclaim what we have inherited from the Reformation -- salvation by grace, faith and the Scriptures only," he said. "We do not have the liturgy dominated by the clergy, we work with simplicity, involved in the reality of the Brazilian people, and we do it with the faithful reading the Bible," he said.
Altmann emphasised that Brazil continues to be an extremely religious country and that those movements that the census points out, namely a growth in Pentecostalism and a decrease in the number of Catholics, are also occurring in other parts of the world.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]