La Luz del Mundo: Theology, Teleology, and Ideology
La Luz del Mundo (LLDM) was founded in 1926 by Eusebio Joaquín González in the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León. Eusebio Joaquín was born in Colotlán, Jalisco, and fought in the early stages of the Revolution of 1910. According to the official history of the sect, he was baptized by Saulo and Silas, two converts to a Pentecostal sect founded in the city of Chihuahua by Carmen Valenzuela when she returned from Los Angeles, California, after conversion to Pentecostalism. Saulo and Silas became very influential in the new religious movement, and entitled themselves “prophets.” Eusebio Joaquín was baptized in 1925 with the name of Abraham, and worked for Saulo and Silas for nearly a year. Then, according to his followers, Eusebio Joaquín received his “calling” at dawn on April 6, 1926, when he heard God tell him, “Here is a man whose name will be Aarón.” The clamor made him tremble, and, being very disturbed by this, he awakened his wife, who said she had heard nothing. Eusebio Joaquín went back to sleep, and a thundering celestial vision told him, “Your name will be Aarón.” He saw a hand with the index finger pointing at him. With a great splash of brilliance, the celestial vision told him again, “Your name will be Aarón, and your blessed name will be known and famous throughout the world” (Amatulli Valente 1989:7–8).
Driven by his visions, Eusebio Joaquín decided to found his own group in the city of Monterrey. Unable to attract followers, he went to Guadalajara, Jalisco, where his proselytizing activities soon were successful. At the beginning, he joined the Baptist Church and then the Congregational Church, but, dissatisfied with their teachings and approaches to evangelism, he then established his own sect. And so LLDM came into being. After he had acquired a significant number of followers, Eusebio Joaquín realized that he had not been properly baptized by Saulo and Silas, who had done so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but not in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. On July 18, 1927, he baptized himself by total immersion and took the name of Aarón, as henceforth he was referred to by his followers. This became the required manner and formula of baptism for converts and those born in the faith. The name of the sect became the Church of the Living God, Foundation, and Support of the Truth (La Iglesia del Dios Vivo Columna y Apoyo de la Verdad), La Luz del Mundo (as stated in Matthew 5:14), abbreviated to La Luz del Mundo. This evokes the restoration of the primitive, original Christian Church (Amatulli Valente 1989:8–10).
After occupying various places of worship between 1927 and 1939, LLDM constructed a rather large building, which became its headquarters, establishing the physical presence of the sect. In 1953 thirty-five acres of land were acquired on the (then) outskirts of Guadalajara, which Brother Aarón named “La Hermosa Provincia” (the beautiful province). Brother Aarón died there in 1964, and his son Samuel Joaquín succeeded him as the head and apostle of the sect. Five years later Samuel Joaquín dedicated a monumental structure that the brethren boasted to be the largest place of worship in Christendom, which it might be, having a central nave of ninety-five by sixty-five meters and a capacity for more than ten thousand worshippers.
In the beginning the membership of LLDM increased slowly, but by the late 1950s growth was more rapid, first in the state of Jalisco, and then throughout Mexico. By the late 1970s there were congregations throughout Central and South America, and more recently the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe. According to the sect’s authorities, the membership of LLDM was more than two million. In the year 2005 the sect claimed a membership of more than two and a half million. Independent sources indicate that these figures are highly exaggerated (Elio Masferrer, personal communication), and that LLDM membership in Mexico is closer to four hundred thousand members, distributed in some 350 congregations, with perhaps another five hundred thousand members in the above-mentioned nations.
Theological Dogmas and Beliefs
The initial model of LLDM was Pentecostalism. The first question that comes to mind is, what has the former retained from the latter? First, it has retained Trinitarianism, anabaptism, and millenarianism, but with modifications. LLDM (hereafter, its members will be referred to as “Mundists”) puts a greater emphasis on the cult of Jesus Christ; God the Father is rather latently present in the praxis of the sect. Baptism is by total immersion, performed at the time of conversion for adults and at the age of fifteen for those born in the faith. Second, Mundists do not believe in original sin: humans are born good, and of their own volition usher sin and death, both physical and spiritual, into the world. “Salvation,” then, is a return to Christ by following the precepts of the sect, modified in the context of LLDM by unquestioningly accepting the teachings of Brothers Aarón and Samuel. Third, Mundists believe in glossolalia and regard this physical event as the action of the Holy Spirit, which was originally experienced on the day of Pentecost, as stated in the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit, however, may occasionally manifest itself by particular individuals’ speaking in tongues, usually in the most solemn events of the Mundists’ yearly cycle. Fourth, they maintain that the Holy Spirit has the power of healing and, by the laying on of hands, cures the sick, but only when the person is in good standing with the sect; that is, following strictly the dictates of the apostle, contributing to the spread of the sect (being good proselytizers), and paying the diezmo (tithe). Fifth, Mundists believe that when the millennium comes, they, led by Brothers Aarón and Samuel, will occupy a privileged position at the feet of God. But millenarianism is rather implicit, and not much touted.
There are, however, many beliefs and dogmas of LLDM that have issued directly from Brothers Aarón and Samuel, two of them constituting the most outstanding spiritual and organizational elements of the sect, namely, the inordinate glorification of the founder and his son, and a stratified organization.
With respect to the former, local congregations led by minister-pastors are constantly urging congregants to honor Brothers Aarón and Samuel in the most extravagant fashion, referring to them as “heroes,” “liberators,” “apostles,” “sent by God,” “elected by God,” “elected before being born,” “anointed by God,” “apostles of Jesus Christ,” and “ultimate spiritual guides.” This kind of personality cult is always present among congregants and manifests itself most expressively in the various ritual and ceremonial events of the sect’s cult. This trait, as far as we are aware, seems to be the exception among native and Protestant evangelist sects.
Unlike the Pentecostal sect, LLDM is highly stratified. However, as one goes down from the apostle to the rank-and-file congregant, the stratification of the sect’s religious, social, and economic organization diminishes. Thus, while under the strict control of the minister-pastor, Mundists are not significantly different from the largely egalitarian native and Protestant sects present in the area, and the overall ambiance of the congregation is rather egalitarian. The organization of the congregation will be discussed in chapter 5.
The theology and teleology of LLDM are sparse and not well laid out, and many of the beliefs and dogmas lend themselves to local (congregation) interpretations and variant elaborations. In addition to the main theological elements common to all native and Protestant sects (as specified in the introduction), Brother Aarón established several theological procedures (embedded in specific rites and ceremonies) and dogmas, which have been upheld and expanded by his son Samuel.
(1) There are two different natures and persons in Jesus Christ (this is a modification of the old Monophysitist heresy). According to Brother Aarón, Jesus is not God, but a man and nothing more; only Christ is God. When Christ inhabited the body of Jesus, a new being arose: Jesucristo.1 Thus the trinity is simplified, as the divinity of the son is denied, and the Holy Spirit is enhanced in the ritual and ceremonial life of congregants.
(2) Brother Aarón, as a prophet and the blessed envoy of God, is the direct link to the deity, and he and his successors should be followed and obeyed as divinely inspired. This is the dogma that supports the exaltation of the founder and his son, and determines the central organizational framework of the sect’s congregations. It is as if Brother Aarón had taken as a model Mohammed’s relationship to Allah, which is also the foundation that imprints LLDM as a virtual theocracy, as it has been characterized by several Mexican students of religion (Masferrer 1997a).
(3) Brother Aarón instituted the “Santa Cena” (lit. the “holy supper”; originally, the last supper of Christ and his disciples before Christ was apprehended) as the central ritual-ceremonial event of LLDM. It is held annually on August 14 in the monumental temple of the Hermosa Provincia, the headquarters of LLDM in Guadalajara.2 The Santa Cena is not just a celebratory ritual to commemorate the founding of the sect, but also a very important economic event: the collection of the tithe and an opportunity to present the apostle with special offerings (cash, cars, and other worldly goods).
(4) Brother Aarón and his successor, brother Samuel, were sent and anointed by the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation, as a consequence, is impossible if Mundists do not give complete allegiance to the apostles. This dogma reinforces the virtual worship of the head of the sect and its hierarchical structure.
(5) Baptism (Anabaptism) is more than the rite of admission into a sect or church; it was, and still is, the traditional rite of passage since the initiation of Christianity. Brother Aarón explicitly intended this event to be an affirmation of allegiance to him and an entailed obligation to pay the tithe. Indeed, there is no other possible explanation, for well-informed sources claim that brother Samuel and his inner circle do not spare pressures and threats to exploit the faithful to enrich themselves.
As stated above, LLDM shares all other theological beliefs and dogmas, with modification, with the native and Protestant sects present in central Mexico. It would not be productive to go over this well-known aspect of evangelism, but a few examples will make things more explicit. First, marriage is mandatory for the leadership, from minister-pastors up to the head of the sect. Brother Aarón believed that all the original apostles were married, as was Jesus himself, and so should be those who help him lead the faithful, as would befit a new anointed envoy of the Lord. Second, like all native and Protestant evangelist sects, LLDM maintains that they are the only true Christians. But this claim of exclusivity is carried to the extreme of asserting that the founder was the only human to have been ordered by God to return Christianity to its original form, as Jesus had ordained. This, of course, is the cornerstone of the theological organization of the sect, which mandates the exaltation of Brothers Aarón and Samuel and makes LLDM a virtual theocracy. Third, proselytism and the missionary zeal of LLDM often transcend the boundaries of most evangelist sects, and lead to aggressiveness and to physical exclusivity. The notion that Brother Aarón had to buy land to establish a congregation and sell it to the faithful has been severely criticized (Amatulli Valente 1989) as another ploy to exploit them economically.
Finally, the teleology of LLDM is even poorer. It denies the existence of purgatory (a belief shared by most Protestant sects and denominations), and affirms a kind of celestial kingdom in which the faithful of the sect occupy a place of privilege at the feet of the Lord God. Brother Aarón and his son, Samuel, never specified a theological and teleological body of dogma for LLDM. In the hierarchical and authoritarian organization of the sect this is not necessary, since everything of dogmatic significance and pragmatic value emanated from the founder and his son, which is the ultimate dogma.
The following analysis is underlain by the analytical framework discussed in chapter 1. The only difference is that it was very difficult to elicit information from minister-pastors and the faithful of LLDM, and consequently we are not able to undertake a detailed analysis of the ideology and belief system as we did for Amistad y Vida. But the principles and the logic of analysis are the same.
The Ideology of LLDM and Its Consequences
The worldview of LLDM, fashioned by the ideology imprinted on the sect by its founder, comprises a closed system of beliefs and practices. It is basically a theocracy, geared to the exploitation of the faithful under strict social control. But what are the benefits for the rank-and-file congregants, and what is the appeal of the sect? It cannot be denied that it has been successful in converting considerable numbers of disenchanted Catholics searching for a new religious experience. In the following paragraphs we shall try to explain this rather puzzling phenomenon.
LLDM demonstrates a high degree of exclusivity, and by this we mean they have an inordinate conception of themselves as a chosen people. From top to bottom, this is inculcated in children born in the sect and adult converts—the top being viewed as the position of Aarón and his son, Samuel, as the anointed by God. The faithful are at all times indoctrinated to exalt and revere them as living links to the original Son of God, Jesus on Earth. This is a powerful reinforcer that they are the chosen people within the Christian flock; this assertion does not sit well with other evangelist sects and elicits contempt and derision from Catholics. Be this as it may, this view of their position in the scheme of Christianity makes LLDM the most integrated, but at the same time one of the most fanatical, of all native and Protestant evangelist sects.
From the beginning of LLDM, Brother Aarón sought connections with the political establishment (PRI) to strengthen and consolidate the position of the sect. This nationalistic—one could say patriotic—stance has certainly paid off, as evidenced by the reluctance of the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior (Gobernación) to prosecute the leadership of the sect in the scandals of sexual abuse (as we shall discuss in chapter 5). These scandals were exposed by the daily press and social scientist researchers (see Masferrer 1997b; Escalante 1997), despite the outcries of evangelist sects and pressure from the Catholic hierarchy.3 This strategy continued with Brother Samuel, and today he counts several important PRI politicians among his supporters. As far as we are aware, this extreme, pragmatic form of nationalism is unique among native and Protestant evangelist sects in Mexico.
Despite the original hierarchical imprint of Brother Aarón, the sect becomes less stratified and more egalitarian as it expands from the Hermosa Provincia (the see of the sect) to its regional and local congregations. This is accompanied by a decrease in economic exploitation and sexual abuse of the faithful. One of the main objectives of our research on the Fortín congregation was to determine if the corruption, which purportedly has been rampant at the see, takes place locally or among the three other congregations in the region. We did not uncover any of the abuses that, as amply reported by the daily press, have plagued the see since the foundation of the sect: sexual abuse of children and adult men and women, economic exploitation of congregations (speculation involving the land surrounding the temples, plots of which are sold to congregants), and solicitation of presents in cash and goods (expensive cars, jewelry, fancy electronic items) for the top members of the hierarchy residing in the Hermosa Provincia.4
The puritanical outward trappings imposed on the rank and file of the sect’s congregations by Brother Aarón, particularly on women (long skirts, no jewelry, segregation in religious services, and strict subservience to men), are highly incongruent with the rampant sexual abuse and luxurious standard of living at the top of the sect’s hierarchy. What does this indicate? This can be answered simply enough by asserting that this is a case of “Do as I say, not as I do,” as dictated by means of the hierarchical control that from its foundation has been the most salient trait of the sect’s organization. However, there is more to this simplistic explanation. Fundamentally, we believe that destructive sects are fashioned by the personalities of their founders, who in turn were shaped by specific circumstances in their early lives, or by psychological traumas suffered in childhood. 5
That LLDM may be considered a destructive sect in the context of the Hermosa Provincia but not in local congregations is the result of two factors. First is the simple fact that in this stratified and highly centralized organization, members of a small nonproductive elite leadership (the apostle in the Hermosa Provincia and his immediate associates, his incondicionales, those unconditionally attached to him) lead a life of comfort and luxury at the expense of the overwhelming majority of producers (the rank-and-file faithful in local congregations).6 The leadership of LLDM is very small, comprising probably less than 2 percent of the total membership of the sect, and can therefore engage in an extravagant lifestyle and still be able to do some good at the congregational level. Regarding the second factor—and on this point we have to be brief—the personality and social history of the founder are relevant to many of the beliefs and practices that complement what he took from Pentecostalism and other Protestant sects. We are not practitioners of psychohistory, which, to say the least, is a precarious method for assigning diachronic causality. But we find ourselves unable to adduce a better explanation for this difference between center and periphery that so blatantly characterizes LLDM.
The Hermosa Provincia is under the immediate and overwhelming control of its first, powerful charismatic leader, Brother Aarón, who was able to pass on to his son, Samuel, the full array of an abusive and exploitative apparatus. Samuel, of course, was an able and willing heir and has unabashedly perpetuated his father’s destructive organization of the sect. This explanation assumes that from the start, Brother Aarón conceived LLDM with this dichotomy in mind, which specifically entails that the exploitation of the rank and file in the congregations was made possible by instituting the tithing and fostering the expectation that they are getting back benefits from an exalted, all-powerful leader. This in our estimation is the ideological constituent that makes exploitation seem painless. But we don’t know, nor would we wish to conjecture, about the psychological and social antecedents that molded the personality of the founder and that were instrumental in fashioning the destructive features of LLDM.
Finally, at the local, congregational level, minister-pastors are instructed (by the Hermosa Provincia) to instill in the faithful an attitude of veneration, close to adoration, of Brothers Aarón and Samuel. This hard-line indoctrination goes on persistently from the pulpit as well as in the daily activities of the congregation, resulting in a glorification of the apostles that sounds almost pagan. Brother Aarón is referred to as “God’s chosen,” therefore requiring absolute obedience (his son Samuel is equally conceived) not only by the rank-and-file faithful, but by the members of the hierarchy (“bishops,” deacons, minister-pastors), and above all by the incondicionales: “our unforgettable hero, who liberated us from the chains of dogma and tradition through his example of love and truth”; “our apostle who made us see the light by instituting the only true way to worship God.” Brother Samuel is referred to as “elected by God to replace his father before he was born”; “anointed by God”; “God’s envoy, who, with his presence, united us into an indivisible group”; “apostle of Jesus Christ, whom people follow everywhere enthusiastically and without reserve”; “greatest [máximo] spiritual guide whose mere presence makes people convert to La Luz del Mundo” (Amatulli Valente 1989:15–18).
This extraordinary conception of religious leaders, with its servile attitude, is regarded by Catholics and evangelists alike as risible and not worthy of being taken seriously. This personality cult, together with the sexual and economic exploitation that accompanies it, is what has led several students of religious cults, as we have already indicated, to classify LLDM as a destructive sect. Nonetheless, we did not encounter a single Mundist who questioned the cult of the apostles, complained about tithing, or did not absolutely believe everything taught about the apostles’ nearly divine conception. Moreover, LLDM elicits favorable recognition from fair-minded Catholic laymen, who do not know or do not care about the exploitation or abuses of the leadership in the Hermosa Provincia; they attend only to the good works the congregation does locally.
From this standpoint, LLDM is the most sui generis of all the evangelist sects in Mexico. We do not have firsthand knowledge of the Hermosa Provincia as a congregation, how it is organized for the economic exploitation of the faithful, the details of the alleged sexual abuse by Brother Samuel and his incondicionales, and in general its ritual and ceremonial life. We shall therefore concentrate on the Fortín congregation in particular and the other congregations of LLDM in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and Tlaxcala in general.
Values and Worldview as Springs to Action
All evangelist congregations provide a community ambiance that is absent in Catholic parishes, which we have construed as one of the most common reasons for conversion to evangelism. This aspect of LLDM congregations is even more accentuated than those of all native and Protestant evangelists we have been studying during the past fifteen years, with the possible exception of Cristianos. The main reason for this characterization is the close proximity in which the majority of the faithful live in congregations of LLDM. But there is an added aspect that plays an important role: namely, the strong belief that they are different from all other evangelist sects, that they are literally the modern chosen people. Mundists, of course, acknowledge that they share many beliefs and practices with other evangelists, but are thoroughly convinced that they alone are the repositories of Christian virtues and the true interpreters of the word of God, the only evangelists who understand the teachings of the Bible.
This fanatical religious conception of themselves is the source of their extreme exclusivity; it redounds in rather hermetic congregational self-absorption and disregard for exogenous religious and social interests and commitments. The typical congregation is analogous to a centripetal, closed-corporate folk community, as it has been described in the ethnographic literature of Mesoamerica (Cámara Barbachano 1952:87), which stands largely isolated from the region and remains inwardly traditional. In the remainder of this section we examine the worldview and values of LLDM and how they shape specific aspects of congregations.
The exclusivity and endogeny of congregations is most diagnostically exhibited in the explicitly stated belief that the primary responsibility of the faithful is to the congregation and its well-being. Thus, contact with the outside is kept to a minimum, and the social life of the people is centered entirely around the temple and among congregants. They proselytize, of course, but this is done by a rather small group, no more than fifteen or so, of “missionaries,” who go out two or three times a week to visit the countryside and the poorer sections of the cities, where they most commonly recruit converts. Mundists do not engage in community service, nor do they engage in exogenous activities of any kind that would benefit the community or countryside where the congregations are located. They are criticized by native and Protestant evangelist congregations who usually do community service; in fact, this lack of interest in anything beyond the confines of the congregation does not endear them to the evangelical community, of which most members are reluctant to accord LLDM full recognition as one of their own. Rather surprisingly, there is more suspicion and apprehension about LLDM from evangelist sects than from Catholic parishes: the former because they think the sect gives evangelism a bad name; the latter because they think Mundists are so outlandish that they should not be taken seriously.
Probably the most positive aspect of LLDM congregations is the strongly held belief in self-help and support for individual members. The corporate nature of the group is best exemplified by the assistance that both the congregation as a whole and individuals provide to each other when need arises. This includes donating cash when individuals are sick and need money for medicine (the Holy Spirit may make itself present and thereby cure people, but Mundists do not wait for this to happen; they actively seek biomedical solutions when a person is seriously ill). Unlike many evangelist and fundamentalist sects, Mundists exhibit significant rationality in dealing with health problems. As the minister-pastor of the Fortín congregation puts it, adducing the old Spanish saying, “A Dios rogando pero con el mazo dando” (God helps those who help themselves). 7
Kinship Behavior in the Extended Family and in the Nonresidential Extended Family
Given the individual and generational hierarchical structure of LLDM (and this is the main area in which the sect differs from Cristianos), the best way to understand the behavioral organization of the domestic extended family—and by extension that of the nonresidential extended family—is by first specifying the dyadic patterns that obtain within the former unit.
The father–married son relationship is typified by deference, formality, and subordination to the father. As long as the son resides patrilocally, the father exercises strict control and demands obedience, but is always willing to give social and economic help. A married son considers his father the symbol of authority within the household. When the father becomes too authoritarian, the son temporizes with him. This, however, does not happen often, as fathers invariably desire to keep their married sons in the household as long as possible, and they realize that the more liberty the sons are allowed in making their own decisions, the longer they will stay. Usually, the father–married son relationship is one of respect and mutual formality; it is seldom demonstrative, and rather distant and aloof. This extreme respect and veneration for one’s father, and in general for the hierarchical principle of authority, is grounded on the religious conception of the apostles and founder as “fathers” of the sect.
The father–unmarried son and father–unmarried daughter relationships consist of strict subordination to the father. This severe control, mostly over daughters, sometimes leads to early marriage. Worthy of notice, however, is that after daughters leave the household to get married, a warm and understanding relationship develops between father and daughter. In their recurrent visits to the parental household, daughters are glad to see their fathers, and they ask for advice about marital problems. Fathers watch over their daughters’ well-being; if a daughter is not being treated properly, the father talks to the heads of his daughter’s new household to remedy the situation. Unmarried sons resent their father’s control over their earnings, and try to stay away from the household as much as they can. When they get married, however, sons realize that the extended family household provides a convenient place to leave their wives in safety if they engage in labor migration away from the congregation. Regardless of occupation, however, recently married young men see the advantage of residing patrilocally until they can stand on their own economically and build their own houses, which is seldom before six or seven years after marriage.
Between the age of about fifteen and the time of marriage is perhaps the most difficult period in the life of males in LLDM and Cristianos congregations, as it is difficult for them to accept their father’s control and surveillance. These strained relationships between fathers and young unmarried sons cause significant anxiety within the extended family and are the cause of considerable discord. It is not until they are married that young men come to accept their father’s authority and control and make the proper behavioral adjustments.
The relationship of fathers to their sons’ children is somewhat uncertain. As heads of households, fathers are the sole individuals in the extended family who have the right to discipline the children of their sons, and thus they must often be very firm with the young children of the household. On the other hand, in their roles as grandfathers they indulge the children and constantly give them small presents. Favoritism toward a grandchild is a common source of conflict, and daughters-in-law quite often react violently if their children are not favored. On the whole, the grandfather role predominates, and the relationship between a father and his sons’ children is warmly reciprocal.
Relationships between fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law are rather limited in scope. The father has little to do with his sons’ wives; it is the father’s wife who usually deals with them. As head of the household, however, he does exercise a degree of supervision and control over his daughters-in-law and demands obedience; relations are not cordial, but rather characterized by tension and antagonism. The situation remains the same after component nuclear families separate and establish independent households nearby, for the father-in-law insists on retaining control over his daughters-in-law.
The relationship between married sons is one of the stabilizing factors within the extended family. Paradoxically, the relations between married sons are not close or even cordial, but as long as they live in the paternal family household, a tacit agreement on economic and social cooperation holds them together and smoothes out any serious difficulties. However, disagreements sometimes occur, due largely to the father’s favoritism toward one of the sons, usually concerning the allocation of the household resources. When this takes place, and a married son feels that his rights have been infringed upon, the rupture is invariably final. He usually opts to live in the house of a patrilaterally related kinsman, if he hasn’t the means to build his own separate house. In general, however, as long as the relationships between married sons are “normal,” they stabilize social relations within the extended family household.
Sons are very close to their mothers and serve as intermediaries between their wives and try to smooth out the always-tense relations between a mother-in-law and her daughters-in-law. The relationship between brothers-in-law and daughters-in-law within the extended family household is one of mutual understanding, respect, and some cordiality. The relationship of married sons to their unmarried brothers and sisters is close, and married sons always intercede on their behalf, often give them pocket money, and in general treat them with a good deal of warmth. In turn, unmarried sons and daughters cooperate with their brothers’ wives by helping them with chores, and also by taking their side, at least sub rosa, in disputes with their mother. By behaving warmly toward in-marrying women, the unmarried men and women of the extended family household also contribute to smoothing out social relations within it.
The wife of the head of the extended family household shares some of the respect and deference due to her husband, but her role within the household is not nearly as important as his. The older she is, the less she participates in the internal affairs of the household. Until the age of sixty-five or so, however, she is in charge of managing the household and making sure that her daughters-in-law do their share of the work in addition to running their own nuclear families. The wife of the head of the household does not do much work, especially when she has two or more daughters-in-law to do it for her. The daughters-in-law take turns cooking for her and her husband and for the unmarried children, cleaning the house, making tortillas, washing, mending, and so on. Her job is that of supervisor. But she will do some housework when she has many unmarried children still living in the house and but one daughter-in-law. The daughters-in-law resent this situation, which is the source of endless conflict. The situation is also aggravated by disputes among themselves, due to favoritism of the mother-in-law toward one or the other of them.
Now let us turn to the nonresidential extended family, or localized minimal lineage. As we have indicated, this is the most common kin group in folk communities in central Mexico. We have regarded both rural and urban congregations of Amistad y Vida and LLDM as folk communities, one of the characteristic attributes of which is patrineolocality (the rule that specifies that after marriage the couple must reside in the house of the groom, usually for five to seven years). Except in the congregations we studied, patrineolocality is also the source of the deep antagonism and tension that in most instances characterize the relationship between mother-in-law and daughters-in-law, which persists until after the daughters-in-law and their husbands establish independent residences. The most important source of ill feelings is usually the fact that the mother-in-law believes that she is entitled to order her daughters-in-law around, and to exact unconditional obedience from them. Daughters-in-law do not take this kind of treatment lightly, and they lose no chance to antagonize their mother-in-law. They do not greet her in the morning, they do not comply with her commands, and they are disrespectful. The mother-in-law retaliates by complaining about them to her husband and sons. This puts the sons in a very difficult position, as they must be loyal to their wives as well as to their mothers. Invariably they play the role of mediators between wife and mother, thus making family relations a little more bearable. Relations between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law may reach a point where the husband has no alternative but to leave the parental family household and go to live in the house of a patrilaterally related kinsman’s household, or sometimes leave the community altogether. Even after the nuclear family has set up an independent household, relations between mother-in-law and daughters-in-law continue to be strained, as the mother-in-law retains some control over her daughters-in-law.
Of the several dozen cases of patrineolocality in the contexts of the extended family and nonresidential extended family that we have investigated in central Mexico, only Amistad y Vida and LLDM do not exhibit the proverbial antagonism between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. On the contrary, the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is amicable, occasionally quite close, and in no way contributes to the dysfunctionality of the extended family and nonresidential extended family. We may explain this deviation by adducing two reasons. On the one hand, the congregations are small communities, seldom more than five hundred people, with ten to twelve nonresidential extended families in the congregation. It would be structurally very difficult to allow such a disruptive relationship to endure. On the other hand, the religious orientation of both sects emphasizes cooperation and amicable behavior among congregants and has been instrumental in transforming the formerly antagonistic relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
Within the extended family household the relationships among daughters-in-law are not always harmonious, but the situation is held in check by their husbands, who act as mediators and try to ameliorate the cold and strained relations among daughters-in-law. Daughters-in-law avoid each other as much as they can, but this is seldom possible, especially in extended families with a single expense budget, where there is only one kitchen in the household. In the case of households with separate budgets, each component nuclear family manages its own income and has a separate kitchen, and daughters-in-law can successfully keep out of each other’s way. Other sources of conflict are competition for the favors of unmarried brothers and sisters, preferences shown by the mother-in-law, or interference with their children and fights among them. Here again, the husbands play the role of mediator.
As we have pointed out, the mother-son relationship is the warmest and strongest in the kinship system of folk people. The mother always takes the side of her sons in their disputes with their father, and in return she expects them to side with her in her disputes with their wives. This puts married sons in an uncomfortable position; their loyalties are divided between their mother and their wives, and the mother resents this because she expects absolute loyalty. However, the mutual devotion between mother and sons is not really disrupted by the fact that sometimes sons side with their wives; and their mother is always the first person they turn to in trouble.
The mother–unmarried sons and mother–unmarried daughters relationship is close and affectionate. The mother watches over her daughters and advises them, and not infrequently covers up the daughters’ love affairs and escapades. She intercedes for her sons when they have done wrong, gives them pocket money when they need it, and often pampers them to the annoyance of her husband. She resents it when her unmarried children show the slightest inclination to side with her daughters-in-law, as she expects them to be unflinchingly loyal to her. She seldom detects such inclinations, however, because unmarried sons and daughters make every effort to conceal the fact that they may be siding with their sisters-in-law.
The education and general position of the children of the component nuclear families are two other significant aspects of the extended family. The education of the children is to a considerable degree the task of the nuclear family, and mothers do not permit members of other nuclear families within the extended family to interfere with the education and disciplining of their children. Only the head of the extended family household is permitted to discipline his grandchildren, and not even his wife is allowed to interfere with them. She cannot even ask her grandchildren to do errands without the consent of their mothers. Nevertheless her constant insistence on trying to order them around is the most frequent source of discord in the household. Interference in connection with the affairs of their children leads to violent fights among daughters-in-law. By contrast, the unmarried children of the head of the extended family get along harmoniously with their sisters-in-law and secretly take their side in disputes with their own mother.
With respect to the nonresidential extended family, there are too many relationships to allow us to analyze it dyadically, as we have done above for the domestic extended family. Rather, the analysis must be presented in terms of an organic, functional whole that extends dyadic relationships to apply to the entire unit. But before we do so, it is necessary to describe the overall kinship variables that underlie the entire kinship system of central Mexico’s folk communities, of which LLDM and Amistad y Vida are part.
First, patrilateral bias entails that most social and economic relations of young men and women are contracted with individuals patrilaterally related. This means primarily that in time of need and stress, both in the process of separating from the extended family and subsequently in establishing their own independent households, married couples rely most often on the husband’s kin. On occasions such as securing a house site, loans for furnishing the house, and social support for multiple occasions in the life cycle, the individual first circle of support is the nonresidential extended family, which, although not necessarily a permanent unit, nonetheless acquires significant organic importance.
Second, the nonresidential extended family within the congregation has strong social, economic, and religious functions. If there is something that differentiates LLDM and Amistad y Vida congregations from Catholic parishes in central Mexico it is that the concept of ayuda is more accentuated and consistent in the former. This feature of these two evangelist sects accounts significantly for their rapid growth and their appeal to several sectors of the stratification system: in the case of LLDM, to name the most outstanding, the sect appeals to the urban poor by providing a measure of economic security, as well as psychological support for the upwardly mobile lower-middle and working classes; among Cristianos, ayuda in multiple forms appeals to individuals who are in transition from rural to urban environments, as it assists them in their adaptation to the city. Moreover, economic ayuda is always forthcoming in connection with the life cycle and related social aspects. There are many occasions, from birth to death, when individual couples need mostly economic support. In this regard LLDM and Amistad y Vida realize the functions of the extended family and nonresidential extended family to the utmost.
La Luz del Mundo Exclusively: Concluding Remark
The most positive aspect of LLDM congregations is the pervasive atmosphere of help and cooperation. When congregants have personal problems, they can always go to the minister-pastor or any other member of the local hierarchy for comfort. Quite often the minister-pastor asks individuals and families to provide the necessary means to alleviate the suffering of those dealing with anything from mental conditions (depression, apathy, lack of initiative, inability to deal with personal and family problems, and the like) to debilitating physical syndromes.
We witnessed one case in which the adults of two families took turns staying with a widow whose husband had died in an accident. She had gone into a state of complete disarray that prevented her from taking care of her four small children. We were told repeatedly by informants that this kind of assistance was quite common in the normal life of the congregation. One can hardly conceive this happening in the impersonal ambiance of a Catholic parish, nor would we expect to see a priest taking personal responsibility for a parishioner in need. This is highly constructive behavior that an impartial assessment of LLDM must balance against the destructive behavior that takes place at the see. In addition, certain customs instituted by the apostles—and now part of the ideology and praxis of the sect everywhere—detract from the constructive configuration of local congregations. The most salient of these are the following: puritanism (which we have already mentioned); opposition to birth control, abortion, and “tampering with God’s designs”; homophobia; and misogyny.
Let us first consider the effects of puritanism on the religious and social life of the congregation. Prescribing the dress, adornments, and general personal appearance of women is an evident form of control that keeps them in subordinate positions within the congregation; it is an overt form of machismo, meant to keep women under men’s domination. This central aspect of LLDM emanates directly from Brother Aarón’s conception of womanhood, which was taken on by his son Samuel and given an even more repressive form (Amatulli Valente 1989).8 Several incondicionales women have “escaped” from the Hermosa Provincia, despite the coercion and use of force exerted on them to remain. Surprisingly, in the congregations we have investigated women unanimously state that they are happy in their subordinate position. They accept it as the will of the apostle Aarón. When asked about the abuses of women in the Hermosa Provincia, they answered that it is not true, that it is a charge concocted by Catholics and other enemies of LLDM.
More significantly, the puritanical conceptions of womanhood pervading in the congregation keep women segregated from men and unable to occupy positions of responsibility in the congregation. This is done in some cases covertly, as when women are required to sit separately from men in the temple, but most of the time openly; when citing biblical authority, women are told they cannot occupy positions of authority and leadership, as ordained in the New Testament. The outsider quickly becomes aware that the congregation is palpably male dominated, that women seldom are independent agents, and that there is a subtle ambiance of nothing happening without men’s consent. One gets the eerie notion that all is well, that everybody is happy, and that everything functions smoothly. Such is the power of suggestion of a charismatic religious leader and the sustained process of enculturation of women by men! We find no other explanation for this unusual situation.
As an extension of the foregoing point, at all levels LLDM is opposed to contraception, abortion, any form of birth control, and any action considered as tampering with God’s design and order of the universe. More destructively, there is an ever-present veneer of misogyny that goes far beyond traditional Mexican machismo. 9 It is never explicitly stated, but implicitly women are regarded as objects that must be guided by men and at all times kept under control. Thus, women are not allowed positions of prestige in the congregation, and cannot be bishops, deacons, or minister-pastors; when they occasionally serve in some organizing capacity, such as leading a prayer session or imparting catechism to children, they are carefully supervised. We find this to be the most destructive aspect of LLDM at the local level. To reiterate, women passively accept this subordination to men as the inevitable nature of things ordained by the apostle, to whom they owe absolute obedience.
To conclude, LLDM at the level of the congregation, despite a few glaring destructive elements, has become an attractive alternative for dissatisfied Catholics, as evidenced by the rapid growth of the sect and the favorable perception that it elicits in some circles of the Catholic population. The success of LLDM demonstrates that, despite the after-the-fact rationalizations that invariably accompany conversion to evangelism (namely, the assertion that individuals convert because they have found the true and only version of Christianity), people leave the Church for economic, social, and psychological reasons that the present state of Catholicism has done nothing to solve. We shall return to this problem in chapter 6.