Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Through A Glass Darkly: The Episcopal Church's Responses to the Mexican Iglesia De Jesús 1864-1904

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Through A Glass Darkly: The Episcopal Church's Responses to the Mexican Iglesia De Jesús 1864-1904

Article excerpt

1 hroughout the nineteenth century, the relationship between the United States and its neighbor to the south was a complicated and sometimes violent one. Within less than two decades after winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico had fought and lost a war which resulted in the independence of Texas. By the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), slightly more than half of Mexico's territory had been added to the United States.

Mexican political life at mid-century was polarized between the remnants of the old order, represented by the rich landowners and the Roman Catholic Church, and the Liberal Party of Benito Juárez, which advocated a modern and secular education system, land reform, and breaking the power of the church. The Liberal platform shaped the Constitution of 1857, which limited the church's privileges, property, and control of education. In 1859, Juárez approved the confiscation and sale of church property, provided for civil contracts to replace the church's monopoly on marriage, and guaranteed religious freedom.1

However, in 1861, France under Napoleon III invaded Mexico and installed Maximilian, a Hapsburg prince, as emperor. Maximilian was himself a liberal and did not share Napoleon's dreams of French access to Mexico's resources. The Spirit of Missions (TSOM), the monthly journal of the Episcopal Church's Board of Missions, commented in 1865 that the emperor "has issued an edict, in which he declares, that while the religion of the state is Roman Catholic, yet ample toleration shall be granted to other religions." The Spirit of Missions considered such developments "an encouraging beginning of our Mission to Mexico, and it should incite us to prayer in behalf of that troubled country."2

This editorial reference to events in Mexico and their possible implications for American Episcopalians marked the first time that the official journal of the Episcopal Church's Board of Missions took notice of the possibilities for mission and ministry that Mexico might represent. In the years following the MexicanAmerican War, Americans had paid little attention to their neighbor; their energies were devoted to the compelling issues that would lead to the American Civil War. Interestingly, a few years earlier the Foreign Committee of the Episcopal Church's Board of Missions had considered the possibility of beginning a mission not in Mexico but in South America, arguing that "the political doctrine so popular here, at the present time-?America for the Americans'- finds an echo also throughout many portions of South America," and expressed the hope that the near future would "witness the departure of some to this field." But that hope was disappointed, and with the outbreak of the Civil War, The Spirit of Missions observed that "a good deal of anxiety has been expressed in regard to the effect of the 'present distress' upon Missionary contributions," which it warned held the potential for "disaster in our Foreign Mission work."3

Once the war ended, the United States government turned its attention to the presence of a French-supported empire on its southern border, and its pressure led France to withdraw its troops, ensuring Maximilian's defeat by Mexican forces. He was executed by firing squad on 19 June 1867, opening the way for Juárez to return to power.


These events form the background to the emergence of a Mexican religious movement which was of special interest to the Episcopal Church. While the limits on the Roman Catholic Church imposed by the constitution of 1857 were bitterly opposed by its bishops and most of its clergy, a few Mexican priests took advantage of their new freedom of religion to move towards an autonomous church which would be free of foreign influence and control by both the papacy and Spanish religious orders.

American Protestants of every stripe were encouraged by the prospect of a Mexico free of the influence of what they uniformly regarded as a form of Christianity at least superstitious and perhaps corrupt and even demonic. …

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