Evangelicals and political power in Mexico: reconfiguring alliances and antagonisms

Reception: May 18, 2020

Acceptance: August 17, 2020


Recovering the historical conditions that configure it, in this text I address the emergence of the evangelical political subject in Mexico from the analytical proposal of Joanildo Burity in his article "The evangelical people: hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction." Using his approach to the populist moment, I argue that this emergency only acquires its full meaning in interactions with the political field and in relation to the state of their relationships, and I reflect on the articulation of evangelicals and politics against feminism as antagonist .

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evangelicals and political power in mexico: reconfiguring alliances and antagonisms

Retrieving the historical conditions that configure it, this text addresses the emergence of the evangelical political subject in Mexico from the analytical proposal of Joanildo Burity in his article "The evangelical people: Hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction." Using his proposal on the populist moment, I state that this emergence only makes full sense in the interactions with the political field and in relation to the state of their relation and I reflect upon the articulation of evangelicals and politics faced with feminism as an antagonist.

Keywords: Evangelicals and politics, Mexico, feminism, populism.

Lto reading of The evangelical people: hegemonic construction, minority disputes and conservative reaction It is an intellectual provocation to discuss from new categories a homogenizing imaginary about "the evangelicals" in Latin American politics (Mosqueira, 2019) that in recent years has been reproduced in analysis and journalistic notes.

From and with Brazil in mind when thinking about the alliance between the political extreme right, neoliberalism and the parliamentary and pastoral evangelical elite, Joanildo Burity puts the index in some assumptions that the conjunctural and journalistic analyzes on the evangelical emergence in Latin American politics tend to overlook.1 He proposes us to deepen analysis protocols that allow us to understand this new political subjectivity without forgetting that it is a terminology "of an aggregative and interpretive nature" and that its entry into politics is not that of a political project with a common origin, since the field is characterized by its “organizational heterogeneity”, without a center that determines or even indicates what it means be evangelical.

The analytical proposal has led me to think about the Mexican case, where a Catholic cultural hegemony prevails, in the manner of a diffuse religiosity (Cipriani, 2017) or a civil religion (Bellah, 1991), stressed by the growing religious diversity and, in the political field, due to the increasingly frequent and open presence of evangelical churches that dispute the definition of the evangelical.

In this comment I reflect on the Mexican case based on Burity's reading of the populist moment of international politics and I share the reflections that the article has provoked in me on the articulation of evangelicals and politics in the face of the emergence of feminism as an antagonist in the disputes about gender violence and sexual and reproductive rights (Ramírez, 2018).

The proposal provides analytical and conceptual elements to understand the moment in which Mexico is: the emergence of a political subject that seeks to build this self-representation from its discursive formation that is limited by the particular historical evolution of the church-state relations in Mexico, since the emergence of the evangelical political subject acquires its full meaning in interactions with the political field and in relation to the state of their relationships (Bourdieu, 2015).

These socio-historical particularities in Mexico derive from the secular state regime and it is worth briefly reviewing them, since the Mexican state quickly separated from the Latin American evolution with the Church-State separation regime that had its origin in the Reform Laws of 1859. The Legislation had different intensities of application in the following years, but it was consolidated with an anti-clerical and anti-religious tinge in the Constitution of 1917, a product of the Revolution of 1910. The secular state regime that characterized Mexico since then was thought of as a legal framework to curb the power and intervention of the then quasi-monopoly Catholic Church in the public life of the country, and not for a context of religious diversification. By not recognizing the legal personality of the churches, the new evangelical churches functioned in some way in secrecy or anonymity. This changed with the 1992 reform and since then, multiple evangelical religious associations have been registered (Hernández, 2001), although fear of the implications of the reform led many to group together in national associations even though they did not share theological, organizational or leadership principles. . These fronts, over time, have claimed to represent evangelical believers and from there to negotiate their participation in the public space.

Additionally, various social actors including academia, social organizations and political parties accommodated themselves to a modus vivendi (González, 1992) with Catholicism that led to the construction of a secular model that has been disputed in the legislation, with a "must be" that is not reflected in cultural practices, as is the case of a Guadalupanism that transcends the religious institution and permeates various spheres of social and cultural life in the country, nor in political practices, as can be seen when studying municipal and community contexts.

In this context, the evangelical churches were traditional defenders of the Mexican secular regime since this constituted the legal framework that guaranteed religious freedom, and they even legally organized to defend those rights and freedoms in situations of religious violence and displacement, such as the case of conflicts in the state of Chiapas (Rivera Farfán, 2007).

In 2000 Mexico experienced political alternation, after 70 years of governments (1930-2000) emanating from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri) and it was in this electoral process that "evangelicals" began to appear in electoral politics, more as a clientele to which specific proselytizing operators had to be dedicated, although some of the associations such as the National Confraternity of Evangelical Churches (Confraternice) already they had sought to form a political party in 1995 without success (Farela Gutiérrez, 2014).

As Joanildo Burity proposes, it is important to analyze the disputes and definitions about the emergence of this evangelical people in the political field. From an organizational, theological and ideological heterogeneity, the new actors began to have a visibility that grew in notoriety in the second decade of the century. xxi, while the public space mutated from the cracks of a secular regime unable to transform itself in the face of religious diversity and rather finding in it a new religious language that allowed them to articulate social demands in a pragmatic way. This is the case of the Social Encounter Party (pes), which after almost ten years as a political organization allied to different political parties through its president Hugo Erik Flores (García, 2017), achieved its registration as a national political party in 2014. Although Mexican legislation prohibits parties of religious origin or court, from their name, logo and speeches, the pes it is symbolically constructed as an “evangelical party” that at the same time is rejected by other organizations that group together evangelical churches, such as Confraternice (Saldaña, 2015). There is a dispute to define not only political representativeness, but also the identity of the evangelical in the broader social space that, as Burity affirms, is never embodied in a single discourse or project, nor is it defined in isolation from the evangelicals but by their relationships with others in the system.

Following this reasoning, it cannot be said that in the Mexican case a evangelical people as a political subject, but the process of minoritization, as the first moment of evangelical politicization (Burity), is marked by a search to discursively construct an identity and a common destiny (Paz González, 2020), an evangelical political identity that makes visible increasingly stronger "new actors, new demands and new forms of configuration of power and social bond" (Burity).

This process is limited by this “Mexican secularism”, with its contingencies and particular openings, because in any case, Burity's proposal only finds its full meaning in the state of relations of the political field itself, as “a space of possible forces, an order of coexistence in which each of the agents, singular or collective, is defined by its position within the space where it is located ”(Bourdieu, 2015: 502), and in the disputes that seek to transform it, opening spaces in between with the religious field that "provide the ground to develop identity strategies and innovative sites of collaboration and questioning, in the act of defining the very idea of society" (Bhabha, 2002: 18). These spaces allow us to understand that, unlike the Brazilian case, in Mexico this new political subjectivity arises, for the moment, from the hand of center-left proposals - which are not for that reason progressive on issues of sexual morality and rights - and, on the other hand, joining those “clumsy alliances between radical neoliberalism and moralism with religious base ”(Burity), which go beyond the evangelical field, as is the case of the National Anti amlo (brakes).

In this sense, I have found Burity's proposal on the emergence of new antagonisms to think about what articulates the intersections in these intermediate spaces between religion2 and politics. In the Mexican case, secular feminisms3 they are articulated as the antagonistic force that demands and pushes divergent views on the definition of the very idea of society.

Although the intersections between religion and politics have typically been linked to debates on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as the recognition of rights for sexual diversity, as is the case with the emergence and mobilizations of the National Front for the Family in 2016 (Mora Duro, 2018), since the 2018 electoral process, new forms of legitimation between religion and politics have appeared in a context marked by the high rates of violence associated with organized crime, corruption scandals and discrediting of political parties, including the alliance of pes with the candidate who was ultimately the winner in the presidential elections.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (amlo), already as president of Mexico (2018-2024), has distinguished himself by developing a discourse that runs from the issue of violence and corruption to the debate on morality and the “crisis of values”, a strategy long exploited by groups religious to “overcome the legal and political resistance of the States in the participation of the churches in the political space” (Gaytán Alcalá, 2016: 105). The journalistic reports give an account of the participation of different churches in the Sectoral Work Tables for the preparation of the National Development Plan 2019-2024, seeking to “take advantage of their knowledge of the community reality to rebuild the regions most affected by crime and decomposition. social ”(Aristegui Noticias, 2019); the distribution of the Moral primer by evangelical churches associated with the Confraternice (The universal, 2019), the statements of their leader about the possible participation of these churches in the processes of attention to addictions to psychoactive substances (Milenio, 2019), in which there is extensive experience (Odgers Ortiz and Olivas Hernández, 2018) do not vertically organized or associated with government initiatives; as well as “values” courses for the young beneficiaries of one of the flagship social programs of the López Obrador government, “Young people building the future” (Vera, 2019).

Although various government instances have denied some of these assertions (López Ponce, 2019), the agents of the political field –including journalism (Bourdieu, 1994), which is hypersensitive to its discursive forms– contribute to the definition of the political subject. Evangelical with the political logic of populism that divides a "they" and an "us" articulated in the supposed existence of a "good people", which must be recovered. Following Burity's approach to populism, the populist moment in Mexico allows certain representations of the evangelical - such as Confraternice - that accumulate symbolic capital due to the visibility of their relations with the presidential power (Millennium, 2019), materialize as representations of the "evangelical people", while the presidential speech takes up religious language as a rhetorical resource that "provides a moral vocabulary to face violence, poverty [and] the loss of community ties" (Burity). Thus, the emergence of the evangelical political subject acquires meaning in the current state of the political field, where public life is settled, where it enters not only by pressure, but by invitation from within (Blancarte, 2015), making visible “the evangelicals” and creating conditions of possibility for them to become an "evangelical people" in the sense that Burity proposes in this article.

To the same extent that you have to rethink the category populism To analyze this phenomenon, it is essential to think about the category of conservatismAs the Brazilian case shows us, there is no continuous line in any sense. From the electoral alliance with the pes and the subsequent presence of evangelical groups even in government acts such as the Unity Act (Tijuana, June 8, 2020) called by amlo on the border with the United States as a response to President Donald Trump's threat about the increase in tariffs, through the initiatives and moralizing speeches of the current government, which follow a logic of “traditional Christian morality”, a moment opens without precedents for the emergence, and where appropriate consolidation, of a new politicization, anchored in a religious subject with new languages and agenda. A evangelical political subject that, in relation to the state of the field forces, it alienates itself or distances itself from the Catholic conservatisms.

In a presidential speech that permanently links neoliberal and conservative interests, evangelicals find a space in the Mexican political field as part of the "good people", where the "reserve of values" resides (Notimex, 2019), and of the new formations discursives that articulate joint demands, as Burity points out in his article.

The political logic of populism, which builds “the social bond from the demarcation of a border that dichotomizes the social between those below and those above, the people and the elite / their enemies” (Burity), is linked to the emergence of an antagonism between feminism (s) and the current national government.

With a political opposition that does not finish defining its arenas of dispute, and that has avoided facing the discourse of moralization because it cannot face these discursive traps, on the one hand because it converges with some of its interests, and on the other because it is difficult oppose the discourse on the recovery of "values", since the particularities fostered by the context of violence favor the idea, nurtured by religious leaders, that religion is a privileged space of peace (Michel, 2009). a “good people” has been confronted, with increasing force, by feminism, denouncing that the moralizing discourse returns responsibility for the national situation in various arenas –violence, care, femicide, among others– to women, their roles traditional women and their bodies, with setbacks in public policy that abandons the gender perspective.

Contrasting the idea of corrupt organizations / structures, on the one hand, and the “good people” on the other, federal policy has clashed with feminist organizations that work with shelters for women victims of violence (Beauregard, 2019), denying the emergency of Gender-based violence that is experienced in the country, and that, as in many parts of the world, has been exacerbated by the confinement situation that the global pandemic caused by coronavirus has forced sars-cov-2. The "good people" finds its foundation in the "good family", fraternal, in which violence does not take place (Political Animal, 2020a), on the contrary, women lie when they denounce (Political Animal, 2020b).

These confrontations reached a climax - whose future remains to be seen - in the first months of 2020, with the femicides of Ingrid and Fátima, which unleashed the wrath of Mexican women (editorial de The country, 2020 and Prabbhan, 2020) and that were demonstrated in mobilizations that led to calls for mass mobilizations throughout the country around International Women's Day, on March 8, and a call for a National Strike of Women on Monday, March 9 of March. The strike, called from feminism, had a social resonance never seen before and political parties, companies, universities and other actors joined in social networks, which led to a debate on the motivations of the call. President López Obrador disqualified the call and accused the "conservatives" of disguising themselves as "feminists" (Muñoz and Urrutia, 2020).

In the Mexican case, this antagonism encouraged by the moralizing and populist discourse, which feeds the imaginary of a "good people", converges with the classic antagonism between feminism and conservative religious groups - evangelicals as political subjects, among them - in around sexual and reproductive rights, putting into play what we define as "conservatism" and opening the doors for the construction of an "evangelical people" in the terms proposed by Burity in his article.

Although the Mexican case is not comparable with the Brazilian case in terms of political articulations, the evangelical parties and their presence in parliament, among others, the polarization and fragmentation that exists in Mexico, the metamorphosis of current democracy does reveal an increasingly strong presence of religion as an element that is used to re-link and “the evangelicals” dispute their own emergence as a force that can represent and raise social demands, while, immersed in the game, they pass through the disputes of the political field itself.

The particularities of the secular state regime in Mexico have not privileged evangelicals to still constitute themselves as a socio-political force with hegemonic aspirations in this country, but the processes analyzed in the article that this colloquium calls open questions that allow us to explore the configurations of alliances and distances with other social and political actors based on the articulation of demands and in disputes within the evangelical field based on minoritization that discursively constructs exclusions, antagonisms and demands, which show a political logic not yet consolidated, but yes in dispute.

The evangelical political subject it is in dispute in Mexico; for a moment it seems that evangelicals have allied themselves with the current government; on the other, that they are configured in the opposition that cannot be articulated. Their demands are disputed at their intersections with the political field, they are reconfigured from the current crises and generate new relationships
of collusion and commitment that question the functioning and future of secularism in Mexico.


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Cecilia Delgado-Molina has a doctorate in Political and Social Sciences (unam). His research work focuses on the crossroads between churches / State - believers / citizens, in the processes of formation of beliefs and identities and in the theoretical and methodological approaches of these objects of study. From that perspective, he has conducted research on religious conservatism and the intersections between religion and violence. She is currently an associate postdoctoral researcher in the Research Group in Sociology of Religion (isor) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. First place in the RiFReM 2020 Honorary Awards for the best PhD thesis in Social Sciences, published by the crim unam (2020): And what can we do? Habitus and intersections between the religious field and politics in the face of violence in Morelos.

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