Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mexican Protestants and the Cristero War

Calvin College Professor examines Mexican Protestants during the Cristero Rebellion.

Friends, earlier I predicted a flood of conversions from Protestant to Catholic from viewers of Cristiada/For Greater Glory.  I could be wrong.  The blurbs for the film say it 'begs the question: what price would you pay for liberty".....

I'm afraid many Protestants viewing the film might think it begs the question:  " What were Mexican Protestants doing during the Cristero Wars?"  Protestants were 1% of Mexico's population in the 1920's.  Were they caught up in the religious persecution as well?  Did they stand with their Christian Catholic brothers?

History Professor Daniel R. Miller of Calvin Colledge has done some deep digging into this question.  His conclusion, thoroughly researched, is that Mexican Protestants were solidly on President Calles' side!  i.e. they viewed  persecution of religion favorably in that it served to crush the Catholic Church.  This seems to have sprung from the following...

 The anti-religious clauses of the 1917 Mexican Constitution were not intended to crush any religious faith other than Roman Catholicism.... This intent was studiously followed.  The Revolutionary government had many Protestants in positions of power.  i.e. Protestants were 'over-represented' in the revolutionary government.   Calles sincerely considered appointing a Presbyterian President after Obregon's assassination by a Catholic zealot.

My reading of Mexican history leads me to the following conclusions : Beginning with Benito Juarez in the mid-19th Cty, taking an unofficial hiatus during Porfirio Diaz' reign, but then solidly after the Revolution....The Mexican government favored Protestant missionaries and Protestantism. 

Following is a link to Professor Miller's article and following that are some shocking excerpts...

...Application of the anti-clerical provisions of the Constitution to Protestants began in earnest in July of 1926. Calles ordered over 200 foreign clergy, including a number of Protestant and Mormon missionaries, to leave the country.50 The restrictions on foreign clergy were applied to Protestant ministers with much less rigor than was applied to Catholic priests, nevertheless over the next ten years the number of Protestant missionaries was reduced from 261 to 156. 51

...Narciso Bassols [[from K.C. Bassols was also actively promoted the eugenics movement of the time    googlebook ]] became Secretary of Education in 1931. He applied the prohibition on religious instruction to secondary as well as primary schools and required the teaching of “sexual education” and “socialistic education” in private as well as public schools.  Some states went even further. In Yucatán, schools were obliged to open each day with the singing of the Communist anthem “International” and other communist songs. In Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and Michoacán, school administrators had to declare themselves to be atheists. After a great deal of soul searching by Protestant teachers, administrators, and mission boards, most decided that Christian education could not be carried on under these circumstances


...Protestants served in prominent positions under Calles and his successors. Calles appointed a Presbyterian, Moisés Sáenz, to the Department of Education where he developed a program of rural education based on John Dewey‟s ideal of the “active school.”

...when Obregón was killed after his re-election to the presidency in 1928, there was an orchestrated movement to appoint Aarón as President of Mexico. In the end, Calles decided that the country was not ready for a Protestant President and Sáenz‟s nomination was withdrawn.65 Nevertheless, Protestants continued to participate in the revolutionary government, some at very high levels of authority.

...For example, a report on education issued by the Prebyterian Church offered this sympathetic explanation the laws which prohibited religious education:...................These regulations may seem too radical; doubtless they are, but they have to be considered in the light of past history, when the Roman Church was actively fighting the State. The conditions which justified these measures may have disappeared, but there is a feeling among Liberal leaders that were these restrictions to disappear, the Church would again try her policy of propaganda against public institutions.66

...After President Calles issued his anti-clerical decrees in the summer of 1926, he received numerous supportive letters from Protestants such as the following one from Leonidas Espinosa and the Evangelical Brotherhood in Torreon, Coahuila: “Now more than ever you must carry yourself like a Hercules in order to crush our enemy.”68 Other Protestants expressed their loyalty in person, as when a delegation of “evangelical campesinos” who had come to Mexico City for a church conference asked for an audience with the President so that they could convey “their respect and admiration.”69

...For example, when Enrique Valdés was ordered to stop holding worship services in his home, he protested that: “the character of these services is … to evangelize the immense multitudes that are living in the greatest idolatry known to the present and I believe in the obligation of all good evangelicals to work to de-fanaticize all those who are within their reach.”70 “Fanaticism” was the shorthand term by which government officials referred to the presumed baleful influence of the Catholic Church. Its frequent use by Protestants for the same purpose indicates clearly that in the church-state struggle their loyalties lay unequivocally with the government.

...they protested the materialistic character of the “Socialist Education” promulgated by Secretary of Education Narciso Bassols. When John MacKay, Secretary of the Presbyterian Mission Board, was asked by Protestant teachers what they should do when ordered to sing the “International” at the start of each school day, he responded: “We think it unfortunate … that songs which are … associated with a foreign anti-religious movement, and which … inculcate sentiments of hate in children, should become an integral and obligatory part of the curriculum of the school. I say this while having the deepest sympathy with some of the most radical social and revolutionary movements on the continent…”72

...Episcopal Bishop Efrain Salinas y Velasco went even further: “We have faith that socialist education is trying precisely to prepare the future generations for the conscious enjoyment of those goods that must be collective; to illuminate their minds in such a manner that the darkness of fanaticism, of superstition, and of ignorance will not be able to cloud the moral and intellectual development of our people along the paths of new goals and methods by which the Mexican people are directing themselves.”74

...The government‟s anti-religious crusade may have reached its apogee in the state of Tabasco where Marxist Governor Garrido Canabal expelled all priests and ministers, closed all churches, and sent his “red shirt” followers into private homes to collect and burn all Bibles and religious images.......Even there, however, Protestants not only refused to identify themselves with the persecuted Catholics, they offered public support for Tabasco‟s radical governor.................While they deplored the governor‟s promotion of atheism, they expressed satisfaction that the destruction of religious images was finally persuading the masses that the icons possessed no supernatural powers.......Tabasco‟s Protestants opposed the use of alcohol and so they genuinely supported the governor‟s temperance crusade. In fact, several evangelists won his grudging respect, and a degree of official toleration, by giving temperance lectures at the Sunday morning workers‟ meetings. Moreover they acknowledged that, in contrast to former governors, Garrido Canabal had the interest of the workers at heart...

...In the eyes of one Protestant from Tabasco, the Governor… was only a Socialist, not a Communist. He desired to raise the economic and social level of the people. He was the first to begin to light the way; to … establish Sunday cultural meetings so the people would open their eyes. … He attacked the Catholics but the Evangelicals were caught up in it. … In the schools he required that the children be given good food…He was not influenced by the Evangelical Church, but he was a good friend of the Evangelicals.77

...Catholic communities tended to support the Cristeros who resisted government efforts to redistribute land whereas Protestant communities generally sided with the government and fought against the Cristeros. Morevoer, ranchos and ejidos that had received land from the government were said to be more receptive to Protestantism than other rural communities.85

....Moisés Sáenz made one other important contribution to Mexico‟s Indigenous people. On a visit to Guatemala he met Cameron Townsend, a North American missionary and fellow Presbyterian who was pioneering the concept of using indigenous languages rather than Spanish in evangelistism. Sáenz invited Townsend to do the same sort of work in Mexico. At the time, missionary work was strictly forbidden by the government, however Townsend was able to secure an interview with President Cárdenas himself and the two formed an alliance based on complementary interests. Cárdenas had a great desire to communicate directly with the Indigenous people, unmediated by the Spanish-speaking political bosses who traditionally managed their affairs. Townsend wanted to translate the gospel into the languages of the Indigenous people so they could read the Bible for themselves, unmediated by Spanish-speaking 90 See
priests. The two agreed that Townsend would bring “trained linguists” to Mexico to render Indigenous languages into written form and that in return the linguists would help the government convey its progressive message directly to the Indigenous people. It was more than a marriage of convenience. Townsend wrote a glowing biography of the idealistic Mexican President who put the needs of the poor first, and when Cárdenas nationalized Mexico‟s oil industry, Townsend toured the United States defending his action. For his part, Cárdenas visited the translation site and expressed great appreciation for the kind of religion represented by the translators. In fact, he even paid their salaries out of the budget for Indigenous Affairs!91

..In contrast to their hostility toward the Catholic Church, Liberals expressed admiration for Protestantism and encouraged the entry of U.S. missionaries into Mexico. They even sold some of the properties they had confiscated from the Catholic Church to U.S. missionaries and to Mexicans who were trying to start non-Catholic congregations. According to historian Rubén Ruiz Guerra, Liberals were attracted to Protestantism because they believed it brought a new ethic of work, a new conception of time, and a new, more active, ideal of humanity. Benito Juárez is often quoted as having said that he hoped Protestantism would take hold among the Indians because “they need a religion that prompts them to read rather than spend their savings

...12 Ruiz Guerra, 17. That U.S. Protestant missionaries despised the Catholic Church is abundantly demonstrated from denominational as well as historical sources. For example, the Presbyterian magazine El Faro offers a critique of the doctrines and the practices of the Catholic Church in nearly every issue surveyed by the author as did El Abogado Cristiano. See also Gonzalo Báez Camargo, The Reason for Protestantism in Mexico, trans. Annie Carlyle (México, D.F.: Union Press, 1929); James Garvin Chastain, Thirty Years in Mexico (El Paso, 1927), 155; Frank S. Onderdonk, A Glimpse at Mexico (Nashville: Board of Missions Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1930), 26-32. The Mexican Episcopal Church was the only Protestant denomination to show much sympathy for the Catholic Church and even they could be quite critical as in Frank W. Creighton, “Civil and Religious Conditions Reviewed,” Spirit of Missions, 92 (October 1927): 581-594.

....Protestant hostility toward the Church was exacerbated by the fact that members of Protestant churches were frequent targets of religious persecution in the years leading up to the 1910 Revolution. Opposition to Protestantism generally took non-violent forms such as social ostracism or a refusal to rent space for religious meetings, but there were also physical assaults and even a few communal riots.22

...By the start of the twentieth century, native Protestants were forging alliances with radical Liberals who were opposed to the Díaz regime. When the Liberal Club of San Luis Potosí called a convention in February of 1901 to organize an opposition political party, eight Protestant pastors and school teachers were among the forty-two delegates who came.24 Five years later, when the Mexican Liberal Party called for an uprising against Díaz, Presbyterian Ignacio Gutiérrez led an insurgent group that included several of his coreligionists from the state of Tabasco.25

...Samuel Guy Inman, a U.S. missionary in Mexico, observed: “When the Mexican Revolution began, the Protestant churches threw themselves into it almost unanimously, because they believed that the revolutionary program represented what they had been preaching for many years previously, and that the triumph of the Revolution was signifying the triumph of the gospel.”27

....Carranza as cold and aloof, to Protestants his self-presentation embodied rationality and professionalism, qualities which had long been prized in the Protestant community with its emphasis on formal education and self-control.33 Moreover as his movement unfolded it became clear that he intended to establish a Liberal republic like the one envisioned by the nineteenth century reformers, including strict enforcement of the anti-clerical laws. U.S. missionaries estimated that by 1915, 80 to 90 percent of Mexico‟s Protestants were supporting Carranza.34

...Carranza reciprocated their support by appointing many Protestants to important posts in his movement. His private secretary was a member of the Baptist church in Mexico City. Three state governors appointed by Carranza were Protestants. The head of his propaganda office was a Methodist preacher. Several other Protestant pastors and teachers served Carranza in the field of education. Their avidity for the First Chief and his liberal program, their generally high levels of education, and their experience with public speaking made them ideal for such roles.35

...The key anti-clerical provisions included the following: Worship could only take place indoors, and the time, place, and number of services could be regulated by government. No outdoor processions or campaigns were allowed. Churches could not own property, their places of worship now belonged to the nation. Religious bodies could not establish or conduct primary schools, and religious instruction was prohibited in all primary schools, public or private. Only Mexicans by birth could act as priests or ministers. Priests and ministers could not vote, take part in political activities, or criticize the laws, the government, or public officials. Finally, state governors had the authority to determine the number of priests and ministers that were permitted to conduct religious activities within the boundaries of their states.36
many Mexican Protestants viewed the new rules with favor.

....Moreover Obregón invited Protestant ministers to take a prominent role in the celebration of Mexican independence in 1921 and he gave $25,000 to the Y.M.C.A. He also appointed many Protestants to government positions.43

1 comment:

  1. And people wonder why I find Protestantism a despicable religion?