#TaxDay 2018: For Ye Were Strangers

The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.   —Leviticus 19:34

My liturgical calendar tells me today is Tax Day,[fn1] and so it’s time for another installment of my annual Mormons and Taxes post.

This year’s has nothing to do with the income tax, and, in fact, very little to do with the United States. Instead, we’re going to look south of the border to the Mormon colonies in Mexico.

Mormon Colonies in Mexico

By way of super-brief history: in 1885, in the midst of federal crackdown on polygamy, the church established a number of Mexican colonies (including Colonia Dublan, where Mitt Romney’s ancestors settled). While the colonies appear to have been a jumping-off point for missionaries to Mexico, they largely served as a safe haven for polygamists.

It’s worth noting that there was friction between Mormon colonists and their Mexican-born neighbors. Those frictions included the Mormons’ American imperialist beliefs, as well as the disparity in wealth between them and their neighbors (in part because of the privileges granted by Porfirio Diaz’s government). They also included various customs fees imposed by the Mexican government, as well as hostility against the Mormons from a number of groups and individuals in Mexico.[fn2]

With this mistrust and abuse, we set the stage for our story, which happens in Colonia Morelos, where Mormons first moved in 1900, and abandoned, never to return, starting in October 1912.

Taxes in Colonia Morelos

In May of that year, though, Jose Randall, the stamp inspector for the region, called on the Sonoran government to send troops to enforce the collection of taxes from the Mormons in Colonia Morelos. And what, exactly, was the problem?

It depends on who you ask. Randall claimed that the Mormon colonists beat him and ran him out of town when he showed up to collect their taxes. The colonists, on the other hand, claimed that he just showed up and started taking their cattle and horses. They’d been subject to passing bands of “bandits,” they said, and so they reacted in kind. (They also said they’d paid all of their taxes, so this collection was illegal.) They said that they would continue to resist the payment of illegal taxes.

What ultimately happened? I don’t know; this is kind of a first draft of this story. Apostle Anthony Ivins, however, believed that it was just a misunderstanding, and would be resolved by the appropriate civil authorities.

Ye Were Strangers

We could read this as a one-off situation. After all, the Mormon church no longer does colonies. And today we’re politically savvy enough (and tax collection is sophisticated enough) that, even if we did, I’d be surprised if this kind of disconnect between the taxing authority and a hypothetical group of Mormon taxpayers could happen today. Nonetheless, I find this story as relevant today as perhaps it has ever been.

Why? Because we’re in a time where distrust of foreigners seems to be ascendant. Notwithstanding the church’s calls for love and compassion (especially for Dreamers), we’re not all on board.

Which makes the Lord’s statement in Leviticus (which is repeated throughout the Torah) that much more important: like the people of Israel, we were strangers and foreigners, in the same way that immigrants today are. We were literally foreigners in Mexico; not only that, but some of us broke the law upon entering Mexico. B. Carmon Hardy reports that “no doubt the almost inevitably troublesome nature of dealings with the customs officers as well as the severe pinch of excessive fines that led some Mormons to smuggle as much across the border as possible.”[fn3]

We were once strangers and foreigners, and strangers and foreigners who not only antagonized our neighbors (rightfully and not), but strangers and foreigners who broke the law, hoping to find a home that was more amenable to our lives and practices. For the most part, we’re no longer strangers and foreigners; we’re established in business and law and government and music and art and our communities and just about every other arena in which we can be established. But still, when we see the stranger and the foreigner, we’ve been commanded to remember our time in their shoes, and treat them as native citizens.

Remember: when we were down and defensive, we smuggled goods across international borders. We beat the tax collector and ran him out of town. We were strangers and foreigners and lawbreakers. And we’ve been commanded to remember that when we think of our neighbors who are also strangers and foreigners, and even lawbreakers.

[Giant thanks here to Ardis; she not only put up with my sharing the initial story of Jose Randall with her, but she found further newspapers articles about it and generously shared them with me!]


[fn1] Which means that if you haven’t filed your tax return yet, you should probably do that before reading the rest of this post. Also, Mormon Lectionary Project people, I’m still waiting for you to pencil this in officially!

[fn2] See, e.g., this article.

[fn3] Ibid., 12.

Comments

  1. So someone please pay Ardis for the research she does, damn it.

  2. John Mansfield says:

    Are you familiar with the back taxes following a boundary survey that were the final straw killing the Muddy Mission? If not, you might enjoy looking up the story.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Isn’t the real holy day (for the accountants at least) tomorrow? The tax professionals will finally get some sleep.

    I was unaware of this story. Thanks for the download!

  4. Kristin Brown says:

    Enjoyed this insight into our history. A thank you to Ardis and to you.

  5. Kristine says:

    I’m not sure about the rest of the lectionary for the day, but the opening hymn can be “The Time is Far Spent…”

  6. very cool — thanks for this meaningful reflection!

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I think this day is called Turbo Tuesday…

  8. This is great, Sam. Thanks.

  9. FlatStanley says:

    Great story. Thank you. BCC needs to come up with an award named after Ardis for great church history work.