Events conspired to create a schism in the Church in Mexico, but eventually the Third Convention group that had split reunited with the Church.
Every one of our paths is different, yet we walk them together. Our path is not about what we have done or where we have been; it is about where we are going and what we are becoming, in unity.
~ Reyna I. Aburto
This is part 18 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
Harold Pratt’s tenure as mission president in Mexico was largely carried out in reaction to the neglect of his predecessor, Antoine R. Ivins. Under his tenure, however, the pendulum swung too far – Euro Americans were called in as missionaries to the region and rather than acting in a supporting role to the local Latter-day Saints, the Euro-American missionaries began to edge out Mexicans from leadership in their own land. This led to an ever-growing list of grievances on top of the set gathered during neglect. Several events converged to light the kindling and lead to a schism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.
The heart of the issue is that Mexican Latter-day Saints felt like they had little say in how the Church was run in their lands. As a result, during the first two conventions in the 1930s, the Latter-day Saints asked for a Mexican Latter-day Saint to serve as mission president, since a Mexican could better understand their needs and serve legally in the country. The Church responded by continuing to call Euro-American Latter-day Saints as mission presidents. Antoine R. Ivins focused his efforts on Mexican expats in the United States rather than on Mexico, which Harold Pratt recognized was a problem. Thus, three years into his tenure, the mission was split along the border, creating a mission focused solely on Mexico as a country separate from the one in the United States. Given their previously expressed desires to have a native Mexican Latter-day Saint serve as mission president, the Latter-day Saints in central Mexico fully expected to have a native Mexican called to that mission.
The Church flirted with the idea of calling Andrés Carlos González, the first Mexican to serve as a full-time missionary for the Church over two decades earlier. According to his grandson:
One thing Ivins had promised before leaving office was that the concerns of the second convention about native leadership would be heard in due time. Sometime between 1934 and 1936, the Gonzalez family remembered when Apostle Ballard visited El Paso for a regional Church conference. Andres was asked to drive the dignitary around, and when the two were alone, Ballard began asking Andres about his financial situation. Andres recognized it as the kind of questions that are asked of prospective mission presidents to determine if they are able to set aside their business interests to devote themselves full time to Church service. Eventually Ballard got to the point: Would Andres be in a position to serve as a mission president in Mexico?
Andres was still struggling to overcome the impact of the Great Depression on his business and had vowed to pay all his debts without declaring bankruptcy. He didn’t see how he could walk away from those obligations, so he regretfully said he could not. It was a decision that haunted him for the rest of his life.
Instead—much to the dismay of the Mexican Latter-day Saints—Harold Pratt was called to serve as the mission president over Mexico.
Another spark to the kindling was Margarito Bautista. After living in the United States for a decade after his genealogical mission, Margarito took it upon himself to return to Mexico. Before he left the United States, he wrote a 600-page tome called La evolución de México: sus verdaderos progenitores y su origen: el destino de America y Europa. He expected Church leaders to be grateful for his missionary efforts and to assist in publishing and distributing the book. The leaders rejected that idea, leading Margarito to self-publish in Mexico with the help of another Latter-day Saint. He traveled around the region, preaching to Latter-day Saint congregations that those with indigenous Mexican ancestry were descended from Lehi and thus should prepare to lead the Church and the world due to their birthright. This was an appealing notion to many of the Mexican Latter-day Saints, but Harold Pratt worked to suppress the book and Margarito’s preaching. As a result, Margarito blamed Harold for his book not selling as well as Margarito had assumed that it would, resulting in a difficult financial situation for Margarito.
Saints 3 describes the results:
When Harold Pratt retained his position, a group of disappointed Saints decided to hold a third convention.
At the head of the effort were Abel Páez and his uncle Margarito Bautista. Margarito took immense pride in his Mexican heritage—and in the belief that he was a descendant of Book of Mormon peoples. He thought the Mexican Saints could govern themselves, and he resented the interference of leaders from the United States.
Isaías sympathized with Abel and Margarito, but he urged them not to hold the convention. “Church organization,” he reminded Abel, “is not based on petitions of the majority.” When plans for the Third Convention went forward anyway, Isaías sent a letter throughout the mission, discouraging Church members from attending.
“The cause is noble,” he wrote, “but the form of proceeding is out of order because it violates the principle of authority.”
On April 26, 1936, one hundred and twenty Saints assembled in Tecalco, Mexico, for the Third Convention. At the meeting, they voted unanimously to sustain the First Presidency. Believing that Church leaders in Salt Lake City had misunderstood their previous letter, they decided they needed to submit a new petition clearly calling for a mission president of their own “raza y sangre”—race and blood. The Conventionists then voted unanimously to present Abel Páez as their choice for an experienced indigenous president of the Mexican Mission.
After the meeting, Isaías worked with Harold Pratt to reconcile with Abel and the Conventionists, but their efforts failed. In June, Conventionists drafted an eighteen-page petition to the First Presidency. “We very respectfully ask that you grant us two things,” they wrote. “First, that our Church grant us a mission president who is Mexican, and second, that our Church accept and authorize the candidate we choose.”
Isaías could do nothing more to keep the Conventionists from submitting the petition. At the end of the month, they sent it with 251 signatures to Salt Lake City.
Leaders in Salt Lake City reacted poorly to the petition. First Presidency member J. Reuben Clark drafted a lengthy response to the Mexican Latter-day Saints, rebuffing their requests and chastising them about the importance of following standard procedures of Church government as a call to repentance. After receiving this letter in late 1936, some of those who had met during the Third Convention gathered again. Margarito Bautista expressed outrage at the reaction from the First Presidency and called on those present to reject Harold Pratt’s authority in favor of Abel Páez as mission president. This sparked a mixed reaction, with some Latter-day Saints feeling that stepping into open rebellion went too far and others agreeing. Those who agreed with Bautista sent another letter to the First Presidency, declaring their intentions to fully reject the mission president’s leadership. Church leaders in Mexico responded a short time later, excommunicating Abel Páez, Margarito Bautista, and other Convention leaders in May 1937 for rebellion, insubordination, and apostasy. The dissenters split into their own church, which they called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Third Convention.
The Third Convention group drew approximately ? of all members of the Church in Mexico into its fold. It quickly launched a number of initiatives, translating more of the Doctrine and Covenants, published their own magazine—The Sendera Lamanita—starting missionary labors of its own, etc. They proved remarkably successful in those endeavors, especially considering the resources they had available to them. When it became apparent that Margarito Bautista was practicing polygamy, he was expelled from their group (eventually forming his own fundamentalist Latter-day Saint church called El Reino de Dios en su Plenitud and a United Order colony known as Colonia Industrial de la Nueva Jerusalén). Others split into separate splinter groups from the Third Convention. The remainder of the group, however, continued to function under Abel Páez’s leadership.
Efforts at reconciliation would span the next decade. Part of the success of those efforts was due to the leadership of the mission. Arwell Pierce was called in 1942 and worked to befriend the convencionistas and attend their meetings and conferences. While he was met with hostility at first, he gradually gained their friendship and respect. He shared resources liberally with them, such as copies of the Book of Mormon, hymnbooks, and other Spanish Church literature. And he openly recognized that many of the grievances that had led to the schism were real and worked to correct them. For example, he initiated efforts to build or remodel several chapels in Mexico, addressing a shortage that had troubled convencionistas when they first broke from the Church. As he wrote to the First Presidency: “We haven’t done much good in the past with harsh methods. Let us hope that kindness and sane, patient reasoning may do some good.”
President Pierce proved particularly effective at reaching the leadership of the convencionistas. He became a personal friend of Abel Páez and, after a few years, felt comfortable with offering some persuasive reasoning to Páez. For example, after endowment sessions had been translated into Spanish and began to be offered at the Mesa, Arizona Temple, Pierce talked with Páez about how if the Church became more unified in Mexico, they would likely be able to have temples built in the country, making them more accessible to members of the Church (though not to the convencionistas unless they reunited). He also worked to convince Páez and other convencionistas that what they really wanted was for the Church to become strong enough in central Mexico to organize a stake and then have Mexicans called as stake presidents to provide leadership rather than continuing under a mission structure. Again, he emphasized that the convencionistas would need to unite with the Utah-based church to make that a reality.
Part of the reconciliation came from the work of full-time missionaries. Those called to Mexico during the decade of 1936–1946 were told to focus on bringing the convencionistas back to the fold and fortifying existing branches against schism. It wasn’t always easy—Arturo de Hoyos, for example, recalled that convencionistas hurled insults at his Anglo missionary companions. Arturo defended them verbally and indicated that he was willing to physically defend them as well, had the need arisen. Andrés Carlos González’s son Andy was among the missionaries called during this era, and he recalled that he told Harold Pratt that: “I sympathize with their desires but do not agree with their leaders’ methods.” He quickly learned that convencionistas were targeting Latter-day Saints in the region as well as following missionaries to take advantage of potential converts. As Andy’s son wrote: “More than once, Andy began the process of teaching a family about the Church, only to return for another lesson to find that the Third Convention had been there in the interim.” Still, eventually the acrimony faded and the missionaries were able to help pave the way for reconciliation.
Part of the reconciliation came from the local Latter-day Saints themselves. Many of them had been friends before the schism and decided that they wanted to continue being friends, providing motivation to reunite. The realization that they would have more resources to share for the work of the gospel if they worked together was another motivation. For example, a splinter group of convencionistas led by Daniel Mejía that had remained separate after Abel Páez’s group had reunited with the Church would return to the fold largely due to the effort of Relief Society members on both sides of the divide. Sister missionaries from the Church—Laurie Teichert Eastwood and Irene Salmon—began to make contact with the sisters in Mejía’s branch and attend their meetings in mid-1946. While they didn’t win anyone back initially, the Relief Societies from both Mejía’s group and the Church in the area decided that they would hold a Relief Society conference with a music program and they would do it together in order to bolster the size of the choir and to make use of the piano at the Church’s Cuautla chapel (something Mejía’s group couldn’t afford). Three weeks later, the vast majority of Mejía’s congregation reached out to the sister missionaries to say that “they were ready to join our group,” resulting in a reunification with the Church on October 20, 1946. As Elisa Pulido summarized: “In Cuautla, the reunification of the branches was largely engineered by women hoping to sing together, enjoy each other’s company, and share in the use of a piano.”
The major moment in which the Third Convention united with the main body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints occurred on May 20, 1946 in an official reunification conference. President George Albert Smith attended the meeting in person. As president of the Church, his presence was something that sparked excitement among the Latter-day Saints (including the convencionistas). Some Conventionists worried that President Smith would condemn them, but instead he spoke of harmony and reunion. Disciplinary action against Abel Páez and other convencionistas were reversed and the approximately 300 members who had joined the Third Convention through missionary efforts (and thus had not officially been baptized by members of the Church) were baptized as a ratification of their baptism (rather than an official rebaptism). And a mission leadership group was formed to bring together former convencionistas and people who had remained in the Church to chart the path forwards. While a few Third Convention splinter groups continued to exist (such as Margarito Bautista’s El Reino de Dios en su Plenitud), the vast majority of those who had left returned to the fold.
 Reyna I. Aburto, “With One Accord,” CR April 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/with-one-accord.p22?lang=eng. I recognize that Reyna isn’t originally from Mexico, but the quote was too good to pass.
 John A. Gonzalez. No More Strangers and Foreigners: The Melding of Cultures Against the Backdrop of Deep Religious Faith (JAG Legacy Press. Kindle Edition), 124–125.
 See Elisa Eastwood Pulido, The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista: Mexican Mormon Evangelizer, Polygamist Dissident, and Utopian Founder, 1878–1961 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
 Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893–1955 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2022), 369–370, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v3/part-3/24-the-aim-of-the-church?lang=eng.
 Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893–1955 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2022), 373–379, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v3/part-3/24-the-aim-of-the-church?lang=eng.
 Arwell L. Pierce to First Presidency, Nov. 9, 1942, First Presidency Mission Files, CHL. See Saints 3, 485–488, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v3/part-4/31-the-right-track?lang=eng.
 Elisa Pulido, “Solving Schism in Nepantla,” in Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, ed. Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 92.
 John A. Gonzalez. No More Strangers and Foreigners: The Melding of Cultures Against the Backdrop of Deep Religious Faith (JAG Legacy Press. Kindle Edition), 129.
 Pulido, “Solving Schism in Neplanta,” 101–103.