By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – On a visit to Israel two years ago, far-right Brazilian lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro leaned back into the River Jordan in a white robe to be baptized in the arms of a fellow congressman and evangelical pastor.
While still an avowed Catholic, Bolsonaro is riding a wave of support from Brazil’s evangelical Christians, who have helped make him the presidential front-runner heading into the first round of voting slated for Oct. 7.
Evangelicals account for one of every four voters in the world’s largest Catholic country and more than 20 percent of its federal lawmakers. Many have been captivated by Bolsonaro’s eager embrace of the culture wars and his strident anti-gay rhetoric. In a 2011 interview with Playboy Brazil, for example, the father of five said he would not be able to love a gay son. “I would rather that my son died,” he said.
These voters now want the former Army captain to lead a conservative counter-attack against the progressive agenda of the leftist Workers Party (PT), which led Brazil for most of the past 15 years.