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Will La Luz Del Mundo persist with leader behind bars?

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LOS ANGELES (RNS) — As La Luz del Mundo leader Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced to nearly 17 years for sexually abusing young female followers, Jack Freeman — a spokesman and minister for the church — remained steadfast in his support 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 continue to maintain García’s innocence, even after he was called “evil,” a “monster” and the “Antichrist” in his sentencing by five young women he was charged with sexually abusing. The women urged the judge to impose a longer sentence than the 16 years and eight months he received. 

His followers believe the claims of abuse are fabricated and his guilty plea is the result of a fraudulent justice system. García abruptly pleaded guilty just before his long-awaited trial was to start.

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

Church leaders have noted that their congregations continue to grow in the U.S., where a new house of worship was just inaugurated in Waukegan, Illinois, and as new members were baptized in a ceremony in Pachuca, a city in 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 said.

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

Church leaders are going to reach for whatever biblical analogy they can to justify the situation, said Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of religious studies 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,” said Sánchez-Walsh, author of “Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society.”

Sánchez-Walsh said the church could continue to move forward despite García’s imprisonment. If a church has a substantial base of true believers and money, “it has enough to keep going for as long as they want,” she said. 

As well, she noted, there’s just too much to lose in leaving a belief system in 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 in the Catholic stronghold of Guadalajara, Mexico, the tightknit Mexico-based Pentecostal movement claims 5 million worldwide followers. La Luz del Mundo temples are across the United States, with several in Southern California, predominantly in working-class Latino communities such as East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and San Bernardino.

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

Source : ReligionNews

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