Being Protestant in Catholic Mexico
Religion, culture, and politics are intertwined in Mexico in ways that are very complicated and difficult to separate. What is clearer, however, is that choosing to be a Protestant in Mexico can have different implications than what is experienced in the United States.
Catholicism permeates Mexican culture. One obvious example is that the Day of the Dead, November 2nd, is the most important and popular public holiday. Virtually every secular institution, public and private, is closed for people to celebrate, remember, and honor their ancestors in many different ways. Over 84% of the people here in Mexico self-identify as Catholic and the dedication of many is clear; the equivalent of almost one in seven Mexican Catholics makes a pilgrimage every year to the town of San Juan de Los Lagos in the state of Jalisco, central Mexico, to a venerated statue of the Virgin Mary. (In Mexico, with over five hundred years if history and with over 123 million members, the Catholic Church in Mexico is the world’s second largest; Brazil is the largest).
The situation in the United States, of course, is very different. According to the latest figures from the Religious Landscape Survey of the Pew Religion and Public Life Project, almost ninety percent of U.S. adults report some form of religious orientation even if unaffiliated with any religious organization. Of those who identify as “Christian,” two out of every three are Protestants, one out of every three is Catholic. Protestants are divided into several thousand different denominations and associations. Finally, almost half of all religiously affiliated adults have changed their affiliation at least once.
As an occasional visitor from the United States to Mexico, and having myself changed denominational affiliation (albeit from Disciples to UCC) it is difficult to appreciate the importance and implications of the choice made by individuals in Mexico to join a Protestant church. It is certainly a religious choice, but it is also a cultural and political choice. It separates a person from the dominant culture and is a political choice at least in the sense of their daily life and relation with social institutions and cultural environment. These differences can be felt more acutely in small towns and rural areas than larger cities.
Perhaps the social, cultural and political implications of being a Protestant in Catholic Mexico contribute to strengthening and explaining the vitality and depth, energy and spirit that have greeted us as we have had the priceless opportunity of getting to know members of the Disciples churches in San Luis Potosi. We will always treasure the friendships and lessons gifted us here. All thanks to the Mesa Conjunta and the Disciples CICE denomination of Mexico for making this experience possible.
Fred Smith and Mary Martin, Short-Term Volunteers with the Round Table in Mexico