If a headline by Time.com sounds too good to be true -- "Drug Dealing for Jesus: Mexico's Evangelical Narcos" -- it's because the article fails to deliver any serious evidence to back its claim. We're told that members of La Familia Michoacana "purport to be devout Evangelical Christians" (that D-word should set off incredulity meters across the land) and that "They are also made to study a special Bible authored by the gang's spiritual leader, Nazario Moreno, alias El Mas Loco, or 'The Maddest One.'"
Otherwise, reporter Ioan Grillo delivers quotes no more clearly pious than what one would hear on any given Sunday from Joel Osteen:
Federal agents seized one copy of La Familia's Bible in a raid last year. Quoted in local newspapers, the scripture paints an ideology that mixes Evangelical-style self help with insurgent peasant slogans reminiscent of the Mexican Revolution. "I ask God for strength and he gives me challenges that make me strong; I ask him for wisdom and he gives me problems to resolve; I ask him for prosperity and he gives me brain and muscles to work," Moreno writes using terms that could be found in many Christian sermons preached from Mississippi to Brazil.
The more interesting detail I've found comes from longtime reporter Joseph Michael Reynolds, at his blog July Dogs, who writes that El Mas Loco appears to be a fan of writer John Eldredge:
There are four separate references to Eldredge in [a] Mexican intelligence memo on La Familia. The cartel has conducted a three-year recruitment and PR campaign across Michoacan featuring thousands of billboards and banderas carrying their evangelical message and warnings. La Familia is known for tagging its executions and other mayhem as "la divina justica" -- divine justice.
The report says La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno aka El Loco o More Chayo ("The Craziest") has made Eldredge's books required reading for La Familia and has paid rural teachers and National Development Education members to circulate the Colorado-based evangelical's writings throughout the Michoacan countryside.
El Mas Loco has earned his nickname. I wrote a profile of Eldredge for Christianity Today in 2004, and I feel safe in saying that it would take a truly insane reading of his books to conclude that he has a soft spot for drug-dealing or cutting off the heads of one's enemies.
That said, I'm swearing off two things: Ever using the word devout as a lazy way to describe someone's faith, and ever thinking about joining a community of believers calling themselves The Family. Whether in Mexico City, California or Washington, it has become a bad-mojo magnet.