A friend of mine brought to my attention an amazing example of “political theology” on the ground: La Familia Michoacana, a drug cartel and organized crime syndicate in the Mexican state of Michoacán. I am a doubter when it comes to grand narratives of how political action is the direct development of theological ideas, though I tend to believe that theological ideas often bolster or justify specific uses of power. In this case, in which La Familia Michoacana is using a popular Christian book to form its men, no doubt the way of life came before the theology supporting it, but it is nevertheless fascinating to see what bad theology can underwrite!
The basic point is this: the cartel has spiritual and social values strongly aligned with and making use of the pop theology of John Eldredge, a former senior ranking Focus on the Family staffer who extols “the deep and holy goodness of masculine aggression.” Take the following summary from a BBC article:
The group’s alleged spiritual leader, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as “El Mas Loco”, or “the maddest one” is understood to have published and distributed his own bible, based on the macho Christian writing of contemporary American author John Eldredge.
The Crazy One made Eldredge’s book Wild At Heart required reading for all of the men, and used parts of it for his version of the Bible. The book calls men back to masculinity and centers on the theme that every real man must have “a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live.” I have to admit that I have not read the book, but I have seen enough quotes to see how the book is open to such use by the drug cartel, which has strict family values (especially centering on the role as husband), does not allow its men to use the drugs they produce and smuggle, and sanctions their violence as the right to use righteous justice against evil (see here). Here is a choice Eldredge quotation (from this article):
Eldredge quotes from Isaiah 63, which describes God wearing blood-stained clothes, spattered as though he had been treading a wine press. Then he writes: ‘Talk about Braveheart. This is one fierce, wild, and passionate guy. I have never heard Mister Rogers talk like that. Come to think of it, I never heard anyone in church talk like that, either. But this is the God of heaven and earth.’
The family even gave a billboard campaign, claiming how good they are for the community—they do give charitably, and provide some forms of social and economic “stability”—and the billboards often quoted Eldredge. They once left behind a message at one assassination: “The family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice.” If you really want to be convinced about how congruous Eldredge’s theology is with such talk, see a summary of his problematic theology here.
My only remaining question is, has the family heard of Mark Driscoll?