Let’s continue out look at countries where Christians are persecuted by checking out what’s going on in Mexico. Believe it or not, there’s no single answer to how many countries are in the world. The United Nations recognizes 241 countries and territories. But the U.S. says there are only 197. Either way, that means Mexico is in the top 20% of countries in the world where Christians are persecuted.
Maybe it’s because of where I live – southern California – but I was surprised by Mexico being on the list at all. The same is true of several of the countries on the list.
The image on the right shows the 2019 World Watch List from Open Doors. <fn>Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard | FREE Community Edition on 2019-01-16 13:20:25Z If you click on it, a larger one will open up.
Even from the small image, we see that the U.S. and western Europe are not on the top 50 list at all.
Mexico on the list of Top 50 Countries With Persecution Of Christians
But Mexico is. Given the prevalence (I thought) of Catholics in Mexico, that surprised me. Especially since it’s not even yellow – the lowest rankings for persecution of Christians. I had a car stolen one time. It was nearly completely stripped. It was so bad that when I sent to the Sheriff’s stolen car lot, I didn’t even recognize it. It wasn’t burned or in an accident. There were just so many missing parts that I walked right past it. At least twice.
The one thing left though, had I looked inside, was the part of the center console that had air-conditioning vents in it. They told me it wasn’t touched because I had a crucifix hanging from one of the vents. Apparently, stealing a car was an initiation requirement to get into the Mexican gangs. And, being “good Catholics”, they won’t touch anything having to do with Jesus or Mary. So I got my crucifix back. The car? A total loss.
Here’s what the CT article said about Mexico being on the list (for the first time):
The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
So it was apparently a rare event. But is it? To find out, I googled the issue, and found an Open Doors article from 2018 that included this:
Organized crime goes unconfronted
Due to the government’s inability to confront violence, some Christians feel forced to implement their own security strategies, including engaging leaders of criminal groups themselves. Organized crime primarily targets priests and pastors, while indigenous power holders pressure Christians through fines, denying basic community service and imprisonment. The state attorney general in Guerrero has falsely implied that priests were engaged in criminal activity, further inflaming religious tensions.
How Christians are suffering
Christians, their leaders and their church buildings are increasingly becoming victims of attacks, threats, extortion, and other pressures–not just in those states known to be the most violent, but throughout the whole country. There is a strong presence of criminal cells in more regions than before as well. As a result, Christians are increasingly becoming victims of harassment, criticism and ridicule, especially in public debates concerning abortion, same-sex marriage and comprehensive sex education.
Oops. Maybe not so rare.
This may be surprising, considering the high level of Catholicism in Mexico. 83% of the country identifies themselves as Catholic. That number includes Mexican gangs and cartels, as reported by elpasotimes.com,
Santa Muerte and other folk saints adopted by drug cartels, MS-13 gangsters and immigrant smugglers can be found across the United States, a researcher said.
Criminals are also “misusing” Catholic saints, including St. Jude, to pray for help in smuggling efforts, said Robert R. Almonte, a law enforcement consultant who has extensively researched the phenomenon.
However, none of this should be surprising. Remember what Jesus said about persecution.
The World Hates the Disciples
Jn 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
Jesus even covered the part about not really knowing God: They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. Praying to a false version of God is, in reality, hating God. Hating the true God.
Another view from Mexico
Here’s another excerpt, this time from theguardian.com, in an article titled “Priest found dead in Mexico in the same week as two others were killed”.
One church leader who has not been afraid to rock the boat is Salvador Rangel, a bishop whose diocese covers the violent southern cities of Chilpancingo and Chilapa.
After two priests were killed in his diocese in February, Rangel withdrew all nuns from the city of Chilapa, but also acknowledged he had met with criminal leaders to ensure the safety of his district.
In an interview with local media on Wednesday, Rangel defended his meetings with leaders of drug gangs who have sown terror across the southern state of Guerrero.
“If they are pointing a gun at someone, and I manage to turn that gun to another direction, I am saving a life, or more than one,” Rangel said. “I think it is worth it, if only to save the life of one person.”
This is maybe the hardest part of this excerpt to understand. I can’t help but wonder, what was the other direction? Was the gun pointing to another person – who was killed instead? Towards another town – that was terrorized instead? I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in Bishop Rangel’s position. And it’s certainly not my place to judge what He did. I can only pray he was following God’s guidance, and did the right thing. The right thing in God’s eyes.
“They commit terrible crimes, I agree, but if there is a slender thread of communication with them, then I think, why not believe in the goodness of people?”
This part sounds hard as well, and yet is understandable. From a Christian point of view, that is. There’s a passage in 1 John 4. It’s very hard to live out. And yet, it seems to apply here.
God’s Love and Ours
1Jn 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1Jn 4:13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Those gang / cartel members were Bishop Rangel’s brothers and sisters. The bishop lived out God’s command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. It’s hard. It’s not something to take lightly. And again, not something to be done without prayer. But the bottom line is that even the worst cartel member was created by God. Corrupted by Satan – absolutely. And yet, still part of God’s creation.
Another brutal truth is that except for Jesus, we – as in every person – even the best of us, is closer to that cartel member than we are to Jesus when it comes to being perfect and righteous.
For more on the passage above, I invite you to check out a piece I recently did over on godversusreligion.com – titled “Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister. No exceptions.” It examines the Christian view of immigrants. At least what I believe the Bible says should be our view of immigrants. Even if we hate them. Although the truth is, we shouldn’t even hate them.
So let’s look at what happened. After two priests were killed, the nuns were moved from the area. OK – that might make sense, especially in light of this, from when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples.
Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
In some cases, and I really do mean case by case analysis is needed, maybe it’s OK to just leave. After all, Jesus told His disciples to just shake the dust from their feet and leave. However, it’s also important to remember that this was while He was still on earth – and when there were only twelve disciples. Things changed drastically after Jesus’ death, when the early church was still being formed. We’ll get to more on that later.
Mt 10:17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
No – these priests in Mexico aren’t being taken to the synagogue. But, they are being taken to the places where the leaders of the cartels or gangs meet. Since they have their own twisted version of Catholicism, one can make the case that they are, in fact, the leaders of a false religion.
Now we have a case where the disciples are staying – not leaving – the areas where persecution are taking place. Clearly, prayer is required to know what to do. People in situations like this must rely on God to guide them. We should assume that the priests had the nuns leave the area after prayers for guidance.
As for the priests staying, it’s not unlike what happened with the leaders in the early church, as recorded in the Bible. Many of them were martyred – killed for what they believed. In fact, the only one of the original 11 Apostles (remember, Judas is not included) to not die a horrible death was John. Even John was burned in oil, but he didn’t die from that. He ended up in jail on the island of Patmos, where he received the vision recorded in the book of Revelation.
Mt 10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Again, flee from one place to another place. Notice though, what it doesn’t say is to flee to a place of safety. They are still disciples. They feel called to go out into the world. In this case, a “world” right in their own country. But nevertheless a world where they are hated. And killed.
Maybe they’re willing to stay, even wanting to stay, because they also know Jesus promised this:
Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
How can there be persecution on a country that’s 80% Christian?
Depending on the survey you read, Mexico is somewhere between 75% and 80% Christian. Most of them are Catholic. So how does this square with Mexico being so high on the list of countries where Christians are persecuted?
It’s not always about being a minority. Remember what Paul wrote:
The Armor of God
Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Here’s the key part of that for this discussion:
our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
Too many Christians don’t know / forget / ignore this simple statement. It’s a battle between good and evil. A spiritual battle. It’s not the cops against the gangs and cartels. Well, it is, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a spiritual side that too many Christians don’t deal with. So we look to the government for an answer, rather than to God.
I have to believe that when situations like this occur, it’s because Satan feels that Mexico is place that needs some persecution to try to drive people away from God. Enter the gangs and cartels. I mean really, where do we think the evil things the people in the gangs and cartels come from?
And it’s therefore no surprise, or shouldn’t be, when the priests and the church are in the middle of it. They’re doing God’s work. And they suffer, including being killed for it.
Maybe that says something about the state of things in countries like the U.S. Like maybe Satan doesn’t think we need the same level of persecution here because, by and large, Christians here aren’t really all that “Christian” to begin with?
Whether Christians are a majority, as in Mexico, or a minority – we’ll see this same kind of scenario play out around the world. Where there’s a strong commitment to Christianity, there’s persecution.
However, if you look at something I wrote a while back – The more you tighten your grip, Satan … – it’s also true that increased persecution doesn’t always drive people away from God. Sometimes, like in the U.S and Europe, an easy life will cause people to drift away from God so slowly that they don’t even realize it’s happening.
For us, in a country where most people think they’re Christians, but so many really aren’t, we may very well be in the position of the church that is the object of this statement in Revelation:
Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
But then, in a country where Satan is actively persecuting Christians, they’re more likely in a position like this:
Rev 3:7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
Of course, the part about those who claim to be Jews (verse 9) isn’t happening in Mexico. However, remember that even many of the gangs have that mix of Christian and non-Christian beliefs. They may even think they are Christian. But they are not. So the concept does remain true.
Conclusion – Persecution of Christians in Mexico
As I’m going through the World Watch List on this site, I’m also putting together a series over on godversusreligion.com about the Sermon on the Mount. One of the preliminary articles for that series is something called A Note on Happiness. It talks about how hard it can be for those of us that don’t live under persecution to realize just how important Jesus’ message, and indeed His coming to earth and His sacrifice for our salvation really is.
So for the Christians in Mexico, remember:
Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And for those of us who aren’t under that kind of persecution and have a much easier life:
Pray for those around the world who are suffering because of their love for Jesus.
Don’t become so complacent that we really do hear Jesus’ message to the Church in Sardis.