Does anyone out there remember that recent post about that bizarre and very powerful narcotics gang down in Mexico that calls itself La Familia Michoacana? If that doesn't ring a bell, you may remember the following memorable headline about this bunch in Time magazine: "Mexico's Meth Warriors: Fueled by Evangelical zeal and America's appetite for meth, a provincial Mexican gang breaks into the big time." Yes, it said "Evangelical zeal," with a large "E."
Readers may want to know that the full text of that harrowing story -- which was an amazing report in many ways -- is now up on the Time website, so click here to read it for yourself. Also, interestingly enough, the headline has been shortened to, "Mexico's Meth Warriors."
Meanwhile, the pros at Religion News Service have produced a must-read news report about how La Familia has, in addition to circulating a bible written by leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, managed to hijack and twist to its purposes the writing of an already controversial evangelical Protestant writer -- John Eldredge. Here's how the story opens:
(RNS) In one Mexican drug cartel, mandatory reading now includes an American evangelical's best-seller.
Drawing from an unlikely source, La Familia Michoacana (the Michoacan Family) bases part of its ideology on the book "Wild at Heart," by John Eldredge of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Ransomed Heart Ministries.
Ironically, Eldredge sees the violent gang's use of his book in a positive light.
"At first, I was really mad that they hijacked my book for their purposes," he said. "But on second thought ... maybe it will touch the hearts of the people who use (it)."
The key is that the story actually talks to Eldredge and puts the gang's use of his book into context, at least to some degree.
However, there is another angle of this story that I hope RNS or someone else is able to explore more deeply. Consider this passage:
The book has become central to La Familia's recruitment strategy and group mentality.
For new recruits, the cartel turns to addicts in drug rehabilitation clinics, helping them overcome addiction before forcing them to join the group. Family values and religion are emphasized during the recruitment process, which includes daily group prayer sessions and mandatory readings. Included in the readings is Eldredge's book, Spanish translations of which have been found in police raids of La Familia strongholds.
Eldredge's theology is based on a "muscular" view of Christianity, one that emphasizes an "authentic masculinity" that has been lost, he said, in modern Christian theology. He said it is meant to "champion an understanding of masculinity that is not passive."
Thus, La Familia uses the text to reinforce how its members should strive to be better husbands, fathers and even reformers in their communities. For more information on that "reform" angle, check out this Christianity Today online post.
I am not sure how all of this links up to slaughtering men, women and children and chopping off their heads, but it is clear that part of the message is that the gang is somehow less corrupt that the old establishment that is fighting it.
Does that sound familiar? It should.
This sounds very much like how the Taliban appeals to people in Afghanistan. Despite their use of violence and the twisting of their Islamic faith tradition, the Taliban also holds itself up as the part of reform -- when compared with local options that may seem even worse.
In Mexico, is this the connection to the emerging world of evangelicals and Pentecostals? Is La Familia using the trappings of evangelicalism as a way to attack the establishment in general, including the Catholic establishment and its links to government leaders? Sounds like an interesting and tragic possibility.
One more thing. Near the end of the story, there is an actual translated quotation from Moreno Gonzalez's "Pensamientos" (Thoughts), which is described as a "collection of personal aphorisms, evangelical-style self-help sayings, and insurrectionary mottos." That sounds fair to me. Note the term "evangelical-style." As for the quote itself, it says:
"Hello friends, fellow Christians. We are beginning an arduous, but very interesting, task: the building of consciousness," Moreno Gonzalez wrote. "Today, we need to prepare to defend our ideals so that our struggle will bear fruit (and) organize so as to go down the best path, perhaps not the easiest, but the one that can offer the best results."
Say what? Raise your hand (or click "comment") if you would be interested in seeing more actual reporting that quotes this crucial document? Like I said before, it's not a good sign when the leader of a so-called Christian group decides to write his own bible. More info please!