We had a peculiar visitor in Mexico City last month, although it would probably be more accurate to use the word “invader.” Phillip Blair, an evangelical Christian preacher, and leader of the Torch of Christ Ministries, came to preach at a famous shrine dedicated to Santa Muerte.
The shrine is located in Tepito, a neighborhood in the center of Mexico City, and known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. The shrine was created and is guarded by Enriqueta Romero, “Doña Queta.” Known as the Guardian of the Santa Muerte, Doña Queta was the first person to make public worship to Santa Muerte when, on October 31, 2001, she placed her altar outside her property on Alfarería street. Since then, her altar has become a popular shrine where hundreds of devotees gather to worship Santa Muerte.
Blair, accompanied by a translator, stood up in from of the shrine and started preaching against Santa Muerte: “God bless you my friends. We bless you on the nombre of Jesucristo. We are here today to tell you we love you and we care about you. But we also want you to know that Jesus Christ is the light that shines into all dark places. One day we are going to die, our life on this Earth will pass away, and when that happens our will go to Heaven or Hell, this is certain. And I believe with everything inside of me that the only way to eternal life is through Jesus Christ. Today is the day of your salvation. You don’t need Santa Muerte. You need Jesus Christ.”
In an eight-minute YouTube video, which was uploaded on August 23 by the Torch of Christ Ministries channel and quickly went viral, we can see that Doña Queta first tries to reason with them, saying, “I’m sorry, not here.” The people around approach to demand respect. The translator replies, however, “No, we don’t respect sins.” The preacher continues: “We bless you. Jesus Chris is life. Repent Tepito! Repent for your sins Tepito! Repent for your sins Mexico City!”
While the people became more upset, pushing them away and yelling, the preacher started walking out of the neighborhood, but continued preaching. “Oh, God!,” he said. “Help us to put down the idols. Help us to put down the false religion and the witchcraft. Help us to forsake the sorcery… No more violence. No more death. No more hatred. No more. Let go of the sin, Mexico. Repent for your sin. Surrender your heart to the living God. There is peace found in Jesus. You don’t need spirits of death. You don’t need to summon demonic powers. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer. Only Jesus can bring life.”
The video is titled, “Confronted at Santa Muerte shrine in Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhood, Tepito,” and in its description says “[…] Almost immediately after we preached, we were confronted by Santa Muerte worshippers and the lady who is in charge of the shrine,” as though the preachers were the victims, when the locals had to defend their beliefs at their place of worship.
The Torch of Christ Ministries website describes their mission as “committed to the vision of taking the light of Christ into all dark places. This includes anywhere and everywhere that evil has been allowed to cultivate and grow over time which has resulted in high levels of violent crime, occult activity, atheism and unbelief, and reprobate minds.” Looking through their YouTube channel videos, they appear to be full of similar videos recorded around the globe.
This is not the first time that Blair caused controversy and outrage. In April 2009, he told a man in a wheelchair in Sydney, Australia he was too bitter to be healed. On February 8 of this year, he interrupted a gay pride parade in Auckland, New Zealand, telling the attendees, “You are celebrating sin, you are celebrating debauchery, you must repent.” Other recent videos show Blair similarly preaching at Zona Rosa, the most popular LGBT neighborhood in Mexico City and outside the famous Sonora Market, known for selling merchandise related to Witchcraft and the occult.
He travels around the world, calling neighborhoods and cities “dark places” and blaming other religions. Even though Lake Charles, Louisiana, the city where the Torch of Christ Ministries is based, has one of the highest crime rates in the US, I was not able to find any mention of Lake Charles when searching in Blair’s tweets. (If local beliefs were to blame for the problems, wouldn’t the Torch of Christ Ministries have accountability to face before going to other places of the world?)
In the video, Blair says several times, “No more death!”, as if it was not an intrinsic part of our existence. He blamed the violence and deaths of the city and country to Santa Muerte and seemed to ignore the political and economical context of violence, corruption, the income inequality. He seemed to ignore that death does not only come from violence but also from accidents, from suicides, from sickness, from a pandemic.
As if 2020 were not crazy enough, we have had a flashback to colonial times. A white man came to call our beliefs demonic and our city a dark place; he called our gods and our religions “false.” Ignoring a thousand years of history and syncretism, and our deep relationship with death, he said, “You do not need our spirits of death.” What we in Mexico City truly do not need is a white foreigner coming to tell us what to believe.