Religion and politics dominate in Netflix’s ambitious Argentine thriller El reino / The Kingdom, released to international audiences in August 2021. The series was co-created by film director Marcelo Piñeyro, known for Caballos salvajes (1995) and Plata quemada (2000), and Claudia Piñeiro, bestselling author of crime novels such as Las viudas de los jueves (2005), Elena sabe (2007), and Catedrales (2020). El reino generated buzz over its well-known creators and its top-notch cast, including Diego Peretti as Pastor Emilio Vásquez Peña and Mercedes Morán as his wife Elena. The show captured audiences across Latin America and beyond, and triumphed at the 2022 Platino Awards, winning three of six nominations: best miniseries, best series creators for Piñeyro and Piñeiro, and best supporting actor for Joaquín Furriel as shady political operator Rubén Osorio. Netflix has confirmed a second season for the thriller, which ended its eight-episode run in a cliffhanger of unresolved plots involving political intrigue, financial corruption, and sexual abuse. This study approaches El reino through its religious aspects, first by reviewing evangelical influence in Latin American politics and showing why this has become an object of scrutiny for co-writer and feminist activist Claudia Piñeiro. Second, it will analyze how the fictional pastors in El reino represent Neo-Pentecostal prosperity theology and how this belief system, uncritically extrapolated to excess, facilitates their simultaneous acceptance of Christianity and crime.
Abortion and Abuse, Religion and Politics
The series revolves around pastor Emilio Vásquez Peña, leader of the fictional Iglesia Reino de la Luz of Buenos Aires. As the result of a right-wing coalition seeking the evangelical vote, Emilio is a vice presidential candidate until his running mate, Armando Badajoz (Daniel Kuzniecka), is assassinated during a campaign rally, turning pastor into aspiring president. As the investigation unfolds, the Vásquez Peña family’s sins come to light: their church empire is built on money laundering, and far worse, Elena has spent years covering up Emilio’s pedophilia by relocating his victims from the church-run boys’ home. The series paints a picture of an evangelical world where evil and corruption lurk behind shining surfaces, like the grime on the back of the church’s white cross, dirty money hidden behind polished marble walls, stringy gray hair under Elena’s sleek wig, and a black eye under Emilio’s carefully applied make-up. This picture did not sit well with Argentina’s Alianza Cristiana de Iglesias Evangélicas (ACIERA), which released a scathing response that targeted Claudia Piñeiro, accusing her of creating a product “desde la base del odio, para generar rechazo social a un colectivo religioso” and calling her actions “comportamiento de tipo fascista” (Frigerio). The statement, which was withdrawn shortly after its release, condemns the show as having no basis in reality and of attacking a population that has already experienced systematic discrimination. It singles out Piñeiro: “Es sabido el encono que ha expresado la escritora y guionista de esta obra desde su militancia feminista durante el debate de la ley del aborto hacia el colectivo evangélico de la Argentina” (Frigerio).
ACEIRA’s statement ignores Marcelo Piñeyro’s role as series co-writer, but Piñeiro confirms that the two collaborated fully and share the same perspectives on the series’ major themes (Piñeiro, Email). However, it is true that her fingerprints are all over the script in terms of its flashback-heavy structure and its treatment of religion and injustice. Like in her crime novels, the question “whodunit?” is less important than the “why?”, because in the untangling of prior circumstances and motives, her fiction exposes damaging ideologies and social and economic injustices. As Piñeiro stated in a 2019 interview with El País, “La novela negra nació para denunciar las injusticias de la sociedad” and this often works by uncovering the “crimen detrás del crimen” (González). In El reino, who committed the murder—church worker Remigio Cárdenas (Nico García Hume)—is never in question, but the aftermath reveals the Vásquez Peña family’s crimes as well as a broader source of injustice that Piñeiro is keen to highlight: religious opposition to abortion legality and gender/sexuality equality, a fight in which evangelical leaders and voters have a growing role across Latin America.
In an interview with Página/12, Marcelo Piñeyro said that with the series, “Lo que hacemos es denunciar a las iglesias evangélicas que manipulan a la sociedad para imponer políticas conservadoras y quitar derechos a la ciudadanía” (Rodríguez). He added that ACEIRA targeted his co-writer “por el hecho de ser mujer, ser feminista y de haber luchado fuerte por causas feministas” (Rodríguez). Beyond writing about women’s issues, Claudia Piñeiro has used her best-selling status to campaign for legalized abortion, comprehensive sex education, marriage equality, and separation of church and state, and she has experienced retaliation for her views, including cancelled appearances and attempted boycotts (Rey). Abortion, along with maternity and fertility, is a recurrent theme in her novels, and it is often tied to religious ideology that stifled the mere discussion of abortion in Argentina. Her recent novel Catedrales reflects the tragic consequences of abortion being, in her words, a “palabra prohibida” (Morán). It heavily indicts the Catholic Church, with its plot revolving around a seminarian (the 17-year-old victim’s lover), a theology teacher (her sister), and their parish priest, who collaborate to cover up a death caused by an illegal abortion gone wrong. In an earlier novel, Elena sabe, the plot turns on the female main characters’ interference in another woman’s choices and the consequences of forced, unwanted motherhood.
El reino was written in the midst of Argentina’s debate over abortion; the procedure only became legal there in December 2020 when congress voted to allow it up to the 14th week of pregnancy, a move opposed by Catholic and evangelical groups (Centenera and Rivas Molina). In the show, abortion is on the platform of Ética Ciudadanía por la República (ECR), the fictional political party backing Emilio’s candidacy. Running on familiar conservative talking points like family values and law and order, Emilio names abortion, along with homosexuality, as one of the evils that motivate his decision to run for president (“Expiación” 44:00-44:30). Abortion mostly remains in the background, according to Piñeiro so that the writers could tell a bigger story about religion, politics, and “agendas ultra conservadoras” without alienating pro-life viewers or those simply tired of the controversial topic (Email). Nevertheless, in episode six, evangelicals’ growing influence is described over shots of protestors marching with pro-life signs and a giant replica of a fetus (“El archivo” 17:15-17:20). This is followed by footage of Emilio and Elena leading a massive service in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de la República, with the crowd waving pro-life flags and both pastors wearing the sky-blue handkerchiefs symbolic of the Argentine pro-life movement (17:20-17:22). Abortion also comes up in relation to Emilio’s daughter, Ana (Vera Spinetta). Piñeiro divulged that in an early version, Ana deviated from her family by wearing a green pro-choice handkerchief on her backpack, but that this was later removed (Email). Ana’s views come to light, however, when she considers whether to continue her out-of-wedlock pregnancy in the series’ second scene, before viewers have even met Emilio or been introduced to the main plot—a placement that signals the importance of this theme in the grand scheme of the show’s political context (“Control” 05:25-05:30). Though the show centers on other topics, abortion is particularly significant for Piñeiro, who sees it as “el derecho sobre el que se montan o desmontan otros derechos” for women (Email).
The first scene of the series, which features boys’ home residents Brian and Jonathan (Lautaro Romero and Uriel Nicolás Díaz), involves another injustice that has captured Piñeiro’s attention: sexual abuse within the religious establishment. In the 2021 volume Somos sobrevivientes: Crónicas de abuso sexual en la infancia, Piñeiro narrates the story of survivor Sebastian Cuattromo, who fought for justice after being abused by a Marianist brother at a parochial school. The order paid a settlement in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement, but downplayed the abuser’s actions as “un juego inapropiado” and only transferred him rather than reporting him for prosecution (112). Cuattromo took his fight to the archbishopric, which was under the direction of then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and was redirected to another office where his claims were heard but never answered (112). Taken together with the themes of Piñeiro’s previous work, abortion and sexual abuse emerge as key indicators of injustice and of the religious and political machinery that enables it. Furthermore, her recurrent themes of tragic or frustrated motherhood and infertility return to highlight injustices. In El reino, Brian’s mother mounts an anguished search for her son amid police apathy, and prosecutor Roberta Candia (Nancy Dupláa) fights fruitlessly for justice in a corrupt system while mourning her own inability to become pregnant. Piñeiro’s subtext is clear: abortion is less criminal than these miscarriages of justice.
Prosperity-Gospel Evangelicalism in Latin America and Beyond
While Piñeiro’s fiction has previously targeted the Catholic church, the growing influence of Latin American evangelical groups poses a new threat to abortion access and to the rights of women and gender/sexual minorities. This influence has been most notable in Brazil, where Pastor Edir Macedo and the evangelical vote helped propel Jair Bolsonaro and his openly Pentecostal discourse into the presidency in 2018 (Oualalou 69). Bolsonaro, who formed his own far-right political party emphasizing “God, family, and homeland” in order to maintain evangelical support, reacted to the Argentine vote to legalize abortion: “Mientras dependa de mí y de mi gobierno, el aborto nunca será aprobado en nuestro suelo” (“Brazil’s”; “Bolsonaro”). El reino’s fictional political party, the ECR, resonates with Bolsonaro’s Alliance for Brazil because it was formed with the specific intention of mobilizing the evangelical vote (“El archivo” 17:00-17:40).
Recent surveys of religious affiliation in Latin America attest to a “cultural revolution” in which evangelicals, led by Neo-Pentecostals and fast-growing denominations like Brazil’s Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD), have created a profound challenge to the Catholic Church (Sotelo and Arocena 4). Between 1996 and 2018, the percentage of Latin Americans identifying as Catholic decreased by 21%, and one in five Latin Americans now ascribe to evangelicalism. As of 2018, the highest percentages of evangelicals were found in Central America—up to 44%—with Brazil at 26% and Argentina at a comparatively small 12% (4). The IURD is one of the principal examples of this growth. Founded in the 1970s by Edir Macedo, the evangelical juggernaut now counts millions of members in Brazil and has established over twelve thousand churches worldwide, with 281 congregations in Argentina as of 2020 (Fitz Patrick and Crucianelli). According to religion scholar Andrew Chesnut, “Macedo was at the vanguard of popularizing exorcism and prosperity theology. Now, he’s arguably the most important Evangelical figure in Latin America” (qtd. in Zaitchik and Lord). Both prosperity theology and belief in demonic possession play key roles in El reino and are among several ways that the fictional Iglesia de Luz and its leadership mimic Neo-Pentecostal churches like the IURD.
The IURD and similar denominations are part of the international legacy of the US Neo-Pentecostal revival of the 1960s, in which prior emphases on spiritual salvation and bodily healing became increasingly combined with financial prosperity as a mark of God’s blessing. Virginia Garrard-Burnett writes that this modern-day version of Christianity “speaks to the material wants and needs of people living in a world in which success is measured almost exclusively by affluence and consumption, where sin and grace are defined, respectively, by poverty and wealth” (22). The prosperity movement has been explosively popular in parts of the global south, and due to its wide appeal and its adoption of online media, there is a constant “cross-pollination of ideas and theologies” (Garrard-Burnett 31) between leaders in places like the US, Latin America, Africa, and South Korea.
Netflix and the series creators have aimed to make El reino an internationally-marketable thriller, and the combination of party politics and the multi-continental influence of the prosperity gospel achieves this end. As reviewer Javier Zurro comments, El reino gives “una lectura política no sólo de Argentina, sino del mundo actual,” and Espinoff’s Albertini adds that viewers will find “paralelismo con la situación global con el auge de la extrema derecha y del conservadurismo religioso.” The far-right has been on the rise globally in recent years, and in more than one instance, prosperity-gospel evangelists have been involved. Beyond Brazil’s Macedo/Bolsonaro alliance, there have been evangelical presidential candidates in various Latin American countries, and evangelical parties have made in-roads into national legislatures (Boas). Further afield, African Neo-Pentecostal evangelists support right-wing agendas including opposition to abortion and gay rights. In fact, leaders such as Nigerian televangelist Chris Oyakhilome and Pastor Richard Chogo of Kenya vocally supported US President Donald Trump because he would apply these conservative ideals in foreign policy decisions related to Africa (Olewe).
In the US, Trump benefited from a wide range of evangelical support, including Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the televangelist who founded the Moral Majority (MM) in 1979, and prosperity-gospel evangelist Paula White, who became Trump’s spiritual adviser (Peters and Dias). Unlike Catholics, evangelicals were not always unified against abortion; it was only when abortion became closely linked with feminism and the sexual revolution that they began to “frame it not as a difficult moral choice, but rather as an assault on women’s God-given role, on the family, and on Christian America itself” (Kobes du Mez 68–69). The MM effectively utilized abortion to mobilize voters, and it has been so effective as a wedge issue that by 2016, 81% of evangelical voters favored Trump, who promised to defend Christianity and advance the pro-life cause, despite his failure to model Christian values (xiv, 3). Although El reino does not dwell on the US/Trump connection, episode six reveals that Emilio’s campaign runner, Rubén Osorio, is a CIA undercover asset and that he was brought to the U.S. to study Trump’s campaign methods, which led him to see Argentina’s evangelical voters as a force to be harnessed (“El archivo” 15:40-17:40). Furthermore, sociologists have linked the MM to evangelicals’ increasing political participation in Latin America, since the MM or “New Right” set out to advance the American political-ideological right throughout the world (Sotelo and Arocena 7).
In the wake of Trump’s election and his installation of new conservative Supreme Court justices, the US has become a cautionary tale for pro-choice advocates around the world in regard to evangelical influence in politics. Despite being in force for over 40 years, the status of Roe v. Wade became more precarious during the conception and production of El reino, and during the writing of this article in June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the ruling, which is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half of the states (Sherman). While the evangelical population has been smaller and less politically unified in Argentina, recent studies show that as in the US, abortion has been a mobilizing factor, and pastors and politicians have taken note and sought to capture this energy for right-wing parties (Semán and García Bossio 12–15). Thus, Piñeiro’s critical focus on the Catholic Church as seen in her novels Elena sabe and Catedrales has aptly shifted to include the fast-growing evangelical population and its leaders, a group that could eventually threaten the continuation of Argentine women’s recently established abortion rights just as evangelical groups have effectively done in the United States. Piñeiro’s critique goes far beyond this one issue, however, to take on other problematic aspects of the Neo-Pentecostal movement, from its imposition of traditional ideals regarding gender and sexuality to its tendency toward financial corruption and other abuses.
The Prosperity Gospel: Wealth, Image, and the Shaping of Reality
In an interview for El País, Piñeiro asserted that “La serie no pretende dar cuenta de cómo es el evangelismo hoy en Argentina sino construir un pastor que pueda ser verosímil” (Galindo). Indeed, the kind of religion depicted in El reino does not represent evangelicalism as a whole or focus on everyday evangelical believers; rather, it focuses on one megachurch pastor, wealthy and influential enough to affect national politics, and his family. From the depiction of Emilio’s fame and public image to his theology and practice, the series suggests that he is a Macedo-like figure and places him and his Iglesia de Luz firmly in the prosperity-gospel camp. A vlogger touts Emilio as one of the most influential pastors in Latin America, and an intelligence report names the Iglesia de Luz as the fastest growing church in Argentina (“Un hombre” 26:26-26:36; “El archivo” 17:20-17:30). Emilio also appears to be a televangelist, which would explain his continent-spanning reputation, and his status as a spiritual leader is symbolized by billboards with his image under the church’s motto, “Cristo salva” (“Círculo” 01:04-01:06). These billboards feature Emilio in a white suit, raising his hands as if to bless the passing multitudes, and the motto almost seems to label him as Christ, or at least as Christ’s holy representative—a stark contrast to the grimy truth that is revealed as season one plays out.
Emilio and Elena represent prosperity-gospel evangelists in various ways, beginning with their public image. They have the elegant, wealthy air of married pastoral teams common in the movement past and present, from US televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to pairs like Brazil’s Apostle Estevam and Bishop Sônia Hernandes of the many-branched Igreja Renascer (“Endereços”). In Buenos Aires, Emilio and Elena can be compared to Osvaldo and Alejandra Carnival of the Catedral de la Fe, which boasts 20 locations, and to Claudio and Betty Freidzon of the megachurch Rey de Reyes (“Nosotros”; “Mensajes”). It is also common for megachurch leadership to include the pastors’ grown children, as in the case of Daniela Freidzon and her husband at Rey de Reyes. Such family structure is mimicked in El reino by son Pablo (Patricio Aramburu), who serves as a junior pastor, and by daughter Magdalena and her husband Oscar (Victoria Almeida and Alfonso Tort), who lead the worship team and have plans to plant another branch of the church.
From these exterior trappings, one can delve into beliefs and practices traceable to the origins of the US prosperity-gospel movement, which finds its roots in the late 19th century in a combination of Pentecostal evangelism and the New Thought mind-power movement. New Thought taught that “the spiritual world formed absolute reality, while the material world was the mind’s projection” (Bowler 14), and that since God used thought and word to create the world, believers could also shape their reality through thinking and by using the spoken word to activate power (19). New Thought evolved into the positive thinking trend of the 1950s when it was popularized by Pastor Norman Vincent Peale, and earned a lasting place in the prosperity movement (31, 55). Combined with more historical Christian tenets, such as God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, this belief in mind power leads to a certain type of worldview: because God is in control of the world and its happenings, all events have spiritual meaning and causes, and through faithful thinking and speaking, believers can tap into power to influence their own reality and bring about health, wealth, and success. Furthermore, the prosperity gospel affirms that Jesus’s death and resurrection granted not only spiritual redemption, but also health and wealth by abolishing disease and poverty in addition to sin. Followers came to believe that they could claim health and wealth as “their rights and privileges in Jesus’ name” (Bowler 95). Poverty and illness became signs of sin or lack of faith, while health, wealth, and success became signs of faith and virtue. Additionally, this teaching encourages believers to imagine and act as if blessings have already occurred because faith “makes things ‘real,’ transcending the separation” between spiritual reality and the material world (140). Thus, imagination and appearances are intimately linked to reality: acting healthy will bring health; giving money in tithes and offerings will bring many-fold returns.
These American roots are clearly visible in the faith statements of churches like the IURD, in the discourse of many Latin American evangelical pastors, and in El reino. According to the IURD in Argentina website, Jesus’s sacrifice “expi[a] nuestros pecados y [nos guarantiza] la sanidad y la liberación de todos nuestros sufrimientos.” Liberation from suffering includes freedom from poverty: “Todos los cristianos tienen el derecho a una vida abundante.” Christians also have an obligation to give, however, and monetary contributions are given a highly privileged place: “Los diezmos y las ofrendas son tan sagrados, tan santos como la Palabra de Dios. . . . No se puede disociar los diezmos y las ofrendas de la obra redentora del Señor Jesús” (“En qué”). While all Christian denominations encourage and rely on members’ giving, many would look askance at this declaration that giving is as sacred as the Bible or an integral element of salvation. This rhetoric holds an implicit contract: to have the right to abundance, one must have salvation, and there is no true salvation without the giving of tithes and offerings. It is easy to extrapolate how such teachings may lead to corruption and the financial exploitation of believers.
Prosperity gospel evangelists are known for their rhetoric of “give to get,” although this discourse appears in harder and softer forms depending on the church (Bowler 7). El reino does not depict Emilio or Elena promising returns on believer’s contributions, but there are hints of this economy of exchange. When Elena speaks with Celeste (Sofía Gala), who has rendered a service to the family/church, Elena stresses that she will be rewarded: “Jesús te va a compensar” (“La marca” 14:24-14:36). Daughter Ana also accuses Elena of “chanchullos” (“Un hombre” 18:45-18:50), and while it is unclear what these scams are, some are likely related to church merchandise that promises spiritual results, that is, blessings that can be bought for a price. Prosperity evangelists have frequently sold items like handkerchiefs and oils that they claim will produce miraculous results (Bowler 59), and such products are suggested in El reino when a church employee approaches Elena carrying trays of bottles marked with the church logo and containing what appears to be bath salts (“Bastardos” 27:50-27:55). Like anointing oil, salt has been associated with Christian rites and exorcisms, and in folk magic it is a cleansing mineral to be used in prayer, bathing, and for spiritual protection (“Conoce”).
Such merchandise reveals the prosperity gospel’s quasi-magical nature and shows how it is based as much on New Thought principals like the law of attraction as on biblical teaching. Believers must always think, speak, and act positively to attract and assure their blessings. They are urged to make habits of “focusing on positive outcomes, visualization, and repetition of scripture and uplifting phrases” (255). These practices are used by pastors such as Claudio Freidzon and Osvaldo Carnival, and by Elena and Emilio, who quote scripture regularly and whose congregants are coached to echo key phrases in their preaching and teaching. When Elena teaches, she emphasizes “la Palabra” by repeating the word over and over (“La marca” 12:20-12:30), and she also repeats the name “Cristo” as if the word itself has talismanic power, a practice that emerged early on in American healing revivals and prosperity gospel circles (Bowler 25). Emilio’s oft-uttered phrase, “Jesús nos llena de bendiciones,” and his repetition of the word “bendiciones” can be compared to Freidzon’s repeated use of words such as “milagro,” and prosperity-gospel preaching in which he tells his congregation, “Dígalo con toda su fe, Él está haciendo una obra grande en mi vida . . . Usted dice lo está viendo, no, pero lo está proclamando por fe que esta obra ya comenzó” (Freidzon 00:13:00-00:13:30, 00:18:23-00:18:45). Similarly, Carnival touts the importance of positive thinking in a brief video (“Pensamientos”), and he teaches his congregants to make positive declarations, emphasizing the importance of the spoken word and warning against declaring defeat (“3 claves” 00:12:00-00:13:30).
Thus, believers are coached to avoid “negative confession” such as complaining or worrying, which can cause them to lose their blessings (Bowler 142). This is displayed in El reino’s first episode when protestors cause disturbances before the final campaign rally. Emilio’s aide Julio (Chino Darín) senses danger and suggests that the candidates should not make an appearance, to which Emilio responds “No va a pasar nada. O mejor dicho, Cristo va a pasar. Estamos protegidos, quédense tranquilos.” Julio protests that Christ might not be able to protect them, but Elena cuts him off, saying “Sí, puede, claro que puede.” Emilio raises an admonishing finger and adds, “Todo lo puede, Julio, todo” (“Control” 21:05-21:30) The pastors will not tolerate Julio’s negative confession and instead speak their desired result confidently to assure that it will be so. The strength of this faith is evident when the rally turns fatal and Emilio, in shock, prays to God to express his confusion and fear over the unexpected reversal. He must keep up the appearance of faith, though, and so he repeats, “Jesús nos llena de bendiciones” to reporters even after things have gone terribly wrong (“Un hombre” 09:50-10:00).
Appearances are crucial since health and success are signals of virtue and spiritual power. The Vásquez Peñas must maintain the appearance of being extraordinarily blessed by God as well as of adhering to traditional Christian morality. Ana, who is disillusioned with this system, calls it “el show”—a performance where appearances are more important than the truth (“Bastardos” 38:59-39:03). Elena is especially preoccupied with making sure that the family looks the part through expensive clothing and professional styling and through moral appearances. Along with her conservative but elegant wardrobe, Elena wears a sleek brunette wig to cover up her scalp and thin gray hair, which suggest a serious illness that must be hidden in order to project a complete image of health. Furthermore, daughter Magdalena’s dresses convey not only wealth, but a certain vision of family values and traditional gender roles with their 1950s silhouettes (“Control” 30:40; “Círculo” 09:30). Most tellingly, Elena is more preoccupied with moral appearances than with sin itself; like her scalp, financial fraud and pedophilia can be covered up, but less serious misdeeds that might be noticed by the public are another matter: she is scandalized by curse words, has alcohol removed from the campaign rally, and watches Ana for signs that she may be having premarital sex. Meanwhile, as long as Emilio’s abuses can be concealed, his reputation is too important to the church’s success to risk having him fall from grace. Rather than denounce his latest sex crime, she punishes him by withdrawing her affection while continuing to support him publicly. However, she has spent too much time investing in appearances and in believing in their power; by the time Emilio is being applauded as the new ECR presidential candidate, her support is no longer an act. Elena takes his hand and smiles at him in the season’s closing moment; she, too, has been seduced by the show and the power it promises.
Beyond the relationship between faith and health/wealth, Emilio and Elena’s worldview assigns spiritual causes to all events and conditions, and it becomes a tool they use to manipulate their followers and a way to reconcile their Christian morality with questionable agendas and activities. This worldview is revealed in their reactions to Badajoz’s murder and in Emilio’s approach to politics. At first, Emilio and Elena interpret the murder negatively; Elena understands it as a warning for Emilio to leave politics, and for him, it is an inexplicable tragedy that has happened to God’s followers. He laments, “Ni siquiera Dios me da consuelo hoy” (“Un hombre” 00:20-00:25), and then asks in the words of Christ, “Dios mío, ¿por qué me has abandonado?” (30:40-30:50). Nevertheless, Emilio quickly comes to a more positive interpretation that allows him to recoup his self-image: God has a plan for him in this tragedy just like God had a plan for Jesus’s death. He prays, “Gracias por abandonarme hoy para resucitar mañana” (32:00-32:05). Then, when Elena learns that Emilio was the assassin’s real target, her interpretation also shifts: God intervened and saved Emilio for a purpose. She insists, “Cristo no hace las cosas por qué sí,” and marvels at how this escape from death will magnify Emilio’s reputation as a pastor. In her view, this miracle (which entailed another person’s death) makes him superhuman: “Cristo te volvió inmortal . . . Antes solo eras un gran pastor, ahora vas a ser único” (“Expiación” 14:15-14:25).
Elena remains focused on the church’s reputation and growth, but campaign runner Rubén sees the political benefits of Emilio’s escape and blackmails him into continuing his political bid. Forced to go against his wife’s wishes and his own inclination, Emilio uses her spiritual interpretation of the murder to help secure his followers’ support. He preaches that it was not Remigio who tried to kill him, but Satan himself, and God saved him. This claim signals Emilio’s importance in the divine plan that has thrust him into the presidential race, a mission he claims to accept humbly in order to protect his congregation’s values and their families against Satan, who hides behind “la ideología de género,” a construct that includes masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion (“Expiación” 44:00-44:30). Emilio’s use of the murder to manipulate his congregants is echoed by Elena’s response. She still wants him out of politics, so she interrupts his sermon, pretending to hear the voice of Christ telling her that “El demonio es la política” and then faking a fainting spell (46:00-47:05). As much as any other scene, this demonstrates the counterfeit and manipulative nature of the “show” put on by both pastors.
Emilio’s approach to politics is also based on this worldview of spiritual causes, which leads to an unbalanced understanding of how to govern and better the nation. He is unruffled when Julio warns him that some of the ERC’s cabinet nominees are suspected of corruption, that their interests are not the same as his voters’, and that the nominee for the Interior is “un ex jefe de policía de mano dura” (“Círculo” 25:35-25:40). To this last point, Emilio replies, “Mientras sea un hombre de fe . . . En materia de seguridad la firmeza no está mal,” echoing other “law and order” type discourse in his speeches (25:40-25:45). Emilio is only concerned with the ministries he believes can use to impose his moral agenda: education, health, and foreign affairs and worship. When Julio presses him, he responds bluntly, “De las otras [áreas] no entiendo ni quiero entender” (26:30-26:35). He reiterates this stance in the final episode when he demands control of these cabinet posts from Rubén, adding the Ministry of Culture because “Por ahí se le mete mucha mierda en la cabeza a la gente.” It is from these “sectores clave,” Emilio says, that “con Jesús y la Palabra podemos hacer la diferencia” (“Por el bien” 21, 33–21, 36).
Emilio does not care about economics, human rights, brutal policing, or possible corruption because he does not believe that earthly politics—at least beyond the legislation of allegedly immoral behavior like homosexuality and abortion—are the true cause of his country’s woes. Lack of security and abundance are the result of moral failings and must be cured with moral rehabilitation. In a 2010 study of the Rey de Reyes megachurch, sociologist Joaquín Alagranti uncovered precisely this point of view among the leaders and congregants, who speak of “la acción de Dios y del alejamiento del hombre, [y] recurren a la figura del ‘mundo’ y del Diablo, del materialismo, el pecado y la herencia espiritual” when reflecting on their country’s problems (39). They attribute events like Argentina’s financial crisis to sin and disobedience, and when they criticize politics, they focus on moral issues “como la Ley del aborto, el matrimonio homosexual, [y] la legalización de la marihuana” (40). Thus, Emilio is likely correct that his supporters will vote for him not because of his political savvy, but because they follow Christ and he is Christ’s faithful servant (“Círculo” 26:10-26:15). He also believes Christ will protect him from the other politicians’ machinations, indicating his high opinion of his role in God’s plan, which hinges on the restoration of traditional gender and family norms but leaves out economic advancement and genuine justice.
La Palabra pervertida: Prosperity Gospel and Crime
In his season-ending speech as the ECR’s new presidential candidate, Emilio articulates his prosperity theology in terms of national politics. He denounces “falsos profetas” who criticize the wealthy, the “empresarios” and “emprendedores,” and shame them for their success; this negativity is to blame for the country’s “eterno fracaso.” He declares, “Este país no necesita más pobres, necesita más gente exitosa que derrame abundancia a quienes no han sido bendecidos con esta gracia” (“Por el bien” 41:18-41:24). In addition to favoring a sort of trickle-down economics that further privileges the elite, Emilio’s discourse connects wealth with God’s favor: “El éxito es una prueba del amor que Dios siente por cada uno de nosotros” (41:30-41:33). The flip side of this belief, of course, is that the poor must be outside of God’s favor through some spiritual fault of their own; they may be deserving of charity, but not of systemic change on their behalf. Besides being questionable economic policy, this type of thinking enables the Vásquez Peña family’s financial crimes.
Equating success with God’s favor suggests that any wealth that comes to the family or their church is a divine blessing regardless of its earthly origin. According to their theology, all money and worldly resources are God’s to bestow, and believers have a right to share in this abundance. Plus, the money is used at least in part to fund the church’s facilities and good works, such as prison ministries, drug rehabilitation programs, and the boys’ home, so the ends further justify the means. Episode four, “El círculo de baba,” highlights the illegal provenance of the Vásquez Peña wealth in a flashback with Pablo and Remigio, who visit numerous businesses around the city and emerge each time with a bag full of cash. In the church basement, this money is dumped onto a table to be sorted, packaged, and concealed in the sanctuary wall, but first, the family prays over it. Emilio intones, “Toda esta abundancia que hemos preparado para hacerte una casa en tu Santo Nombre procede de tu mano, es todo tuyo” (01:50-02:00). He then declares, “Ahora es dinero sagrado” (02:05-02:07), echoing other moments when the family’s money is called “sagrad[o]” or “protegido” (“Un hombre” 09:15-09:17, 18:56-18:58). This logic is twisted, but again it shows belief in the power of the spoken word: by declaring the money to be sacred, they make it so, at least in their own minds. It is rightfully theirs as God’s followers, and they can rest guiltless in the alternate moral reality they have created.
ACEIRA objected to this portrayal of corruption, but like their image and theology, the family’s crimes have a key role in linking the Iglesia de Luz with the scandal-ridden prosperity movement. The ascendence of prosperity-gospel televangelism in the United States was famously arrested by the disgrace of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker over sexual and financial scandals and of Jimmy Swaggart over sex with prostitutes (“TV Evangelist”). More recent and relevant to El reino, the IURD has been investigated for money laundering on many occasions in Brazil, Argentina, and other places like Angola, where the IURD was expelled from the country due to financial irregularities (“En Brasil”; Fitz Patrick and Crucianelli; “Acusan”). Aforementioned Brazilian power couple Estevam and Sônia Hernandes were jailed in the United States in 2007 for smuggling cash and were investigated for embezzlement in Brazil, charged with using church money to buy luxury properties (Rohter; Associated Press). Celebrity prosperity-gospel evangelists frequently face such allegations as well as criticism from outside their flocks over lavish lifestyles that include mansions and private jets even when their congregants are among the poorest in the world (Otegbeye).
In addition, though Catholic sexual abuse scandals have garnered more attention and backlash, evangelical denominations are hardly free from such cases. As Kristin Kobes du Mez extensively documents, the patriarchal leadership structure and gender ideology of many conservative/fundamentalist evangelical organizations, which encourage a virile masculinity, and a submissive, service-oriented femininity, along with absolute obedience for children, creates an environment ripe for sexual abuse (274-94). In a letter written in response to ACEIRA’s statement on El reino, Mariana Iglesias of El Clarín lists a number of cases in Latin America. Among the Argentinian cases are Francisco Avalos, founder of the Iglesia Evangélica Jesús es el Camino, who raped and impregnated two 14-year-old girls and other women, and Claudio Néstor Vera Navarrete, leader of the Iglesia Metodista Pentecostal, who was accused of sexually abusing four adolescents. Furthermore, El reino writers may have found inspiration in a well-publicized case in California involving Apostle Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the Iglesia Luz del Mundo of Mexico. Joaquín García was arrested in 2019 and charged with numerous crimes including sexual abuse of minors, child pornography, and human trafficking (this last being a crime hinted at in El reino as well). Although its theology differs from the Neo-Pentecostal churches mimicked in El reino, Luz del Mundo is an international evangelical megachurch with locations in 60 countries (“La Luz”). The name of El reino’s “Iglesia Reino de la Luz” could very well be a mash-up of Macedo’s Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, with its many financial scandals, and Luz del Mundo, with its now-convicted pedophile pastor.
Leaders like Edir Macedo, Estevam Hernandes, and Naasón Joaquín García often continue to enjoy their followers’ support even after repeated allegations of financial misconduct or worse crimes. Throughout his 3-year wait for trial, church members supported Joaquín García, some to the point of threatening prosecutors and others involved in the case (“La Luz”). This continued support is a result of the exalted status of these pastors in the eyes of their followers, who 1) do not want to accept that their spiritual leaders have committed crimes, 2) believe that they deserve their disproportionate wealth, and 3) often dismiss their prosecution as part of the secular world’s persecution of Christians. For instance, in the Hernandes case, the couple’s followers viewed them as “martyrs” and saw the investigation as “part of general persecution against evangelicals in Brazil, and proof there are demonic forces at work” (Associated Press). One Renascer church member told the Associated Press, “I can’t imagine anyone who can build a church like this one can be guilty of any evil. I feel the apostle and bishop are innocent and Jesus will prove them innocent.” Furthermore, according to religious studies professor Edin Sued Abumanssur, most of their congregants seem unconcerned whether donations “are used for charity or to buy a yacht for the founders of their church,” because giving a donation “completes [their] part of [their] prosperity bargain with God,” and it doesn’t matter what happens to the money thereafter (Associated Press).
The status of such pastors and the fictional Emilio is connected to another legacy of New Thought in Neo-Pentecostalism: its high anthropology. While influential Christian doctrines such as original sin from St. Augustine and total depravity from John Calvin demonstrate a low anthropology that emphasizes the defects of human nature, New Thought emphasized human perfectibility and taught its followers that “divinity was lodged somewhere in their beings and that their secret powers demanded expression” (Bowler 36). Followers of New Thought-influenced theology believe they have powerful access to divine authority, and some Pentecostal evangelists have made claims close to apotheosis, suggesting that “God intends us to be gods” (23). That position is extreme, but even beyond the prosperity movement, evangelicals profess more confidence in their religious leaders than do members of other faiths (Kobes du Mez 4). The IURD in Argentina’s belief statement hints at a high anthropology, referring to “la perfección de la naturaleza humana” and stating that the effect of baptism in the Holy Spirit “es la transformación del carácter humano al carácter de Dios.” True believers become like God in character and are given miraculous powers, “autoridad espiritual . . . no solamente para curar a los enfermos y expulsar a los demonios, sino, sobre todo, para llevar Su Palabra con el poder del Espíritu Santo a todo el mundo y hacer discípulos” (“En qué”). Emilio appears to have two of these gifts; he is a highly successful evangelist and he performs exorcisms in front of a congregation that believes in demonic possession and the literal power of Satan.
High anthropology, congregants’ devotion to their leaders, and demonic possession all become operative factors in relation to the Vasquez Peña family’s crimes. Emilio and Elena enjoy such exalted positions among their flock that followers like Remigio and Celeste ignore their wrong-doing and protect them through cover-ups. Emilio seems to have internalized the correspondence between success and virtue as well as others’ belief in his divine importance to the extent that he shows signs of a Messiah-complex. As already mentioned, he compares his own setback to Jesus’ crucifixion, and in another prayer scene, he compares cabinet nominees to the disciples who sought seats at Jesus’s right and left hands, placing himself again in Christ’s position (“Círculo” 27:10-27:20). This perception is bolstered by his escape from death and Elena’s notion that he is now “inmortal” and “único,” circumstances that add to the self-image already in place on the church’s billboards. That image of Emilio in white with hands raised also evokes the infallible, holy figure of the Pope, and like the Pope or Christ himself, in the final episode Emilio walks through a hotel kitchen bestowing blessings, touching each staff member and proclaiming, “Bendiciones” (“Por el bien” 25:30-26:00). His Christ-complex is further affirmed by a seemingly miraculous wound he received upon touching Jonathan for the first time: a bloody red spot on his palm that looks like stigmata and confirms his chosenness by coinciding with his selection as the vice-presidential nominee. And lastly, in his season-ending speech, Emilio speaks as if he were Christ, or at the least, a potential President Redeemer of Argentina, using the classic Christian motif of Jesus as the good shepherd, declaring, “Todas las ovejas entrarán en mi rebaño” (“Por el bien” 34:56-35:00).
With such an exalted notion of himself, Emilio sincerely believes that he can do no wrong, and his confidence is reinforced by the church members and the political powers that protect him. He already had Elena, Remigio, and a devout nurse covering up his worst crimes, but as a presidential candidate he has a much more powerful group of protectors: a judge blocks investigation into his family’s financial misdeeds, and Rubén Osorio takes murderous measures to cover up his pedophilia. Rubén’s amoral politics are perhaps not surprising, since he only wants Emilio as a party figurehead to manipulate the vote, but how do Emilio and the believers who cover up his pedophilia reconcile his abuse of the most vulnerable—orphaned boys—with his role as the spiritual leader of millions?
The answers lie again in a worldview where everything has a spiritual cause. As a rich and successful pastor, Emilio must be virtuous, and if his actions contradict this, then there is also a spiritual explanation: demonic possession, which shifts the guilt from the individual to evil, otherworldly forces. The Iglesia de Luz’s teachings set its followers up to believe that demons can possess even devout Christians and cause them to commit actions contrary to their nature as godly believers. Emilio uses this belief to manipulate his public on two occasions in season one. First, he tells his congregation that Remigio was possessed when he murdered Badajoz. He insists that what Remigio did as a godly servant of the church still has value, and that the church should pray for his forgiveness (“Expiación” 41:51-42:00). Such an argument lessens Remigio’s guilt and suggests that he could be brought back into the church community—perhaps like Emilio himself if his dark deeds are ever outed. His crimes could be blamed on demonic forces seeking to destroy a church leader, and after an exorcism, he could be welcomed back based on his prior service and the belief that the true responsible party—Satan—has been expelled. This happens with Emilio’s aide Julio; when a past scandal involving a wrongful death is about to be used against him, Ana tells him he can beat the press to the punch by putting on “el gran show de perdón” (“Bastardos” 38:59-39:03). Julio goes to Emilio, who concocts a fake exorcism in which he orders the demon to leave by repeating spiritually-charged words of power. Julio then confesses his past sins, attributing them to “el demonio [que] llevaba [su] vida al límite” (44:41-44:44) before being embraced by Emilio and applauded by the church.
The church’s most dedicated workers, Remigio and Emilio’s nephew Tadeo (Peter Lanzani), both give Emilio the benefit of the doubt because they accept this belief in demonic possession. Remigio helps cover up Emilio’s pedophilia to protect the church and because he doesn’t believe that Emilio is the abuser. When Remigio finally confesses his motive for murder, he describes his role in the cover up: “Me convencieron que lo mejor para la Iglesia de La Luz era tratar de calmar al demonio. Porque era el demonio que se le metía dentro . . . El demonio hace daño.” (“La marca” 16:25-16:40). Remigio would have continued to hide Emilio’s crimes if his latest target had not been Jonathan, whose apparently miraculous powers persuaded him that the boy was an incarnation of Christ who had to be protected at all costs (18:15-18:20).
Belief in the culpability of demonic forces also strongly colors Tadeo’s understanding of his uncle’s misdeeds. Tadeo is a significant character in the series’ moral universe because he is a foil to Emilio and Elena’s self-serving and corrupt brand of religion. In one of the show creators’ more heavy-handed moves, Tadeo is styled to look like Jesus, with his long brown hair, beard, and simple tunic-like shirts. Not only is he ignorant of his extended family’s crimes, but he also displays love, humility, and a genuine care for the less fortunate, including the boys’ home residents and slum-dwellers in need of basic necessities like food and blankets. He washes neighborhood men’s feet in a holy week tradition, and in the end, he leaves everything behind to take Jonathan to safety in Bolivia, where the two will wander in remote villages preaching the word—much like the itinerant Jesus did during his ministry. Tadeo represents the best of what the Iglesia de Luz has to offer; according to Piñeiro, like any church, this invented one has “gente honesta y bien intencionada que trata de ayudar a los demás” (Email), but prosperity theology twists even Tadeo into an unwitting enabler of evil.
Tadeo narrates a key section of episode seven, “La marca del demonio,” that exposes the depths of Emilio’s depravity, but despite hearing Emilio confess his twisted desires, Tadeo attributes his actions to Satan. He insists to Julio, “No fue él. Fue el demonio . . . Es una lucha que tuvo Emilio desde siempre” (23:20-23:25). Tadeo reveals that Emilio targeted him when he was young, and that Elena was aware of the danger and took steps to protect him. Since Tadeo never experienced Emilio’s abusive behavior, he is able to maintain faith in his uncle until he sees the evidence of Emilio’s serial predations. Still, he attributes these crimes to demonic forces, describing Emilio’s first encounter with Jonathan, “Ni bien lo vio, los ojos de Emilio cambiaron. Yo vi el demonio” (26:00-26:05). The flashbacks accompanying Tadeo’s narrative are marked by this perspective: when Emilio returns to the home on a stormy night, he appears demonic, with dark eyes and bellowed demands as he stalks through the darkened halls. Emilio locks Tadeo outside, so Tadeo does not realize until much later that Emilio satisfied himself with another boy when he could not find Jonathan. In retrospect, he connects this to the way that Emilio calmed down and “encontró la paz”: “Ahí supe por qué el demonio dejó a Emilio . . . Nosotros no lo habíamos frenado. Tomó a otro chico” (34:35-34:50). Despite all Tadeo knows at this point, he believes the subject who raped the boy was not Emilio, but a demon that left once it was sated.
This belief is so strong that it overrides Emilio’s explicit confession and defense of his pedophilia. Emilio’s monologue as Tadeo drives him away from the boys’ home is season one’s most chilling moment and represents the culmination of the pastor’s twisted theology. In contrast to others who attribute his desires to the devil, Emilio attributes them to God and offers a perverse application of the familiar Christian trope of the believer against the world. He tells a horrified Tadeo,
¿Sentir un amor incontenible es pecado? ¿Es un crimen desear a otro con tanta fuerza que el mundo desaparece y lo único que importa es estar con él, acariciarlo, meterte dentro de él? Porque eso es lo que yo siento. Es amor. El mundo me juzga según sus reglas y yo me someto a su juicio porque es el mundo en el que vivo. Sé que me tengo que contener. Lo sé. Lo acepto. Pero aunque lo haga, me niego a admitir que lo que siento es malo. No puede ser malo. El amor nunca puede ser malo. Cristo nos educa en el amor. Y yo siento amor puro. Créeme, Tadeo. No quiero dañar a nadie. Pero me están pidiendo que deje de amar. Muy bien. Lo acepto. Son las reglas del mundo. El mundo no está preparado para entender este tipo de amor. Y yo me pregunto, “Si sigo las reglas del mundo ¿rechazo el designio de Dios?” Entonces, la pregunta clave es, “¿Debo obedecer al mundo? ¿O debo obedecer a Dios?” Porque este amor, Tadeo, este amor es una ofrenda de Dios. Es un regalo que me entregó el Señor. (“La marca” 31:00-33:30)
Emilio’s belief in his own virtue and closeness to God allows him to believe that any desires he has are good, a belief aided by calling his lustful desires love—the greatest of the Christian virtues. Since love is of God, then the source of his feelings must be God, not Satan or even the baser side of human nature. Emilio’s confession and justification seem outrageous, but they follow the exact same pattern as the family’s justification of money laundering. God is in control of all things, including money and desires, and God gives good things to his devout followers. Emilio creates and enacts this “reality” through the spoken word, declaring the money to be sacred and his desires to be divinely gifted. There is little other explanation for why he would openly confess such reprehensible desires and actions, except that his prosperity-gospel theology instructs him to speak his desires in faith in order to make them real.
However, in addition to justifying his desires on a spiritual plane, he also has to justify them in terms of dominant culture and the law, which both condemn sexual activity between adults and minors. Emilio does this by pitting himself with God, against the world. As Alagranti’s study shows, Argentine Neo-Pentecostal evangelicals are steeped in the rhetoric of the church/believer against the “world,” a notion that derives from the New Testament’s warnings for Christians to separate themselves from the dominant culture: for instance, “do not be conformed to this world” (The Bible, Rom. 12.2) and “a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4.4). This opposition combines with evangelicals’ feelings and fears of persecution—as evident in ACEIRA’s statement against El reino and in the reactions of the followers of leaders like Hernandes and Joaquín García—to allow Emilio to justify a stance that is contrary to law and conventional morality. He turns his pedophilia into part of God’s plan and direction, and the world’s law into a spiritual foe, like legislation legalizing gay marriage and abortion and contravening what he and his flock believe. Emilio’s confession, added to previous patterns seen in the series, draws a direct connection between the excesses of this brand of Christian theology and the enabling of criminal behavior, whether it be money laundering, sexual abuse, or, on a wider scale, the deprivation of rights and justice for women and LGBTQ+ people.
El reino touches on sensitive and controversial topics, but always “desde el respeto absoluto a la fe religiosa genuina,” insisted Piñeiro in an interview with El País (Galindo). The same is true for this analysis of the series; the problem is not with faith in itself, but with particular religious ideologies that lend themselves to excess and exploitative behavior, and with faith leaders and amoral political forces that manipulate religious voters in pursuit of power, threaten the rights of women, gender and sexual minorities, and create new victims of abuse and exploitation. This analysis has aimed to show the connection between Claudia Piñeiro’s fiction and feminist activism, evangelical political influence in Latin America, and El reino, and to analyze the depiction of prosperity-gospel evangelism and its connection to the crimes perpetrated by the series’ fictional pastors and a number of their real-world counterparts. Piñeiro disclosed the "infinidad de mensajes she has received since El reino first aired from men and women who have suffered financial exploitation or sexual abuses within evangelical churches. She concluded, “Pero El reino es una ficción, todo ficción. Una ficción que parece que es bastante verosímil” (Email).
Piñeiro is a staunch atheist, and her perspective on religion and justice is likely personified most in the character Julio Clamens, whose rare and self-chosen last name foreshadows his role as the season unfolds. Though he does not buy into most of the Iglesia de Luz’s theology—expressing doubts about both God and the Bible—Julio says that there is “algo de verdad” in the faith (“Expiación” 26:00-26:05). He finds truth and redemption not in dogma or political power, but in service to others; as Remigio preaches at the foot-washing ceremony that Julio joins, “La grandeza no reside en el poder sino en el servicio a los otros” (26:26-26:31). And, although the outcome is left unresolved by the season-ending cliff hanger, it is Julio Clamens who sets out to expose Emilio and demand—clamar por—justice. That is something that all “personas solidarias y preocupadas por el otro” can do, whether they are people of faith or not (Piñeiro, Email), and this is what El reino, like Piñeiro’s novels, sets out to do; to pull back the curtain on an ideology that leads to excess, injustice, and crime. Though Emilio is triumphant in the season’s closing moments, his manipulative, exploitative brand of Christianity is put on stark display as he derides the poor and proclaims that success is proof of God’s love, voiced over the image of Tadeo, exiled, homeless, and still faithful, who stands in the middle of a village square and reads the words of Jesus: “Bienaventurados los pobres porque de ellos es el Reino de los Cielos. Bienaventurados los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia . . .” (“Por el bien” 41:35-41:45; “Mateo 5:6”).
Several literary critics including Carolina Rocha, Patricia Varas, and David William Foster have written about her treatment of Argentina’s financial crisis and feminist issues. Most literary criticism of Piñeiro’s work so far has focused on Las viudas de los jueves and Elena sabe.
All season one episodes are under one hour, so timestamps are given in minutes and seconds.
Comparisons with leaders of the Rey de Reyes and Catedral de la Fe churches are intended to show how the fictional Vásquez Peña family matches the image and discourse of Neo-Pentecostal megachurch leadership and is not meant to imply that the Freidzon or Carnival families are involved in any sort of criminal activity.
Though evangelical denominations outside of Neo-Pentecostalism may not use exorcism in this way, Kobes du Mez details various ways in which abusive leaders have been forgiven and reinstated, particularly in fundamentalist evangelical churches (288-89).
This apparently supernatural aspect of season one clashes with the show’s realism and was a point of conflict for the writers; with atheist Piñeiro pushing against scenes that would confirm Jonathan’s miraculous abilities and Piñeyro, who is not religious but was raised Catholic, being more open to the possibilities (Email). Jonathan’s miracles become a primary motive for Remigio, and their “magic” quality plays off of, and perhaps contrasts with, the sympathetic or imitative-magic nature of the prosperity gospel, which has competed with and sometimes coexisted with folk magics such as hoodoo and voodoo (Bowler 145). This type of syncretism appears in El reino as well: before setting out to kill Emilio, Remigio recites a folk magic curse (“Control” 10:00-11:10), and in another scene, Elena uses a screw touched by a thief and tiles engraved with letters in a ritualistic prayer to discover who stole money from the church (“El archivo” 10:50-11:10).
The show’s second and final season, which premiered in March 2023 after the writing of this analysis, confirms Emilio’s twisted theology even more explicitly. Near the beginning of episode two, “Los peones del rey,” Emilio patiently explains to Elena—who is in shock from how badly things have turned out—that like Jesus, he was tempted but never sinned because his attraction to “el amor rapaz” was all part of God’s plan and thus cannot be sinful. To restore his failing presidency, he believes he must find Jonathan, whom he believes is the “enviado de Dios,” and have intercourse with him to consummate his union with God (01:15-03:19).
While English-speaking readers of the Bible will be accustomed to reading this beatitude as “hunger and thirst for righteousness” Spanish translations of the Bible almost universally use the word justicia. While righteousness is often mistaken to mean individual moral behavior, the Greek term being translated refers both to personal right behavior and to justice in a broader sense, as in “the virtue which gives everyone his due” (“Mateo 5:6”; “Dikaiosuné”).