There are an estimated 150 organised crime gangs in Mexico, financed by powerful drug cartels. Christians living in their territories risk being targeted. Christian leaders in particular can be viewed as a threat or defiant to a gang's authority and stability. When Christians refuse to carry out a gang's demand, or speak out against crimes, their church is soon in the firing line. The impunity and political instability contribute to the lack of justice when several pastors and priests have been kidnapped and held to ransom, badly beaten, or killed.
The gangs, as de facto authorities in the most neglected areas, also give fines and extort money from church leaders, believing they must have access to some church funds. These illegal groups have diversified and strengthened their networks across the whole country, so Christian leaders, especially those carrying out activities as human rights or environmental defenders, are at high risk of death, recruitment, sexual harassment, abduction, and forced displacement, as well as other forms of violence. Their relatives are also at risk.
In rural areas, new Christian believers who come from more ancestral and traditional backgrounds (mostly beliefs related to Roman Catholic faith) can be beaten, fined, harassed, denied use of public services, rejected and forced to displace by their communities.
In general, intolerance and scrutiny of Christians speaking out on social issues is increasing, as Mexico becomes radically secular.
Church leaders are most at risk of violence from organized crime and gangs, while certain indigenous communities persecute and exclude new believers.
"They kidnapped me in the middle of the night. The criminals wanted me to pray to 'clear the negative energy' left in the room where they had killed several of their victims."Pastor Cazares
Last year saw the highest record of incidents of violence against Christians in Mexico. Criminal groups continue to target Christians wherever they are perceived to be a threat to a group's illegal operations, and these persecutors take advantage of the weakness of state policies that allow corruption and impunity.
Christians in indigenous communities increasingly face hostility due their refusal to follow ancestral and traditional customs (mostly related to Catholic practices). Elsewhere, religious intolerance is also increasing, driven by radical ideological groups that are against public expression of Christian faith.
Open Doors strengthens persecuted believers in Mexico with biblical training, legal support, trauma care and socio-economic aid.
Dear Father, protect our brothers and sisters in Mexico who live in the shadow of criminal gangs. Help Christians to face violence with courage and to speak out against corruption in the country. May their integrity and love impress their persecutors. We pray that the authorities will be able to bring stability, employment and justice back to Mexico. Amen.