1. Amistad y Vida, Inc., was founded in Mexico City in 1982 by a Presbyterian minister. Within a few years, congregations had been established in cities and rural communities of central Mexico.
2. Statistics on evangelism in Mexico are notoriously unreliable; evangelical sects tend to overestimate their numbers, while the Catholic hierarchy tends greatly to underestimate them. Based on our survey of evangelical congregations in the Córdoba-Orizaba region, and the list of sects and their congregations kept by the authorities of the state of Veracruz, the number of evangelists is much greater than the estimates of the Catholic authorities.
3. We are not theologians, but merely students of comparative religion. Thus, to us “heresy” is a relative term. For example, Nestorianism is heresy for Catholics, but dogma for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, when anthropologists and sociologists study religious systems and analyze concepts such as heresies, dogmas, and in general any doctrinal elements, they are not dealing with matters of fact, but with perceptions of ideological constructs that cannot be proven true or false. This is the case with all ideational constructs, namely, beliefs, values, ideologies, and worldviews: they are accepted or rejected, but they cannot be falsified. This, of course, is the doctrine that has been called the “subjectivity of values,” which evidently applies to all ideational constructs. Bertrand Russell (1997:237–239) characterizes this scientific stand as follows: “This doctrine consists in maintaining that, if two men differ about values [or about any ideational construct], there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says oysters are good and another says I think they are bad, we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question holds all differences about values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem more exalted than oysters. The chief ground for adopting this view is the complete impossibility of finding any arguments to prove that this or that has intrinsic value.”
Science, in other words, can prove or disprove only matters of empirical fact, but has nothing to say about truth or falsity of ideational constructs. This does not mean, however, that anthropology (as a science) has nothing to say about religion—quintessentially an ideational subject. But what it has to say is not about theology, teleology, and doctrinal constitution, but rather the consequences of these constructs in the social and cultural life of a group. We shall elaborate on this analytical strand but we wanted to state at the outset how the analysis would proceed.
4. The situation in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, has become even more violent since the onset of the indigenous movement, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN). The connection between EZLN and the expulsion of evangelists from the municipio of Chamula has not been properly explored, despite the able work of López Meza (1992). It is quite likely, however, that the empowering aspects released by the EZLN movement have radically changed the local relationship between evangelists and Catholics. In our estimation, what this means is that indigenous people now consider themselves entitled to make their own decisions concerning internal matters affecting their own municipios. Similar movements, particularly in the state of Guerrero, have led to the same developments. Such drastic developments have not yet occurred in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley, but our prediction is that they soon will take place.
5. We have designated all rural and urban Protestants who do not belong to mainstream denominations as “evangelist sects.” This is a justified appellation insofar as all sects mentioned in the text share a strong concern with proselytism, a consuming desire to spread the word of God as dictated by their beliefs and practices. This usage seems to us to denote the essence of evangelism in the Christian tradition from the beginning, although we are well aware that contemporary students of religion may specifically denote something else by the term. Moreover, we have not specified our usage of terms such as “sect,” “denomination,” “church,” “millenarianism,” and several others. These points have been studied by students of contemporary Protestantism in most of its forms, but they are not immediately pertinent to our description and analysis of native evangelism. Nonetheless, for the sake of keeping matters straight, we shall have something to say about this in chapter 2.
6. Our understanding of the present policy of the Mexican government is as follows. For about 150 years, since las Leyes de Reforma (the Reform Laws) enacted in 1856, Mexico’s government has had an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church. At every period, from Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz to every administration after the end of the armed conflict of the Revolution of 1910 and until the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, the government has not missed any opportunity to approve of any development or occurrence to counteract Catholic power and influence. The reasons have changed throughout this long period, but the aim has been the same, and in this respect every form of Protestantism that was introduced in Mexico has been implicitly used for this purpose. Another example of the same strategy took place in the late 1920s. During the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles, in several parts of the country a movement away from the Roman Catholic Church came into existence. It took the name of Iglesia Católica Cismática Mexicana: a nationalistic religious movement that declared itself independent of Rome and its Mexican hierarchy. It retained intact the creed and dogma of Catholicism, but it arrogated to itself the right to consecrate its own priests and bishops. In Tlaxcala, for example, they took over two communities (Santa Anita Nopalucan and San Miguel Tenancingo), which did not return to Catholicism until the 1980s (Nutini and Isaac 1974). President Calles and his administration supported the movement, and there was nothing that the Catholic hierarchy could do. Thus, anticlericalism and freedom of worship have more to do with politics than with religious change per se, as the great majority of Mexicans, including most practicing politicians, remain staunch Catholics. In fact, we do not think that the present PAN (Partido Acción Nacional; most of its members are devout Catholics) administration would dare upset the status quo by abolishing freedom of religion. See our conclusions for further discussion.
1. Parenthetically, native evangelism, at least in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley, is a somewhat syncretic mixture of Catholicism and Protestant evangelism, in which some modified doctrinal aspects of the former coexist with the fundamental doctrinal and pragmatic aspects of the latter (as specified in the introduction). Differences between native and Protestant evangelism will be analyzed in the conclusions, when we compare the two analytical ethnographies. Suffice it to say here that there has been friction in that evangelist sects, particularly Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, maintain that native sects are not true evangelists.
1. As we shall discuss in the conclusions, some evangelist sects, particularly the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists, occasionally take a confrontational stance when challenged by Catholics by responding in kind, verbally or physically. These incidents do not happen often, but they are becoming increasingly common in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and in the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley.
2. This, of course, is the dogmatic-axiomatic cornerstone of all religions and the sects that have sprung from them, some of which do become mainstream religions in their own right. In the case of Christianity, with unsuccessful attempts at sectarianism, the deus-ex-machina framed by the First Council of Nicaea (325) held the teachings of Christ, his original apostles, and Saint Paul as a unified religion until the Orthodox schism (1054), the first major subdivision of Christianity. In the West, the deus-ex-machina continued to reign supreme, again despite several abortive cases of sectarianism. The second great schism, the rise of Protestantism in the first half of the sixteenth century, was then framed primarily by Luther and Calvin. From then on until today mainstream religions (denominations)—and sects that were fairly independent movements—have proliferated to no end. They all claim (some implicitly, others explicitly; some stridently, others quietly) that they represent the only true doctrinal path to worship based on the correct interpretation of the scriptures. What are secular students of religion (mostly sociologists, historians, and anthropologists) to make of this simplified evolutionary account of Christianity? Two things, in our opinion: first, that dogmas are the result of specific social, economic, and political factors, usually at critical historical junctures, and are not due to any divine intervention as theologians maintain; and second, that since dogmas cannot all be true, they must necessarily be taken as fundamental axioms that engender beliefs, behaviors, and actions that characterize particular faiths; these are the raw materials that secular students may use to determine the position and functions of religion in society.
1. Our observation of many services in five different congregations (three in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and two in the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley) indicated that this extemporaneous part of the service is conducted in an implicitly orderly fashion, that is, attending congregants speak if they have something to say, attest, or ask without abusing the privilege, and when they do speak up, they do so concisely. It is as if these interventions had been orchestrated beforehand. To some extent this is true, in that those who may want to say or ask something may sometimes consult in advance with the director, particularly in the case of young people or individuals unsure of themselves, as we found out when we interviewed congregants. On the other hand, there are many spontaneous interventions, most often testifying to the Holy Spirit having manifested to the person.
2. Cristianos, like all evangelist sects, are opposed to alcoholism, and regard it as the source of much disruption and abuse within the family, but they are not averse to taking a glass of wine or a beer once in a while. In fact, we have heard discussants at home meetings recommend that adolescents should be taught to occasionally drink in moderation, rather than prohibiting it outright, which may elicit a negative reaction when young men and women leave the family of orientation. This is an enlightened policy that again demonstrates Cristianos’ relaxed approach to religion.
3. There is a certain amount of competition among congregants to be included in these visiting groups, which it is up to the committee to appoint, implicitly acknowledging that voluntary service in the cause of good works is the best way to please the Lord and achieve salvation.
4. We decided that it was not appropriate to follow up on the episode immediately after the service. A few days later, however, we interviewed a couple (husband and wife) of Cristianos with whom we had become close. We learned a good deal about this episode, which subsequently led to other informants, and we were able to put together a rather coherent picture of what they referred to as “el don de lenguas” or “hablar en lenguas” (speaking in tongues).
5. Three informants (two men and a woman) told us in no uncertain terms that they do not want to be identified with superstitious sects such as Pentecostals, for whom speaking in tongues “es algo como la brujería que practican los indígenas, que se puede manipular al gusto cuando es conveniente” (is something like witchcraft as practiced by Indians, that can be manipulated at will when it is convenient).
6. In our research on social stratification and mobility in central Veracruz (Nutini 2005), we established that the higher the class of the individuals, the lower the incidence of the extended family. This is not necessarily intuitive, for in Mexico City aristocrats have a higher incidence of extended families than plutocrats.
7. Urban kinship has been studied by H. Nutini in his work on aristocrats, plutocrats, and the upper-middle class in Mexico City (see Nutini 2004:221–281). It is practically the same in several cities of central Mexico (Puebla, Orizaba, Córdoba, and a few smaller ones), where it applies to the entire urban stratification spectrum, above the Indian context, as illustrated below.
8. This form of kinship structure is present in both Amistad y Vida and La Luz del Mundo congregations, and it is widespread in Mesoamerica. We discuss this form of kinship here and in the following chapter, on La Luz del Mundo kinship structure.
9. H. Nutini had not seen this form of ritual kinship behavior since 1962, when he completed two years of fieldwork in San Bernardino Contla, Tlaxcala. Until then, it was standard in traditional communities in the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley for godchildren to kneel and kiss the hand of godparents. The practice rapidly declined, and by 2000 it had disappeared. Therefore, we were astonished to witness the practice in an urban environment among mostly middle- and lower-middle-class people. It was a throwback to nearly half a century ago.
10. This is a constant that obtains in the Córdoba-Orizaba region and the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley, and the generalization can probably be extended to central Mexico as a whole. To us it makes sense, although when we broached the matter to a Pentecostal and a Jehovah’s Witnesses pastor, they were horrified. We were told that our view of conversion was an insult to the Holy Spirit, which most Protestant evangelist sects consider as the main supernatural agent in the process of conversion. We quickly dropped the matter as inimical to our research.
11. Jesus’s career as a public figure—that is, the last three years of his life—was characterized by his criticism of the old Mosaic Law as having become ossified by its concern with ritualism. The Gospels and Saint Paul describe his divine mission as a reformation of the Law, a change from performing rituals controlled by an entrenched priesthood to a direct relationship to the deity, and based on a dynamic of human interaction of love and good works for fellow humans that pleases the Lord and ensures salvation. In our estimation, this fundamental dynamic has been present in the evolution that Christianity has undergone from roughly the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325, when Christianity, originally a folk religion, had nearly completed its transformation into an imperial religion) until the present. Every dissenting movement away from traditional Christianity (=Catholicism), from the transcendental Orthodox and Protestant schisms to minor sectarian reforms, most frequently since the middle of the nineteenth century, has been conditioned by this premise. Amistad y Vida is the last (so far) in this long line of development. To the best of our knowledge, among the many sectarian movements active in central Mexico today, only Amistad y Vida has been fashioned in this manner.
1. When I asked the minister-pastor of the LLDM congregation in Fortín what this interpretation of Jesus Christ is, he was unable to give me a theological explanation, and limited himself to saying that it was the apostle Aarón’s conception and should be accepted without question. This indicates the total subservience of pastors and congregants to the head of the sect—which in essence amounts to his infallibility—and we may add that this is so not only in theological matters, but also in all personal and practical matters concerning the sect.
2. The number 14 is sacred for LLDM, a kind of cabalistic number. This is an article of faith for Mundists because on this date God blessed His people, on August 14 the apostle Aarón and his son, Samuel, were born, and on this day the Lord delivered His chosen people from Egyptian oppression. Thus, the fourteenth day of every month is sacred, and it is expected for families to get together to remind the faithful of the history of the sect, and to do the same once a year to celebrate the founding of the sect.
3. This overtly nationalistic aspect of native evangelism will become increasingly important as it expands in Latin American countries, as apparently is already happening. “Nationalist” elements—in both connotations of the term, as we have used them here (native religious movements and close association with the political establishment)—will undoubtedly enhance the legitimacy of evangelism and provide local congregations with means to counteract whatever action the Catholic hierarchy takes to curtail the expansion of new faiths.
4. In-depth interviewing of congregants and many Catholic informants did not reveal any kind of economic exploitation or sexual abuse. On the contrary, several reliable Catholic informants spoke well of the good that the congregation was doing for the poor of Fortín and the region. When we interviewed the minister-pastor, however, he pointed out that the tithe of congregants who could not attend the yearly celebration of the Santa Cena in the Hermosa Provincia (when the tithe is individually paid) was locally collected a week before and promptly sent to the see. He added that tithing is good for the congregation, as some of what has been contributed comes back in the form of periodic gifts from the apostle. He did not say how often and how much, but we were able to determine from informants that there were gifts from the anointed of the Lord. This, at any rate, was evidently the perception of the rank and file, generated by the exalted position of Brother Samuel.
5. LLDM has been called a “destructive sect” (secta destructiva, in the context of evangelism in Mexico) by several scholars (Erdely 1997; Masferrer 1997b; Hochman 1997). Recalling the collective suicide incited by Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978 and the David Koresh episode in Waco, Texas, when eighty people committed suicide, these scholars have called LLDM a destructive sect, which they define as a group promulgating a religious ideology that, potentially or actually, causes social, economic, and/or psychological damage to individuals and the group as a whole. But these authors do not explore the genesis of destructive sects beyond adducing the usual reasons of discontent of people indiscriminately searching for new religious experiences. In chapter 5, we will explore this aspect of LLDM in some detail, as an important case study for understanding the origin and development of destructive sects.
6. The analogy that comes to mind here is the estate system of stratification as it existed in the Middle Ages, which to a large extent survived until the rise of a class system after the American and French Revolutions. Western society was divided into two estates: the aristocracy and the commonality; the first had most of the rights and privileges that European societies offered, while the second had few and were in a position of total social, economic, and political subordination. The aristocracy never had a membership larger than 10 percent of the total population, but was provided a life of luxury and exalted well-being by the hard labor of the commonality. For reasons of self-interest the aristocracy would throw a few crumbs to the commonality, but at all times maintained a tight control over it. In all estate systems that existed before the late eighteenth century, there is not a single case in which the proportion of the superordinate to the subordinate estate was more than one to ten. When the ratio rose, the result was upheavals and revolutions, as the dominated were too few to maintain the ruling estate in a state of luxury and comfort. The best-authenticated case is that of the French Revolution. Until the sixteenth century, the aristocracy never formed more than 9 percent of the population of France, but for the next two centuries it increasingly grew, to nearly 17 percent. The productive commonality could not support in style such a large nonproductive aristocracy, and, in our opinion, this was the social force that precipitated the revolution. We maintain that this applies to any stratified group in which a minority has the power to exact economic, social, and religious benefits from the majority.
7. This aspect of LLDM brings to mind the tightly knit nature of the closed-corporate community, as we have observed in central Mexico in general, and some kinship systems in particular. This constructive behavior is in sharp contrast to the destructive behavior that goes on at the see. The concept of ayuda, as we have defined it for the kinship system of San Bernardino Contla in Tlaxcala (Nutini 1968:225–241), is essentially the same among Mundists. And as far as we are aware, it is not present with as much intensity in native and Protestant sects in central Mexico, and unquestionably is absent in Catholic parishes.
8. Flaviano Amatulli Valente is an Italian priest who went to Mexico in 1968. In 1986 the Mexican Council of Bishops nominated him to lead the Department of the Faith to Combat Sectarian Proselytism. He has written several pamphlets on LLDM, and although he may be biased against the sect, the information he provides is useful in assessing evangelism in Mexico. What he says about the sexual abuses and economic exploitation of the apostles and the leadership enfranchised in the Hermosa Provincia agrees with what independent studies and the daily press have made public about LLDM.
9. Here we have specific evidence of a practice of LLDM that can be traced directly to Brother Samuel, as reported by Amatulli Valente (1998:49): “Once he [Samuel] got together with some incondicionales that were about to be married and he told them: ‘I am giving you these women so that you may polish and fashion them as you please. I know that you are going to say, what is Brother Samuel doing by marrying profesionistas [men practicing liberal professions] to women that have not even finished primary school. I am giving them to you so that you polish them, as I did with my own wife. When I met her she was fat and not well formed. I offered her five hundred pesos for each kilo she lost, and she is now a woman that I can be proud of.’” Similar remarks about women made by Brother Samuel have been reported in the daily press (Excelsior, June 17, 2003), underscoring the misogyny that characterizes LLDM from top to bottom.
1. It is our opinion that the situation between Catholics and evangelist sects, at least in the Córdoba-Orizaba region, has been precariously maintained, but violence may soon erupt, as has happened in several cities and towns in central Mexico during the past five years. The federal government has always promulgated freedom of religion, but it seems powerless to prevent confrontation and violence at the local level. The exaggerated claims of the Catholic Church and the increasing assertiveness of evangelists are on a collision course, and when the latter acquires a critical mass in a particular community, violence will ensue. In no community that we are aware of do evangelists form more than 12 percent of the total local population; what we do not know is what percentage of evangelists would constitute the breaking point.
2. Social stratification and mobility in central Veracruz are described and analyzed by Nutini (2005). For an extended discussion of the social classes and the standard of living and material culture in the Córdoba-Orizaba region, the reader may wish to consult this publication.
3. In the lowlands and midlands Indian populations are much more acculturated than in the highlands, and are therefore not likely to convert to an evangelist sect that is worldly and lacking in ritual and ceremonialism. This was verbalized by Indian informants from the municipio of Tequila, some 20 miles from the city of Orizaba. In the highlands of central Mexico, on the other hand, most Indian communities are in transition to becoming Mestizo, and are therefore more receptive to the basically urban, working-class orientation of LLDM.
4. How can this specific contrast between center and periphery be accounted for? Again one would be tempted to explain it psychohistorically. But the better explanation is social: the wealth of the sect is accumulated at the center and controlled by a very small group, and given the hierarchical subservience to the see, it is highly unlikely that the abuse of power and women would develop in local congregations.
5. This is a distinct pattern in the proselytizing process of LLDM congregations, which undoubtedly produces good results, and at the same time tends to preserve the social endogeny of the congregation. When we asked the minister-pastor of the Fortín congregation when this form of proselytism had come into existence, he said that Brother Samuel had insisted on it since he became the head of LLDM upon his father’s death.
6. Beyond religious disagreements with LLDM, Catholics express a great deal of antipathy toward the sect because they do not sanctify important events with compadrazgo and do not celebrate other social occasions throughout the year in true Mexican tradition. This attitude, of course, obtains against other evangelist sects, but it is exacerbated in respect to LLDM because the people at large know that the sect is of Mexican extraction.
7. The situation around LLDM is comparably greater than any similar cases of abuse perpetrated by the clergy in the United States, and Catholics were duly shocked. Mexicans are inured to political and economic corruption, but the general public was not aware that religious corruption could occur on the scale practiced by LLDM. Unfortunately, the Church hierarchy in particular, and the Catholic faithful in general, place all other Protestant and native evangelist sects together with LLDM, which is clearly not the case.
8. It is rather ironic than in Mexico, which only recently has had the luxury to experience unrestricted freedom of expression, religious matters and scandals are expressed and discussed by all concerned more openly than in the United States. US Newspapers and television do report on the transgressions of priests and pastors, but never with the depth and intensity to which LLDM has been subjected. We do not have an explanation for this phenomenon, but it seems that scholars, and certainly the media in the United States, are loathe to delve into the inner workings of the religious life of the people, as if by doing so, they would be transgressing the boundaries of reverence and offending religious sensibilities.
1. The sole purpose of the foregoing statistics is to put in perspective the tremendous success that evangelism has had in Latin America during the past fifty years. Many students of religion have investigated this process, such as Bastián (1986), Boff (1982), Bruce (1990), Deiros (1966), Garrand-Burnett (1992), Greenleaf (1992), Martin (1990), Roelofs (1991), and Stoll (1990), to name some of the most outstanding.
2. Parishioners are aware that priests do not receive a salary from the diocese for their maintenance and must subsist by charging a fee for services rendered. But they object to priests’ abuses when they charge two or three more times than the going rate for a special liturgy, particularly for Holy Week and All Saints/All Souls Day, when they are much in demand, or for commemorating a person’s death. Another source of income that parishioners resent is the priest having exclusive monopoly of decorating the church with flowers for a wedding or the celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, when parishioners could do it themselves.
3. This is essentially an encapsulation and a more literary rendition of statements from Pentecostal pastors and converts we interviewed, at the beginning of our research, in congregations of three communities in the Tlaxcala-Pueblan Valley. Similar statements about the role of preaching and its salvific effects were expressed by members of Protestant and native sects in the course of the research.
4. Again, the evangelism of Amistad y Vida is an exception. In order to avoid repetition, let us reiterate that this native sect is the most liberal, laid back, and least aggressive of all evangelist sects present in central Mexico. And therefore it constitutes the most atypical and well-meaning kind of evangelism that we have encountered.
5. We should emphasize that the great majority of women everywhere in Mexico are still traditional; they believe that the priesthood should be male, and as far as we are aware, women have never actively lobbied for the right to be ordained as priests. This is the case even with the best-educated women, but we will not be surprised if this kind of activism soon makes its appearance.
1. We are aware that this is a value judgment, but we cannot refrain from making it, given the unkept promises, subterfuges, and pressures that occasionally mar the proselytism of some evangelist sects, to say nothing of the undue assertiveness that characterizes the practical implementation of some of sects.
2. Indian communities suffered greatly, and something should be said about what happened to them, although it is not directly relevant here. The Ley Lerdo had catastrophic effects for Indian communities, as about 35 percent lost their communal land. Thus deprived, they hired themselves out as day laborers in nearby haciendas (large landed estates). This accelerated the processes of modernization and secularization, and many communities lost their Indian character. Such was the unintended result of the Ley Lerdo.
3. The Mexican government has always been reluctant to interfere with the practice of Catholicism, and the two or three times that it did so resulted in violent confrontations with the Catholic body politic. We will discuss this below.