Superstition comes with a hefty price tag
Edir Macedo is 5-foot-6, slight, and 68 years old. He has deformed fingers, a sparse crown of graying hair, and more than 5 million followers, whose donations over the last 36 years have made him a billionaire.
Thus begins a 2013 profile in Business Week, which adds:
In Brazil, where he was born and raised, he is a major national figure, the subject of dozens of criminal inquiries, and the owner of Rádio & Televisão Record, a media conglomerate that runs the country’s second-largest television network. He is known to most everyone by the title he created for himself: He is O Bispo – “The Bishop.”
Macedo is the founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Pentecostal denomination specializing in prosperity theology, which links faith to financial success.
Well, “O Bispo”, we now learn, has spent a sizable chunk of his $1.4 billion stash in recreating King Solomon’s first Holy Temple in Jerusalem – in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It is reported here by Worldcrunch.com that, drawing on Biblical depictions of the temple and archaeological findings, an extraordinarily elaborate shrine has come to life. at a cost of $300 million. The a 74,000-square-meter building occuplies 40 plots of land that were converted into a single bloc. It took four years of planning and building by 1,800 workers.
The structure includes classes for 1,300 children, chairs imported from Spain, Jerusalemite stones from Hebron, television and radio studios, a helicopter landing pad, candelabra and prayer shawls from Israel, marble from Italy, 10,000 LED bulbs, two giant screens, an American management company to oversee the premises, a parking lot for nearly 2,000 cars, “and, yes, one God”.
The inauguration ceremony of the new Solomon’s Temple was held earlier this year in the presence of thousands, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, local officials and members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).
A band was playing and a choir was singing praise to the Lord. Bishops and priests in white gowns with golden sashes were walking on the red carpet carrying an Ark of the Convenant. A presentation screened on the stone walls described the history of the believer — from Abraham to UCKG, of course.
At 126 meters long, 104 meters wide and 55 meters high, this mega shrine is thought to be the biggest in Brazil, and one of the largest in the world.
So if Rio de Janeiro is known for the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Sao Paulo could soon be known for Solomon’s Temple.
And that’s quite an achievement for a rather young evangelical movement that started no more than 37 years ago in a makeshift shed in a Sao Paulo suburb, advanced to a little morgue and today numbers at least 10 million followers in various countries, including two communities in Israel.
Macedo was born and brought up Catholic, but at the age of 25 he became an evangelist. He had studied theology in religious academic institutes until he became so passionate about spreading the word of God that in 1977 he abandoned his career as an economist at a public institute and started the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God with several partners.
They believe in the old and new testaments, and that each Christian is first and foremost Jewish. This is the root of the deep connection to Judaism and Israel. At the UCKG, many prayers are in three languages — Portuguese, English and Hebrew — and prayer halls are decorated with a range of Jewish symbols. During this summer’s conflict in Gaza, a mass prayer for Israel was held at the Solomon’s Temple.
Macedo rarely gives interviews, but in response to one request, he answered a few questions in writing, stressing the strong bond between Judaism and Christianity.
The biblical faith is one. It is impossible to separate Christianity from its Jewish roots. Jesus and his Twelve Apostles were Jewish, and he didn’t ignore the principles of the Jewish faith. On the contrary, he enhanced and completed what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had started. Psalm 122:6 says we need to pray for Jerusalem and we do it all the time, in our rituals and in our radio programs.
Macedo made the decision to build a replica of the Holy Temple eight years ago, when he visited Jerusalem. He wanted all members of his church to be able to step at least once in their lifetimes on the same ground and stones that Jesus allegedly walked on.
The Solomon’s Temple is a way to reconstruct the Biblical principles of faith as God himself meant. This is not a temple of the Universal Church, but a universal temple – for all humanity, of every race and faith, for anyone who wishes to know the God of the Bible.
For Brazil’s new middle class the church offers a way to extend their thanks for the economic growth they’ve enjoyed in recent years. Many people make donations, and the church expands in a way that allows it to also work with the poor and others facing hardship.
But wealth can also be a source of trouble, says Worldcrunch.com.
The new, rebellious evangelical movement, which also has been growing rapidly on social media, has already been drawing fire from other Christian sects. The church and its leaders have been blamed for allegedly using donations and charity funds for personal interests, and several legal cases are ongoing.
• Top photograph by Marco Antonio Teixeira/Globo/Getty Images.