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With La Luz del Mundo’s leader behind bars for sex abuse, will the Mexican church survive?


LOS ANGELES (RNS) — As La Luz del Mundo chief Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced to just about 17 years for sexually abusing younger feminine followers, Jack Freeman — a spokesman and minister for the church — remained steadfast in his assist for García as God’s elected.

“Even if the whole world would come against me, I would still declare with my faith. I am a Child of God and a believer of Apostle (Naason) Joaquin!” Freeman said on Twitter a day after García’s sentencing.

La Luz del Mundo leaders proceed to take care of García’s innocence, even after he was referred to as “evil,” a “monster” and the “Antichrist” in his sentencing by 5 younger girls he was charged with sexually abusing. The girls urged the decide to impose an extended sentence than the 16 years and eight months he acquired.

His followers imagine the claims of abuse are fabricated and his responsible plea is the results of a fraudulent justice system. García abruptly pleaded responsible simply earlier than his long-awaited trial was to start out.

Church leaders have famous that their congregations proceed to develop within the U.S., the place a brand new home of worship was simply inaugurated in Waukegan, Illinois, and as new members had been baptized in a ceremony in Pachuca, a metropolis within the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

In the church’s official statement, leaders say García, who goes by the title of apostle, is on a “path that God has placed in front of him for a reason, as he did for Apostle Paul.”

“The Apostle will continue ministering to the church,” they stated.

Church leaders are going to succeed in for no matter biblical analogy they will to justify the state of affairs, stated Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of non secular research at Azusa Pacific University. “Because that shores up the true believers’ idea that this is a persecution,” she added.

“The church is going to say that they are persecuted, like the historic Christian church has been, tying their persecution complex to the biblical idea of persecuted leaders in jail, like Peter and Paul,” stated Sánchez-Walsh, creator of “Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society.”

Sánchez-Walsh stated the church might proceed to maneuver ahead regardless of García’s imprisonment. If a church has a considerable base of true believers and cash, “it has enough to keep going for as long as they want,” she stated.

If a church has a considerable base of true believers and cash, “it has enough to keep going for as long as they want,” she stated.

As nicely, she famous, there’s simply an excessive amount of to lose in leaving a perception system by which followers have invested “a lot of time, money and emotional currency.”

“That’s incredibly difficult to do for any organization, particularly a religious organization that’s given you a worldview that says, ‘We are God’s chosen. We are led by God’s apostle. We are the true church,” Sánchez-Walsh added.

Headquartered within the Catholic stronghold of Guadalajara, Mexico, the tightknit Mexico-based Pentecostal motion claims 5 million worldwide followers. La Luz del Mundo temples are throughout the United States, with a number of in Southern California, predominantly in working-class Latino communities comparable to East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and San Bernardino.

La Luz del Mundo was based in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González. The church rejects the idea of the Trinity and teaches that Jesus is God’s son and church leaders, like García, his father and grandfather, are his apostles.

In 2020, an ex-member sued the church and greater than a dozen of its leaders, alleging a long time of abuse by the hands of the group’s leaders. García’s father was the topic of kid intercourse abuse allegations in 1997, however authorities in Mexico by no means filed prison expenses.

Followers of La Luz del Mundo don’t rejoice Christmas or Easter, however they do acknowledge the birthdays of García and the opposite apostles.

As a former pastor of La Luz del Mundo, Sergio Meza stated he understands why congregants would select to stay within the church.

Meza was labeled as now not “being of God” when he left his pastoral place years in the past in about 1986, and he stated if church members determine to depart, “they have to be willing to lose their entire family, their husbands and wives, their children and parents — everyone.”

“As soon as you start to question, you are seen as the enemy of the apostle and of the church,” stated Meza, 72, of Los Angeles.

Meza served as pastor in church buildings in East LA; in San Antonio and Houston; in Ensenada in Baja California; and in varied elements of Mexico. Pastors are reassigned each two or three years, he stated, inflicting his household to maneuver usually. He stated he made no cash as pastor and offered meals on the road to make ends meet.

“As soon as you start to question, you are seen as the enemy of the apostle and of the church,” stated Meza, 72, of Los Angeles.

He left the church for good in about 2000. Aside from his spouse, kids and grandchildren, he stated he has no different household, contemplating that lots of his nephews and cousins nonetheless stay in La Luz del Mundo. His household’s involvement within the church spans 5 generations, together with his mom, a former Catholic, becoming a member of in 1950.

“I understand that leaving is not easy,” he stated.

La Luz del Mundo leaders haven’t answered questions as to how García will minister from behind bars, however García has been reported as addressing his followers by letters he wrote as he awaited trial from his jail cell. In one letter, according to the BBC News, García wrote that he was fulfilling a “divine mission” by preaching to fellow prisoners.

“God’s plan is perfect, even though it is not always pleasant,” he stated within the message learn out on the 2019 Holy Supper gathering in Guadalajara.

Daniel Ramírez, a Claremont Graduate University affiliate professor of faith, stated the letters García sends to congregations “are received like the epistles of Paul in the New Testament.”

“A lot of his epistles were sent by Paul from Roman jail, so the faithful receive it in that genre of apostolic exhortation,” stated Ramírez, creator of “Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century.”

“No matter where the letter was read, whether Chicago, Atlanta or elsewhere, it was received with great emotion, great joy, as word from God’s apostle on earth,” Ramírez added.

Ramírez stated it’s not utterly clear how García’s imprisonment might in the end have an effect on the state of the church, however he did observe “an explosion of dissent of former Luz del Mundo members and victims, who have now been able to use this moment to expose everything.”

Ramírez stated it’s not utterly clear how García’s imprisonment might in the end have an effect on the state of the church, however he did observe “an explosion of dissent of former Luz del Mundo members and victims…”

He stated this can be a chance for ex-members to succeed in out to their family members who stay inside. “It may stymie future growth,” Ramírez stated.

Ramírez famous some distinct variations from a long time in the past, when church membership grew after Mexican authorities didn’t deliver prison expenses in opposition to García’s father when he was accused of kid intercourse abuse.

La Luz del Mundo’s followers noticed these accusations as proof of discrimination in opposition to them by Mexico’s Catholic majority, who usually discuss with them derogatorily as a sect or cult. Ramírez stated the group’s leaders have prior to now used setbacks to their benefit.

Now, Ramírez stated, it’ll be fascinating to see how the youthful generations, together with these born within the U.S., react to those developments. They’re social-media savvy, Ramírez stated, and “they can run around any kind of barriers of information.”

To Raquel Guerra, who grew up attending a La Luz del Mundo church in San Antonio, Texas, nearly all of church members “are good people.”

“They just put their faith in the wrong person,” stated Guerra, who blames the church management for “falsifying and twisting everything.”

She stated many don’t imagine the claims of abuse, partly as a result of the ladies alleging the abuse are listed as Jane Does in courtroom paperwork. While Guerra acknowledges their names aren’t listed to be able to shield them, she stated others might not grasp that. Some merely suppose such claims are fabricated, she stated. Still, Guerra stated there are those that say that, even when Garcia is answerable for abuse, “we cannot judge him.”

“They just put their faith in the wrong person,” stated Guerra, who blames the church management for “falsifying and twisting everything.”

To some, Guerra stated, leaders like Garcia “are able to experience pleasure of all kinds because they’re sent by God.”

While Guerra stated she didn’t straight see any sexual abuse whereas she was part of the church, she grew to become extra conscious of tales of abuse after leaving the church and connecting with different ex-members.

She left La Luz del Mundo at round age 19 as a result of she was pregnant and in a relationship with a person who wasn’t a part of the church. An insular group, the church frowned on relationships with outsiders, Guerra stated. She recollects church leaders saying the kid was a product of sin.

Guerra nonetheless has household within the church who’ve “received her with open arms, even knowing that they consider me an apostate.”

“There are still some good members out there who practice love instead of hatred as his doctrine teaches,” Guerra stated.





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