Two families from Mexico’s Tzotzil tribe destroyed the houses of five evangelical Christians on Sunday in the Mitzitón community of southern Mexico, near the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Esdras Alonso González, the director of the Christian ministry Alas de Águila, alerted news sources to the attacks. He said to El Universal that before the attack started, the local community jailed two Christians, Alejandro Jiménez Jiménez and Miguel Jiménez Heredia.
One year ago, local Catholics prevented evangelical Christians from building a church in the area and forced them to leave. When they returned a year later, local people attacked them in another attempt to make them leave.
In many places in Mexico, Catholicism is mixed with local Aztec polytheism. People sacrifice chickens, dogs, alcohol and soda to Jesus and Catholic saints, which they see as different “faces” of Mayan gods. People who observe this religion are called “traditionalist Catholics” (not to be confused with Roman Catholics).
Unlike Christianity, traditionalist Catholicism relies on giving gifts to the gods in exchange for health, good fortune and protection from evil. Many Tzotzil people practice traditionalist Catholicism.
“Behind the collection of saints and virgins in the San Juan Bautista church are Ah Puch, Chaac, Ixchel, Kukulkán, and the whole pantheon of ancient Mayan gods. They have adapted to their new names and now celebrate new festivities, but their true essences remain,” wrote travel site Matador Network about a Tzotzil traditionalist Catholic church.
The persecution evangelical Christians face among the Tzotzil is religious persecution, said Alonso González. Traditionalist Catholics attack Christians because Christians won’t celebrate Catholic holidays or attend traditionalist Catholic feasts.
After the destruction of their homes, the five evangelical Christian families must wait on the decision of local authorities who will determine when or if they will be allowed to return, he said. The families affected include 30 people.
Christians among the Tzotzil people have faced persecution before, said Alonso González. In 2014, Mexican indigenous activists destroyed 10 houses belonging to Christians because they chopped down trees without the permission of the community assembly. In 2016, Catholic traditionalists destroyed the homes of 350 Christians.
Persecution of Christians in Mexico has risen due to drug cartel violence, persecution by traditionalist Catholics and violent discrimination by anti-Christian left-wing groups, persecution watchdog Open Doors USA reported. Currently, Mexico is 37th on its list of countries that most persecute Christians.
Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry told The Christian Post that the amount of persecution in Mexico has risen in the past year, mainly due to organized crime killing Christians.
“Last year, Mexico was number 52 [on Open Doors USA's World Watch List.] It’s jumped up a bunch,” he said. "That would most certainly be around the issues of violence and drug cartels.”
Traditionalist Catholics often persecute Mexican Christians, too, he said. In this way, they resemble many small, rural groups of people practicing ancient folk religions around the world. Open Doors calls this kind of persecution “clan violence.”
“These rural indigenous groups see Christian churches as an outside force. They can harass and bother churches and believers who might be in the community,” Curry said. “It’s within these four states in Mexico; Chiapas, Hidalgo, Guerero, Oaxaca. It’s very localized.”
In regions controlled by small clans that practice local religions, native people often get angry when Christians start sharing the Gospel and telling people about Jesus, he said. They don’t like to see churches grow.
To help Christians in these areas, believers around the world can pray and share the news about their problems so local governments will feel pressured to help, he said.
“Pray for the leaders who are there. Pray for safety for people. The response that most people have hearing Mexico is on the world persecution list is ‘how can that be?’” Curry said. “From the most basic level, we need to pray and share these stories so that people know they’re not alone and so that the pressure builds to protect these people.”