It is currently my birthday month, which means I get to pick the movies we watch. Lately that hasn’t been many due to very busy schedules. This past weekend I scanned through our Netflix queue looking for a movie that would be fairly interesting for CavWife.
I chose For Greater Glory thinking this would fill the bill. It is a bio pic as the subtitle notes: The True Story of the Cristiada. The events take place in Mexico in the late 1920’s. The Mexican Revolution had some similar roots as the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The Revolution began in 1910 and slowly morphed into a Civil War. Like many nations at the time, 5% of the people owned 95% of the land in Mexico. The powers that be courted the Roman Catholic Church to maintain stability.
After the War was over, a series of anti-clerical laws were established to limit the influence of the Catholic Church in the politics of the country. They also thought this was important because many of the clergy were from Europe.
The movie begins after Presidente Calle (played by Reuben Blades) has taken office. There was always a threat of a coup, and this drove his policies as well as those of his predecessor, Obregon. He had increased the pressure on the Catholic church including the deportation of foreign born priests and prohibiting the wearing of clerical garb in public. As you might imagine it all went downhill from there.
The Cristiada is the name of the war between the state and the Cristeros. Eventually the Cristeros hired Enrique Gorostieta (played by Andy Garcia) to be their general as a result of his prominence in the civil war. While not a faithful Catholic, his wife (played by Eva Longoria) was. He was interested in religious liberty. He would eventually lose his life in the fight for religious liberty in Mexico.
The movie is interesting, and also disturbing. There is a compelling enough story. At times the way it is told, and the story itself is disturbing.
One focus of the movies is martyrdom. The end of the movie provides information on when various martyrs were beatified by the Catholic Church. The movie is not merely favorable to religious freedom but seems more like Roman Catholic propaganda at times. Roger Ebert, for instance, questioned its view of events due to such obvious bias.
What was particular disturbing was the torture and eventual martyrdom of a young boy named Jose who was central to the story. I understand that this happened, and it was intended to be disturbing but …
I’m not overly squeamish. Earlier this month we prayed for the persecuted church (actually we do that often) and I’m reading a book about on-going persecution. I understand the reality of the situation, but seeing it portrayed was disturbing to me. Thankfully CavWife had gone to bed earlier.
But there was something more disturbing me- the fact that the Christians in Mexico had taken up arms to end their persecution. I did not expect this reaction. In light of how I understand Scripture, however, it makes sense.
I am not a pacifist. I believe that the State has the power to defend (Rom. 13) itself from enemies domestic and foreign. It is to bring justice to bear against criminals (domestic) and aggressive nations infringing on their sovereign rights (waging war).
The Church is not the State, or a State. The Church is under the authority of the State with the exception of laws contrary to God’s law. The State may limit religious freedom, or prohibit religion, but I don’t have to obey them. That doesn’t mean I can take up arms against the State. It means I may have to suffer unjust treatment at the hand of the State or others.
This is hard for some to understand. I may defend my family from ordinary criminals. I can own a gun, and use it, to defend my wife and children from robbers, killers, rapists etc. I do not find that in conflict with my faith.
Suffering persecution is a different matter biblically.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5
Jesus’ statement is shocking: rejoice & be glad. Why? Our reward in heaven is great. We share in the persecution experienced by the prophets and most importantly by Jesus himself. Peter builds on this in his first letter, using Jesus as an example for us when we experience unjust suffering (remember, he was persecuted and died martyr’s death). Like Jesus we are not to curse and speak back, but entrust ourselves into the hands of our faithful Creator and Redeemer. Paul would agree. In Romans 12 he prohibits us from seeking revenge knowing that God will deal with it. The point of the Revelation is to call the saints to perseverance in persecution. In no place do we find a place to pick up arms to destroy our persecutors. One might be tempted to say this was the case in the Old Testament. One important difference is that for Israel Church and State were one. We don’t live in that set of circumstances.
As a Christian, Scripture is the ultimate norm for faith and practice. At times this will call me to do things that run contrary to culture and self-preservation. This is one of those times. I think the Cristeros were wrong. In other words, both sides were in the wrong!