Eduardo Cunha, the leader of Brazil’s lower house of congress, seems to enjoy being in the public eye.
Compared by one Brazilian magazine to Machiavellian House of Cards character Frank Underwood, Cunha is known for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most controversial religious figures in the country, and being a perennial target for LGBT and civil rights activists’ protests due to his pernicious conservative views.
Now Cunha has made the headlines for yet another controversy: in April, the website Pastebin posted a list of 288 web domains registered under his name, of which 154 refer in some way or other to Jesus Christ.
To maintain the domains, including jesusfacebook.com.br, gmailjesus, googlejesus, messengerjesus, youtubejesus and jesusblackberry, Eduardo Cosetino da Cunha spends around 8,000 reals (approximately 2,600 US dollars) a year, according to the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo.*
The congressman, who in the past has argued for an internet “only for Christians” has so far refused to comment on reports about the domain names.
A front with a frontman
Cunha’s religious zeal has heavy political overtones. The congressman — who defines himself in his Twitter bio as “Evangelic, economist, life and family defender” — is part of the so called Evangelic Parliamentary Front: a group that gathers evangelical congressmen from different parties under the same agenda.
Thus, while Cunha is officially a member of President Dilma Rousseff's ruling Worker's Party, his Front would be the third largest in the lower house if it were recognized as a party in its own right. As such it presents a real challenge to Rousseff and the rest of the political establishment in Brazil.
Every week the Front’s congressmen gather in one of the congress building's auditoriums to pray. This practice is forbidden by the Brazilian constitution, that guarantees a secular state, but was seen again when Cunha was elected as President of the Deputies’ Chamber (lower house) in February.
The Front refuses to countenance alternative views on LGBT rights, abortion or drug policy, and has advocated for a reduction in the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. Despite these controversies, the Front's membership grew by 14% after congressional elections last year.
In its reporting on the domains Cunha has registered, the Portuguese version of Spanish newspaper El País says that many evangelical churches encourage their members to buy internet domains as a way to preserve and further the faith.
They also argue that this is to prevent “cybersquatting”, which according to US Law means “registering, trafficking in, or using an Internet domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else”.
According to the same El País’ report, Spanish evangelical church Nuevo Tiempo, for example, was unable to register the domain nuevotiempo.com as that already had a owner — who was asking 80,000 US dollars for it.
In Brazil, the law that would prevent the practice has not been voted on since it was first proposed in 2011. The project, presented by deputy Claudio Cajado, would forbid:
(…) o registro de nomes de domínio de internet nas categorias sob o domínio .br idênticos ou bastante similares a nomes de marcas, de empresas ou de pessoas previamente conhecidas, sem autorização do titular. Também não serão registráveis expressões contrárias à moral e aos bons costumes, que ofendam a honra ou imagem de pessoas ou atentem contra a liberdade de consciência, crença e culto religioso.
(…) the registration of internet domain names in the categories under the domain .br identical or similar to brand, company or previously known person’s names, without the title’s holder authorization. Expressions contrary to moral and decency, that offend honor or people’s image or attempt against free conscience, creed or religious cult.
Eduardo Cunha was cautious enough to register his domains under the variations .net and .com.br. Besides Jesus, Cunha's domains also refer to his radio station (melodiafm) and to sales sites targeting a Christian public, such as “compradecrente”, which stands for “believer's purchase”.
Curiously, Cunha was talking up an “internet only for Christians” at the time these registrations were made in 2012 as he participated in a “March for Jesus” gathering.
El País cites comments Cunha made to other outlets at the time:
Em 2012, quando muitos desses registros foram feitos, aproveitando a mobilização de uma Marcha para Jesus, o deputado explicou à revista Época a iniciativa. “Disponibilizaremos contas de e-mails, teremos um buscador, recolheremos doações para igrejas, transmitiremos cultos, comercializaremos produtos cristãos, teremos uma rede social, em suma, é uma internet só para cristãos”, disse à coluna de Felipe Patury. À Folha de S.Paulo, Cunha declarou à época que mirava a “maior audiência evangélica do país”.
“We’ll make email accounts available, we’ll have a search engine, we’ll collect donations to churches, we’ll broadcast cults, commercialize Christian products, have a social network, in summary [we will have] an internet only for Christians.” […] Cunha declared at the time he was targeting “the country’s greatest evangelical audience”.
And it is a growing audience. Although Brazil remains the country with the largest Catholic population worldwide, the number of neo-pentecostal churches and people who identify as evangelicals is rising rapidly.
The latest census pointed to a 61% growth in the number of evangelicals over the last ten years. According to a poll from 2013, conducted by Datafolha, a research institute, 28% of Brazilians are now evangelicals.
Eduardo Cunha seems to know how to read this scenario better than most. Shortly before being elected to lead the lower house, he began to distance himself from one evangelical church, Sara Nossa Terra (Heal Our Earth), where he had been a member for 20 years, and began to be seen in cults of Assembleia de Deus (God's Assembly), one of the oldest evangelical denominations and the one with the largest number of attendants in Brazil. Both congregations are run by leaders with a strong influence among the country's political elite.