Watching or reading the news today is a sobering experience. Yet, even amid a steady stream of tragic events, there are still moments that stop you in your tracks – news that grips your heart, consumes your mind, unsteadies your step.
Just days before Christmas, I received word that a Baptist woman in Mexico was in the hospital with serious internal injuries after village leaders tied her to a tree and brutally assaulted her. While her condition is heartbreaking, my grieved reaction was compounded by the fact that her assailants identified themselves as people of faith.
Furthermore, while she lay in an intensive care unit fighting for her life, local authorities detained her pastor and informed him they would not allow her body to be buried in the village should she succumb to her many injuries. After days of vomiting blood, she thankfully progressed enough physically to transition out of intensive care, but the road to mental and emotional recovery will continue for the rest of her life.
Why was she attacked? She dared to step onto a piece of property she owns. Since 2015, local authorities have prohibited members of religious minority communities from accessing or utilizing their own land. Upon being informed of her presence on the property, local leaders from the Roman Catholic religious majority arrived on the scene. Moments before the attack, the bells of the church rang out at an unscheduled time – a sound so often intended to convey comfort now a foreboding soundtrack for injustice.
This attack is the latest in a history of human rights violations that have taken place over the last decade in the Rancho Nuevo area of Mexico. Baptists and other members of religious minority communities have been beaten, fired from jobs, denied medical care, have had their land and property confiscated, and barred from sending their children to local schools.
After the Baptist women’s assault, she filed complaints with the Hidalgo State Human Rights Commission and the Hidalgo State Prosecutor’s Office. Yet no arrests to date have been made. While the Mexican Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and belief and other human rights to all citizens, Rancho Nuevo is an indigenous community governed under the Law of Uses and Customs. While this law is intended to be observed in alignment with the national constitution, little is being done to ensure that the constitution’s protections are upheld. A report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide found that in the absence of government intervention, many communities have experienced an abuse of power in which “religious majorities attempt to enforce religious uniformity.”
As evidenced by this attack and countless others around the world, a dogmatic belief in religious uniformity sets the stage for intimidation, violence, and injustice. None of these actions reflect the true tenets of the Christian faith or any world religion.
Respect for diversity and a commitment to religious freedom long have been hallmarks of the Baptist community, as reflected in a 1937 Baptist World Alliance Congress Resolution which “[d]eclares the entire Baptist communion throughout the world to be resolutely opposed to religious repression of every kind, whether directed against Baptists or others, and it expresses the unwavering sympathy of all our people for the victims of persecution or repression.”
Decades later, a 2000 Baptist World Congress Resolution encouraged “governments at every level to move swiftly and purposefully to affirm actively and to respect unconditionally the human rights of all persons including the right to worship God without fear of harassment or intrusion.”
If this is the standard to which we hold civil powers, religious powers must meet the same standard. We have crossed a dangerous line when “sharing our faith” becomes subjugation in the name of faith. There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that align with the violence perpetrated in the fields of Rancho Nuevo.
In a world where a woman can be abused so egregiously under the guise of religion, it is critical for us to stand for religious freedom. Lives are at stake. Leveraging power in the name of religious uniformity is a global problem which is not limited to one religion, region, or race. May we rise up today around the world to be a part of the solution.
Merritt Johnston is the Executive Director of Baptist World Alliance Women, a missional network of women in more than 150 countries. She is also honored to serve as the Director of Communications and Media for the Baptist World Alliance, a world communion of 50 million Baptists whose shared mission includes a commitment to defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of FoRB Women’s Alliance.