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Will La Luz Del Mundo stick with chief behind bars?

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

“Even when the entire world would come towards me, I’d nonetheless declare with my religion. I’m a Youngster 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 keep up García’s innocence, even after he was known as “evil,” a “monster” and the “Antichrist” in his sentencing by 5 younger girls he was charged with sexually abusing. The ladies 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.

RELATED: Mexican megachurch leader gets more than 16 years for abuse

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 have been baptized in a ceremony in Pachuca, a metropolis within the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

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

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

Naasón Joaquín García leads a service at his church, La Luz del Mundo, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Aug. 9, 2018. García, the chief of the megachurch, pleaded responsible June 3, 2022, to sexually abusing three women, California state prosecutors stated. (AP Photograph/File)

Church leaders are going to achieve for no matter biblical analogy they will to justify the state of affairs, stated Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of spiritual research at Azusa Pacific College. “As a result of that shores up the true believers’ concept that it is a persecution,” she added.

“The church goes to say that they’re persecuted, just like the historic Christian church has been, tying their persecution complicated to the biblical thought of persecuted leaders in jail, like Peter and Paul,” stated Sánchez-Walsh, writer of “Latino Pentecostal Identification: Evangelical Religion, 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 sufficient to maintain going for so long as they need,” 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 “lots of time, cash and emotional forex.” 

“That’s extremely troublesome to do for any group, significantly a spiritual group that’s given you a worldview that claims, ‘We’re God’s chosen. We’re led by God’s apostle. We’re 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 US, with a number of in Southern California, predominantly in working-class Latino communities similar 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.

Women pray inside the "La Luz Del Mundo” church after they learned their church's leader, Naasón Joaquín García, was arrested in the U.S., in Guadalajara, Mexico, on June 4, 2019. California authorities have charged Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of the Mexico-based church that claims over 1 million followers, with child rape, human trafficking and producing child pornography in Southern California. (AP Photo/Refugio Ruiz)

Girls pray inside La Luz Del Mundo in Guadalajara, Mexico, after they realized that their church’s chief, Naasón Joaquín García, was arrested within the U.S., on June 4, 2019. (AP Photograph/Refugio Ruiz)

In 2020, an ex-member sued the church and greater than a dozen of its leaders, alleging many years 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 legal fees.

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 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 should be keen to lose their complete household, their husbands and wives, their youngsters and fogeys — everybody.”

“As quickly as you begin to query, you’re seen because 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 numerous components 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 bought meals on the road to make ends meet. 

He left the church for good in about 2000. Apart from his spouse, youngsters 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, along with his mom, a former Catholic, becoming a member of in 1950. 

“I perceive that leaving isn’t simple,” 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 a single letter, according to the BBC News, García wrote that he was fulfilling a “divine mission” by preaching to fellow prisoners.

“God’s plan is ideal, though it’s not all the time nice,” he stated within the message learn out on the 2019 Holy Supper gathering in Guadalajara.

In this July 15, 2019, file photo, Naasón Joaquín García, the leader of La Luz del Mundo, Mexico-based evangelical church with a worldwide membership, attends a bail review hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool, File)

On this July 15, 2019, file photograph, Naasón Joaquín García, the chief of La Luz del Mundo, a Mexico-based evangelical church with a worldwide membership, attends a bail evaluation listening to in Los Angeles Superior Court docket. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Occasions by way of AP, Pool, File)

Daniel Ramírez, a Claremont Graduate College affiliate professor of faith, stated the letters García sends to congregations “are acquired just like the epistles of Paul within the New Testomony.”

“Quite a lot of his epistles have been despatched by Paul from Roman jail, so the devoted obtain it in that style of apostolic exhortation,” stated Ramírez, writer of “Migrating Religion: Pentecostalism in the US and Mexico within the Twentieth Century.”

“Regardless of the place the letter was learn, whether or not Chicago, Atlanta or elsewhere, it was acquired with nice emotion, nice pleasure, as phrase from God’s apostle on earth,” Ramírez added.

Ramírez stated it’s not utterly clear how García’s imprisonment might finally have an effect on the state of the church, however he did word “an explosion of dissent of former Luz del Mundo members and victims, who’ve now been in a position to make use of this second to show every part.”

RELATED: How Reddit is helping ex-La Luz del Mundo members cope with life after the church

He stated this can be a possibility for ex-members to achieve out to their family members who stay inside. “It might stymie future progress,” Ramírez stated.

Ramírez famous some distinct variations from many years in the past, when church membership grew after Mexican authorities didn’t deliver legal fees towards García’s father when he was accused of kid intercourse abuse. 

Hector Vera posted himself outside the Los Angeles Superior Court with signs on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 as he awaited sentencing results for Naasón Joaquín García's case. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

Hector Vera posted himself exterior the Los Angeles Superior Court docket with indicators on June 8, 2022, as he awaited sentencing leads to Naasón Joaquín García’s case. RNS photograph by Alejandra Molina

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

Now, Ramírez stated, it’ll be attention-grabbing 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 will run round any form of obstacles of data.”

To Raquel Guerra, who grew up attending a La Luz del Mundo church in San Antonio, Texas, the vast majority of church members “are good folks.”

“They only put their religion within the mistaken individual,” stated Guerra, who blames the church management for “falsifying and twisting every part.”

Raquel Guerra at a pastor’s home in Santa Maria, California, on the day of her baptism in 1993. A photograph of Samuel Joaquín Flores, father of Naasón Joaquín García, hangs above her. Photo courtesy of Raquel Guerra

Raquel Guerra at a pastor’s dwelling in Santa Maria, California, on the day of her baptism in 1993. {A photograph} of Samuel Joaquín Flores, father of Naasón Joaquín García, hangs above her. Photograph courtesy of Raquel Guerra

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. Whereas Guerra acknowledges their names aren’t listed to be able to defend them, she stated others could not grasp that. Some merely suppose such claims are fabricated, she stated. Nonetheless, Guerra stated there are those that say that, even when Garcia is chargeable for abuse, “we can not decide him.”

To some, Guerra stated, leaders like Garcia “are capable of expertise pleasure of all types as a result of they’re despatched by God.”

Whereas Guerra stated she didn’t straight see any sexual abuse whereas she was part of the church, she turned 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 neighborhood, 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 “acquired her with open arms, even understanding that they take into account me an apostate.”

“There are nonetheless some good members on the market who observe love as a substitute of hatred as his doctrine teaches,” Guerra stated.

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