Violent Mexican gang hijacks U.S. evangelical’s book
By Alfredo Garcia
(RNS) In one Mexican drug cartel, mandatory reading now includes an American evangelical’s best-seller.
Drawing from an unlikely source, La Familia Michoacana (the Michoacan Family) bases part of its ideology on the book “Wild at Heart,” by John Eldredge of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Ransomed Heart Ministries.
Ironically, Eldredge sees the violent gang’s use of his book in a positive light.
“At first, I was really mad that they hijacked my book for their purposes,” he said. “But on second thought ... maybe it will touch the hearts of the people who use (it).”
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known in Mexico as “El Mas Loco” (The Craziest One), runs La Familia with rigid discipline and pseudo-evangelical spirit. Doubling as both a political and social force, La Familia is known in Mexico, a nation that has been plagued with drug-related bloodshed, for its extreme violence.
According to Time magazine, while Moreno Gonzalez ferried cocaine to the U.S. in the 1990s, he was influenced by Latino evangelicals and images of the mafia in “The Godfather” films. Later, he returned to Mexico with a sense of religious justification—and Eldredge’s book.
The book has become central to La Familia’s recruitment strategy and group mentality.
For new recruits, the cartel turns to addicts in drug rehabilitation clinics, helping them overcome addiction before forcing them to join the group. Family values and religion are emphasized during the recruitment process, which includes daily group prayer sessions and mandatory readings.
Included in the readings is Eldredge’s book, Spanish translations of which have been found in police raids of La Familia strongholds.
Eldredge’s theology is based on a “muscular” view of Christianity, one that emphasizes an “authentic masculinity” that has been lost, he said, in modern Christian theology.
He said it is meant to “champion an understanding of masculinity that is not passive.”
“‘Wild at Heart’ is a call for men to engage as husbands, fathers, members of their community. So there is this call to be a hero, to live a life that matters, to make a difference.”
The book contains language, however, that has been misappropriated by La Familia in their mission of “divine justice.”
Central to “Wild at Heart” is an image of man as warrior, willing and able to fight the battle, rescue the beauty, and live the adventure.
“If we can reawaken that fierce quality in a man (the desire to fight), hook it up to a higher purpose, release the warrior within, then the boy can grow up and become truly masculine,” Eldredge wrote. “A man must have a battle to fight, a great mission to his life that involves and yet transcends even home and family.”
Eldredge did not find the misuse of his text to be entirely extraordinary, saying that this has “been true of ideas, language, books and movements all throughout history.”
People have always attempted to “shroud and try to cloak or distort their practices by draping it in religious language,” he said.
Eldredge says he has had mixed feelings about the group’s use of his book. “You know, at first I was shocked and angry,” he said, initially calling the mishandling of his book “pernicious.”
“But after I had thought about it, I thought that I’m delighted that `Wild at Heart’ has found itself into their cult because hopefully it will bring change.”
Eldredge’s book is coupled with Familia leader Moreno Gonzalez’s self-published bible, “Pensamientos” (Thoughts), a collection of personal aphorisms, evangelical-style self-help sayings, and insurrectionary mottos.
“Pensamientos” reveals a man who sees himself as the leader of a group of warriors on a divine mission, a theme that arises in Eldredge’s book.
“Hello friends, fellow Christians. We are beginning an arduous, but very interesting, task: the building of consciousness,” Moreno Gonzalez wrote. “Today, we need to prepare to defend our ideals so that our struggle will bear fruit (and) organize so as to go down the best path, perhaps not the easiest, but the one that can offer the best results.”
Eldredge emphasized, however, that the danger is not his book, but rather the improper exploitation of it, saying “a knife in the hand of the surgeon can save your life. A knife in the hand of a violent criminal can end it.”
“The evil is not `Wild at Heart,’” Eldredge said. “The evil is the distortion of it.”
also see: http://www.getreligion.org/ & http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2010/06/john_eldredge_s.html