GROWING IN GRACE INTERNATIONAL MINISTRY TIMELINE
1946 (April 22): José Luis de Jesús Miranda was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
1979: Miranda moved from Puerto Rico to Massachusetts.
1986 or 1988: Miranda established his church, Creciendo en Gracia, in Miami, Florida.
1991: Miranda identified himself as a divine figure called “The Other.”
1998: Miranda claimed to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul.
2004: Miranda asserted that he was the Second Coming of Christ, “Jesucristo Hombre” (Jesus Christ, man).
2007: Miranda proclaimed himself to be the Antichrist.
2012 (April): Miranda announced that on June 30, 2012 there would be a “transformation” the result of which would be that the existing world structure would end. Miranda and his followers would gain immortality.
2013 (August 8): Miranda’s ex-wife, Josefina Torres, announced that Miranda had died, apparently of cirrhosis of the liver, in a hospital in Sugar Land, Texas.
2013 (September 11): Miranda reappeared in public, claiming his health was as good as ever.
2013 (November 15): Miranda actually in Orlando, Florida. His death was confirmed by both Growing in Grace and his family.
José Luis de Jesús Miranda was born in 1946 into a poor family in Ponce, Puerto Rico. During his formative years Miranda’s attended Catholic, Pentecostal, and Southern Baptist churches, and he subsequently became a Pentecostal minister. By his own admission, Miranda was addicted to heroin as a teenager and was briefly incarcerated for petty theft. In 1973, he had a vision of two angels appearing at his bedside and announcing his “integration” with the Lord. As Miranda explained the impact of that experience, “the prophets, they spoke about me. It took me time to learn that, but I am what they were expecting and what they have been expecting for 2,000 years” (McLeod 2007).
In 1979, Miranda moved to Massachusetts and then in 1986 he established Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace) in a Miami, Florida warehouse. The church gained followers quickly, particularly within the Hispanic community. Miranda changed his identity several times between 1991 and 2007. He proclaimed himself to be El Otro, “a sort of transitional deity that prefigured the Second Coming of Christ,” in 1991 (Dwyer 2007). Seven years later Miranda modified his identity, representing himself as the Apostle Paul of the New Testament. He declared he was the Second Coming of Christ in 2004. Miranda revised his identity once again in 2007, this time adopting the title Antichrist. However, his definition of Antichrist departed significantly from mainstream Christian connotations. Miranda taught that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer to be worshiped as the Christ as he had now superseded the Jesus of the gospels. Miranda and many of his followers thereafter displayed tattoos of the number 666 in tribute to Miranda’s identification with the Antichrist.
On August 8, 2013, Miranda’s ex-wife, Josefina Torres, claimed that Miranda had died in Sugar Land, Texas on August 8, 2013, apparently of cirrhosis of the liver. She reiterated this claim in the following weeks, with Miranda’s followers refusing to confirm his death (Martinez 2013). Finally, on September 11, Miranda reappeared in public, claiming his health was as good as ever. However, on November 15, Miranda actually in Orlando, Florida. His death was confirmed by both his movement and his family.
After his death, many and perhaps most members left Growing in Grace, as they had expected Miranda to be immortal. Indeed,one follower stated that “His days will not end. He is here to reign, govern and pretty soon, he will bring change to all nations. We’re all waiting for the word in the scriptures to become a reality because as the church we will be transformed and be made like the glorious one whose days will never end…” (Martinez 2013). Following Miranda’s death, those followers who remained divided into at least five separate branches, the largest being King of Salem, led by Miranda’s third wife and widow Lisbet García, who proclaimed to be herself God and that Miranda had only been a misguided Antichrist (see separate profile of King of Salem).
Growing in Grace appears to mirror the doctrines and practices of other Latino evangelical churches in many respects. However, Miranda has added a number of distinctive and controversial doctrines. Most notably, Miranda has announced that he is the Second Coming of Christ. According to Miranda, “the spirit that is in me is the same spirit that was in Jesus of Nazareth” (McLeod 2007). More pointedly, he has stated, “I am Jesus Christ man, the Second Coming of Christ,” adding: “anyone who doesn’t believe in me will be miserable” (Varela 2007). The implication of this proclamation is that Miranda’s doctrines replace those of the gospels. His official declaration, as displayed on Growing in Grace’s website, asserts that all churches who follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are “apostates” and “false brethrens” who are committing “spiritual adultery.” Indeed, Miranda released the statement in 2006: “Today I accuse publicly that all religions have lied to the World.” Growing in Grace congregants are taught to revere Miranda as a divine figure, generally referring to him as either God or Daddy.
Miranda also teaches that the devil and sin no longer exist as, through the act of Crucifixion, Christ obliterated both Satan and sin. His daughter Joann De Jesus explains that “Jesus of Nazareth, when he died on the cross, he killed the devil” (Varela 2007). Correspondingly, Myrna Cestero, a Puerto Rican bishop in Growing in Grace stated that “when the Lamb of God appeared, he took away the sin of the world [according to the Bible]. They talk about the devil, but ‘through death he might destroy him that had the power of death” (Godov 2007). Miranda extends this logic to all Growing in Grace members, stating that they too are antichrists because they deny the traditional Christian doctrines concerning sin, guilt and Jesus Christ.
Finally, Miranda subscribes to the “theology of prosperity,” which teaches that the more money members give to God, the more blessings they will receive. Members are expected to tithe, and therefore followers tend to donate generously to the church. He can promise their prosperity, he says, because he is God” (Dwyer 2007).
Miranda added a new dimension to Growing in Grace doctrine in April, 2012 when he announced that on June 30, 2012 there would be a world “transformation” (Daily Mail Reporter 2012). According to one his bishops, “That day, the body of Jose de Luis de Jesus, who is a human like you and me, his flesh is going to be immortal…. He’s going to be living forever. And that will happen to him, but also his followers” (Ligaya 2012). His followers would receive superpowers, and world governments and currencies would fail. In the wake of the collapse, according to Miranda, “A government where we will govern everything with a perfect order. This is my last farewell for you. The time is finished… We will see each other soon in Armageddon” (Ligaya 2012).
The collective observances within Growing in Grace reflect its theological precepts. The group celebrates Christmas each year on April 22, the day on which Miranda was born and therefore the “real” Christmas, to signify his divinity. Members recognize and support Mirandas divine status through lavish gifts that reportedly include businesses, sports cars, jewelry and beachfront houses. Collective solidarity and elective status are expressed through the exchange of the greeting, “You’re blessed with all spiritual blessing” during church services. The group’s spiritual status is further reflected through the church lecturns, which are decorated with a replica of the U.S. Presidential seal inscribed with the phrase, “Government of God on Earth,” to signify that Miranda is “the last manifestation of God on Earth.” Members also demonstrate their commitment by obtaining tattoos with the numerals “666” or the letters “SSS,” “Salvo Siempre Salvo” (Spanish for “Once Saved, Always Saved” or “Safe always safe”). Growing in Grace member Cecilia Salazar stated that, “This is the mark of the beast. This is the mark of my father” (Dwyer 2007). Growing in Grace members have also contested the legitimacy of established Christian churches in Miami and Latin America by engaging in ritual protests during which “they have disrupted services and smashed crosses and statues of Jesus” (McLeod 2007).
Miranda increased his spiritual authority through Growing in Grace’s history. When the church was first established in 1986, Miranda functioned simply as a pastor. He began referring to himself as a reincarnation of the Apostle Paul in 1998; in 2005 at the church’s world convention in Venezuela, Miranda identified himself to be the Second Coming of Christ. He further reshaped his identity in 2007 by referring to himself as the Antichrist, meaning that he had superceded the Jesus of the Gospels. The combination of his spiritual and organizational authority constituted an imposing power base.
Growing in Grace expanded rapidly from its initial congregation in Miami that met in a warehouse. In its heydays, the church claimed 300 congregations and 200 pastors located in thirty countries. In addition to the United States, there were congregations in Spain and a number of Latin American nations, including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Growing in Grace reported twenty congregations and 3,000 adherents in Mexico. Miranda communicated with his followers through a website on which there were weekly transmissions, a satellite channel, and radio station and over the internet. The church’s television station, Telegracia, broadcasted out of Colombia to more than 200 cities by cable television service. Several hundred cable companies carried its programming. The church claimed to have a total of 100,000 adherents and to reach a much larger audience, around 2,000,000, through radio, television and internet (Godoy 2007). Miranda was the head of Growing in Grace, and individual pastors led local congregations. The church did not attempt to erect its own churches but rather met in rented facilities. For example, services in Mexico City were held in a hotel. The local pastor led the services, with Miranda appearing through a video connection.
The organization largely collapsed at Miranda’s death. Most of the congregations that remained active joined King of Salem, although the website (Growing in Grace website n.d.) remained under the control of a smaller branch of Miranda loyalists headquartered in Guatemala and Costa Rica.
In 2007 Miranda’s incendiary anti-Catholic remarks prompted three Central American countries to ban him. In the summer of the same year Miranda gained further attention in the press during the complicated proceedings of his highly public divorce trial.
Growing in Grace remained in tension both with the Catholic Church and other mainline Christian churches as a product of Miranda’s divinity claims, his lavish personal lifestyle, his virulent anti-Christian and anti-Catholic rhetoric, and the ministry’s custom of protesting and disrupting services in local churches. Miranda’s lifestyle was a particular focus of disparaging media coverage. Detractors denounced his taste for pricey sports cars, jewel-encrusted Rolex watches, expensively tailored suits, and attractive women, as well as alleging fraudulent use of church funds. These charges gained credence in the wake of his 2007 divorce from his second wife, Josefina de Jesus Torres. The Miami Herald reported that “testimony and depositions in the divorce case show that de Jesus has routinely used donations to his ministry’s 300 churches worldwide – from small sums collected from followers in Latin America to $5.5 million from a Colombian benefactor – to bankroll his personal life” (Arthur and Dolan 2007).
Miranda’s vitriolic rhetoric also provoked an equally strong response from those he targeted. For example, a Reuters article quoted Miranda as referring to other priests as “faggots” and publicly chastising the pope, preaching, “he should wear pants like a man. He should tell the truth and stop teaching shit” (Rosenberg 2007). As a result of those outbursts, In the spring of the same year, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala denied Miranda entry into their countries, “outraged by his inflammatory preaching against the Catholic Church and organized religion” (Rosenberg 2007). Miranda did not relent, however. In a 2007 ABC interview, Miranda confessed to drinking liquor but quipped that “Jesus drank wine because he didn’t have Dewar’s” (Van Biema 2007). When El Salvador’s president banned Miranda from the country, he responded with a pronouncement that as a consequence there would be an earthquake in El Salvador. Members of Growing in Grace ministry responded to these attacks on Miranda as indicative of persecution by the Catholic Church. Miranda’s Bishop of Bishops Carlos Cestero asserted that “It’s the new Inquisition. These small nations are clearly puppets of the Catholic Church” (Rosenberg 2007). They saw opposition as persecution and as evidence of Miranda’s messianic status. For example, church member and spokesman Axel Poessy asserted that
“These life events are further proof that Jose Luis de Jesus is the reincarnation of the same spirit that dwelled in Jesus of Nazareth” and that “We are privileged to be witnessing the days of the Son of Man, the last manifestation of God on Earth, who is here to reign over all nations.”
Miranda once again created controversy in April, 2012 when he announced a world “transformation” slated for
June 30, 2012. The group publicized the prophecy through videos posted on YouTube, billboards, and a countdown clock posted on the group’s website. The prophecy received worldwide but skeptical media coverage (Daily Mail Reporter 2012; Ligaya 2012).
Arthur, Lisa and Jack Dolan. 2007. “Judge Flags Preacher’s Use of Donations.” Miami Herald. 27 June 2007. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/25500/?&place=united-states§ion=other-nrms on October 5, 2011.
Campo-Flores, Arian. 2007. “Meet the Minister Who Says He Is Jesus Christ.” Newsweek. 5 February 2007.
Daily Mail Reporter. 2012. “ Miami cult who tattoo themselves with 666 say the world will END on June 30.” Daily Mail 2 May 2012. Accessed from
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2138660/All-believers-going-destroyed-Religious-sect-spreading-word-ahead-impending-end-world-June-30.html on May 5, 2012.
Dwyer, Johnny. 2007. “The Hallelujah People.” New York Times. 10 June 2007. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/25343/?&place=united-states§ion=other-nrms on October 5, 2011.
Godoy, Emilio. 2010. “Controversial ‘Man Jesus Christ’ Pulls in Followers.” IPS News. 7 April. Accessed from http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50943 on 22 October 2010.
Growing in Grace website. n.d. Accessed from http://creciendoengracia.com/ on 2 July 2018.
Leavenworth, Jesse. 2007. “Son-of-the-Father-Figure: Charismatic Minister is Latest in a Long Line of Would-Be Christs.” The Hartford Courant. 4 March 2007. Accessed from http://articles.courant.com/2007-03-04/features/0703020222_1_jesus-christ-would-be-christs-united-church.
Ligaya, Armina. 2012. “The time is finished’: Religious sect erects billboards in Toronto ahead of the ‘transformation.” National Post 1 May 2012. Accessed from http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/05/01/the-time-is-finished-religious-sect-erects-billboards-in-toronto-ahead-of-the-transformation/ on May 5, 2012.
Martinez, Jessica. 2013. “Ex-Wife of Man Claiming to Be ‘Immortal Jesus Christ’ Confirms His Death.”
The Christian Post, August 19. Accessed from http://www.christianpost.com/news/ex-wife-of-man-claiming-to-be-immortal-jesus-christ-confirms-his-death-102555/ on 20 August 2013.
McLeod, Judi. 2007. “Daddy the Antichrist.” Canada Free Press. February 23. Accessed from http://www.canadafreepress.com/2007/cover022307.html on 4 March 2007.
Rosenberg, Mica. 2007. “3 Central American Nations Ban Self-Styled Antichrist.” Reuters. 14 April 2007. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/24802/?&place=central-america on October 5, 2011.
Van Biema, David. 2007. “A Different Jesus to Believe In.” Time Magazine. 9 May 2007. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/25044/?&place=united-states§ion=other-nrms on October 5, 2011.
Varela, Ileana. 2007. “Man Who Says He’s Jesus Says He’s the Antichrist.” CBS Broadcasting Inc. February 14. Accessed from http://www.religionnewsblog.com/17479/jose-luis-de-jesus-miranda-3 on 5 October 2011.
22 October 2011
David G. Bromley
5 May 2012
30 August 2013
2 July 2018