Why Mexico Is on the Watch List for Persecuted Christians
For most of us, there’s an obvious connection between the Christian faith and the call to care for the poor. Concern for the poor, orphaned, and widowed is a central theme in Christian teachings, with the words “poor” and “poverty” appearing 446 times in the Bible. But while a Christian leader might be applauded for their charitable work in some countries, that same faith-based drive to transform poor communities in Mexico is exactly what puts many Christians on the drug cartels’ radar.
In Mexico, where there is a long history of organized corruption, Christians who actively engage in social transformation are seen as a threat to criminal networks. In September of 2016, for example, three priests were kidnapped and killed within a week, bringing the total of priests murdered within the four year period to 15. In many instances, these priests were targeted for denouncing criminal activity or refusing to perform services for drug cartels.
“By killing the parish priest in a small village, the narcos assert their authority in a brutal way. Not even the traditional, spiritual authority of the priest is respected: narcos alone rule,” Pablo Mijangos y González, historian at the Centre for Research and Teaching of Economics, told The Guardian.
Another form of persecution, ethnic antagonism, targets believers who converted from indigenous beliefs to Protestant Christianity.
“Historically, the majority of religious liberty violations have tended to arise out of conflicts between traditionalist or syncretistic Roman Catholic local leaders, and non–Roman Catholics who do not wish to participate in or contribute financially to religious festivals, or who wish to practice a different faith or no faith.” Christianity Today reported. When people refuse to conform to the religious rituals of their community, they–in turn–often face persecution.
For years, for example, there have been reports of Christians being forcibly displaced from their homes due to their belief in Jesus. One group of 44 men, women, and children from the Buenavista Bahuitz community reported they were not only displaced from their homes in July of 2012, but were subjected to arbitrary detention, physical violence, and sexual assault.
Instances like these prompted Open Doors-Mexico, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Voice of the Martyrs-Mexico, and Impulso 19 to join forces in calling on the Mexican government to respond to these rights abuses.
“It is unacceptable that in a modern and diverse democracy like Mexico these types of serious religious freedom violations continue to take place on a regular basis, affecting thousands of men, women, and children, with no adequate response from the Mexican government at any level.” Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said publicly.
Technically speaking, Mexico’s Constitution offers freedom of religion at least on paper, but Christians on the ground report federal authorities are unable or unwilling to uphold these promised protections. This is why abuses continued in the following years.
In 2015, for example, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported instances of local government authorities issuing an ultimatum to 150 Protestant Christians. The message to these believers? Renounce your protestant faith or be expelled from your community and face starvation. Then in January of 2016, village elders in the state of Chiapas were able to get away with destroying the homes of 30 more Christians. These are just two examples of an increasingly widespread trend of local governments taking matters into their own hands.
“Most of these areas in the south are self-governing. And if the majority of the town is Catholic, then the town activities are Catholic and anybody that declines to participate is ostracized,” Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told Fox News.
Unfortunately, with no accountability, the number of religious abuse cases rises with each year. “Thousands have been displaced and left homeless, simply because they belonged to a religious minority and refused to make financial contributions to religious festivals they did not believe in,” ICC Advocacy Director Isaac Six told the Christian Post.
These thousands of believers are left homeless, without income sources, and are cut off from their previous networks. In such circumstances, they must rely on organizations like Open Doors who support persecuted Christians in Mexico through persecution-preparedness programs and through training that equips Mexican Christians to help persecuted believers in their own country. These believers also seek the support of Christians around the world who can pray for them as they face extraordinary challenges as a result of their belief in Jesus.
If you would like to pray more for believers in Mexico and in other persecuted areas, you can have updated reports and needs sent directly to your inbox by clicking here.