LA LUZ DEL MUNDO TIMELINE
1896 (August 14): Eusebio Joaquín González was born in Jalisco, México.
1926: Eusebio Joaquín González founded the church in Guadalajara, Jalisco, according to the official history.
1937 (February 14): Samuel Joaquín Flores was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
1942: Eusebio Joaquin González was baptized with the name of Aaron.
1964: Aaron died, and his son Samuel Joaquin Flores became the new Apostle of the church.
1969 (May 7): Naasón Joaquín García, fifth son of Samuel Joaquin Flores, was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
2014 (December 8): Samuel Joaquin Flores died in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
2014 (December 14): Naasón Joaquín García became the Third Apostle of the church.
In Mexico, La Luz del Mundo is the second largest religious body after the Roman Catholic Church, with approximately 1,500,000adherents. It is also the largest (non-Catholic) minority church in Guadalajara, Jalisco, with approximately 50,000 churchgoers living in twenty neighborhoods. At the very center of the Hermosa Provincia (Beautiful Province) neighborhood in Guadalajara lays the greatest temple of all, not only in size but also in symbolic meaning for the group. Beyond constituting the central symbol of the religion, the temple is a local congregation, with a membership of approximately 15,000 congregants. The international headquarters of the Church, including the central offices connected with congregations all over the world, are located just across the main temple in Hermosa Provincia neighborhood of Guadalajara (Fortuny 2002). The group has attracted the attention of the Roman Catholic Church given its relative youth and growth and its broad geographic distribution within Mexico. [Image at right]
The Church was founded in the late 1920s by Aaron Joaquin Gonzalez, [Image at right] a man of peasant origin who was a native of the western region of Mexico. After the Revolution (1910 to 1920), and during the years of the Great Depression in the United States, many poor Mexican migrants left the United States and returned to Mexico. Aaron recruited his first followers from among such poor displaced people and established his church in Guadalajara, Jalisco, a state characterized by its strong Catholic presence. Guadalajara and Zamora in Michoacán have produced the highest number of priests, not only for Mexico, but also for other Latin American countries, since colonial times. The rise of the Luz del Mundo movement also coincided with a revival of Pentecostalism in the United States (1920s to 1930s), which in turn was exported to Mexico via returning migrants . Like most Pentecostal leaders, Aaron did not enjoy any previous sacred legitimation; he propagated a Bible-based Protestant religion in a context dominated by an all-embracing, intransigent, anti-Protestant Catholicism that did not favor the use of the Bible. He represented a counter-ideology that was attractive to people who possessed little and were dissatisfied with their social condition. One of the main achievements of Aaron’s new faith was to break the Catholic clergy’s monopoly over the production and distribution of sacred goods.
During the 1950s, Aaron established a special type of settlement for members by creating the first Hermosa Provincia in Guadalajara. Hermosa Provincia is a “total institution” (Goffman 1988) that entails living and, if possible, working and studying in the same place where the church (or temple) is located. Members tend to live within the same neighborhood, attend the same temple, go to school together, shop in local establishments (often run by members), recreate together and, in general, create their own world within the religious community. This model has been reproduced in several Mexican cities including Tepic, Nayarit, Tapachula, Chiapas, as well as in cities in other countries (e.g., Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Spain). In all of these places, the neighborhoods have been called Hermosa Provincia, following the same original model and, thereby, transcending the nation-states in which they reproduce their transnational religious communities. In the United States, they have not been able to achieve the ideal Hermosa Provincia because of high land prices. Nevertheless, the general tendency is to live close to one another and to the church.
Aaron died in 1964 and his son, Samuel (Joaquin Flores), succeeded him as head of the church. Samuel [Image at right] undertook a new stage in the church’s development. The expansion and educational advancement of the membership continued, hierarchies were redefined, relations of cooperation and negotiation with the Mexican government were formalized, and a majestic temple was erected (between 1983 and 1991) in Guadalajara to serve as international headquarters. Under Samuel’s leadership, the Luz Del Mundo became a more solidly transnational Church. Naasón succeeded his father Samuel on December 14, 2014, and so little is currently known concerning his role as the new Apostle.
Between 1926 and 1944, LDM doctrine was propagated largely through personal testimonies. Aaron himself preached in prisons, hospitals, markets, parks, and many other public places. According to official sources, he even used the atria of Catholic Churches. He also initiated missionary work beyond Mexico’s borders. Around mid-1950s, he went to Los Angeles, and in the early 1960s traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to evangelize. It is interesting that the founder went first to the United States rather than to Central America to preach the gospel. Geographical proximity between Jalisco and Texas can only partly explain his choice. More important was the migration of Mexicans from the western states in Mexico to the U.S. that had been occurring since the last part of the nineteenth century. It was a number of years after he first traveled to the United States that Aaron began to go to Central American countries (Fortuny 2002). The growth of LDM congregations in the U.S., such as Houston [Image at right] has been very steady since the 1960s. It increased sharply in the 1980s and 1990s, precisely at the same time when Mexican immigration turned into millions during and after the 1986 Immigration and Reform Act allowed more than 3,000,000 Mexican immigrants to become legal residents.
The church’s myth of origin and development was centered on Aarón and Samuel, as two charismatic male leaders, until Samuels’s death in December 2014, when his fifth son Naasón Joaquín García became the third Apostle (and therefore a new charismatic leader). The doctrine is a combination of Pentecostal norms and theology as well as regional Catholic culture. Members and authorities of the church do not identify themselves as Pentecostals. The latter are viewed as small religious groups divided among themselves. However, because of its origin, development, ritual and doctrine I classify this church in this way. In Mexico and everywhere else, the Luz del Mundo members identify themselves as evangelicals and Christians, and define their religious system as “a well-organized Church, or a unified pueblo” (people), in opposition to the fragmented Pentecostal “small groups.” The religious community is regarded as the restoration of the primitive Christian church; thus they see themselves as the “chosen people.” That is, God elected the three Apostles to keep his church alive in the modern world. Church members are Christians who follow the Bible and believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of humanity. Nevertheless, salvation will be achieved only by following the three Apostles: Aarón, Samuel, and Naasón. Since Naasón[Image at right] has just had taken the Apostle position as well as the International Head of the Church, he has yet to build up his charismatic power.
In this church, women do not have access to the priesthood, which includes bishops, pastors, deacons, and encargadas. All members of the priesthood are anointed in a special ceremony at which the Apostle must be present. Women can only be encargadas which literally means “in charge,” and obreras, which means workers. To be in charge means being responsible for an age group of members composed in between 30 and 300 people. The members should be of the same sex as that of the person in charge. The group has prayer and doctrine studies three times a week for one hour or less (depending on the congregation), and the person in charge organizes the topic of doctrine to be discussed and also is aware of the absences or flaws of participants. In case of sickness, pregnancy, financial or personal problems, the person in charge will try to help the member unless it is something extremely serious, in which case she or he will call upon the pastor of the congregation to discuss the issue. This church position implies being spiritual guides for all members of the group for which they are responsible. They must know the activities, jobs, and possibilities of the people in their groups to be able to advice, support or even admonish when necessary. Workers are equivalent to evangelizers or missionaries, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are granted broad roles in the administration, coordination and organization of their communities.
Concerning norms, women wear long full skirts or dresses, long hair, veils on their heads during religious services, and are banned from wearing jewelry and makeup. In contrast, male members are not expected to change their appearance from that of other males in the community. During religious services, women sit on the left side of the temple and men on the right. Since its very beginnings, the church has instituted an exclusively female prayer service directed by women.
In Mexico, Luz del Mundo operates as a minority church, not only because of its small number of adherents relative to Catholicism, but more importantly, in terms of its subordinate position vis-a-vis the dominant religion of the larger society (Catholicism). The church’s lower social status is expressed through hostile stereotypes, prejudice, and intolerant attitudes by non-members.
Believers learn new modes of being and acting in accordance with the doctrine and through multiple mechanisms. These range from their everyday relations with other believers inside the community to their participation in activities such as rituals, created per se. It is mainly through rituals that believers internalize the doctrine and the norms and values of the new group.
In addition to the rites of passage (presentation, baptism at age fourteen and marriage), there are many other rituals. There are three types of ordinary rituals: consecrations, prayers and revivals. Consecrations are sessions of Bible reading and reflection which apply to everyday life. They are given daily to groups of different ages, genders and civil statuses. These rituals fulfill functions which are rather more intellectual than emotional and thereby reinforce the norms and doctrines of the Church. Prayers are similar to the services or worship ceremonies practiced in Pentecostalism. They include readings and interpretations of biblical passages directed by the Pastor, hymns of praise to God, testimonies by the participants, chants, thanksgiving and a period dedicated to collective prayer, which is the most emotional moment of the event. This privileged part of the ritual is the moment when glossolalia (speaking in tongues) may take place among some converts. More generally, believers experience highly-charged emotional states and motivations derived from sacred symbols. These experiences serve to confirm the veracity of the believers’ worldview. In Guadalajara’s Hermosa Provincia (and everywhere else as well) prayers are held three times a day, and the faithful must attend one such session on a daily basis. This demanding schedule distinguishes the LLMC from other Pentecostal groups and reinforces and consolidates both religious practice and doctrine. Two or three times a year revivals are organized with the goal of stimulating participants to “speak in tongues.” Revivals are also held before the two annual festivals (February 14 and August 14); the goal is for the faithful to purify themselves and so see the Apostle Samuel.
Certain massive, extraordinary rituals may attract up to 150,000 believers from around the globe. In Guadalajara’s Hermosa Provincia, these are celebrated every year on February 14 (Samuel’s birthday) and August 14 (Aaron’s birthday and the day of the “Holy Supper”). Both of these festivities lend unity to this global religious movement, and faithful from around the globe save money all year long in order to attend. This physical proximity allows believers to recognize themselves as a chosen people who have succeeded in spreading their influence by confronting the modern secular world. These rituals reinforce the sense of collective religiosity and certainty of belonging to the True Church.
In the Hermosa Provincia, other festivities, which might be best understood as civil/religious, are also celebrated. Officials from the Guadalajara city government and the state government of Jalisco, as well as state congressmen and senators from the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) or the PAN (National Action Party) and members of the armed forces, are all invited. One of these festivities is the anniversary of Aaron’s death (June 9, 1964), which is observed every year in the Hermosa Provincia. The drama and extreme formality of this ritual constitutes a special language that permits the message to reach the members. This is illustrated in the following description of the festival, which I had the opportunity to attend on June 9, 1993.
The ritual unfolds through a series of political-religious acts interspersed with artistic ones. In one case, for example, Act I: the Jalisco State Philharmonic Orchestra played a piece; after that, an LLMC official read a poem symbolic of the life of Aaron as Teacher and Apostle. This was followed by another piece of music, and later the state president of the Institutional Revolutionary Political Party (PRI) read a narrative of the Christian community’s economic and social achievements. In the next act, a former director of the church read facts and figures on advances in education, health and the organization of the religious community. The last act was the presentation of Aaron Joaquín Medals to those believers who stood out for their good Christian behavior. The presentation was performed by Samuel Joaquín himself. On these occasions, he functioned as both the supreme leader of the Church and as the International Director of the LLMC. This event took place outside the Church, and the members in attendance occupied seats according to their status in the community. The best seats were reserved for Samuel’s family (children, wife and other relatives), while certain seats were reserved for the press and special guests from outside the LLMC are on the same level. (I found myself among them, playing the role of a journalist/researcher.)
Rituals like the one described above are symbolic acts which represent the type of relationship which exists between the church and certain sectors of the Mexican government. This relationship is dramatized by the attendance of civil and military officials who thus legitimize both the ritual and the church’s existence in society. Members of the Mexican army are there to recall that in the past Aaron was also a servant of the homeland. Rites such as this serve to demonstrate continuity between the “logical-meaningful” integration of religious culture and the “causal-functional” integration of social structure (Geertz, 2000). The coexistence of political symbols (the Mexican flag, soldiers, civil officials) and sacred ones (Aaron’s tomb and Samuel with his dual sacred-profane representation) indicates the real congruence between religious culture and the social system. At the level of the believers, this ceremony signifies that their belief is real. The speeches emphasize accomplishments in the social and economic spheres and attribute them to the membership’s work ethic. In this sense, the drama of the act serves to enhance the participants’ communal values and to reinforce compliance with the norms and regulations, however strict they may be. Because of its position as a second-class church in Mexican society and the Catholic Church’s social prestige and political power, one of the LLMC’s fundamental preoccupations since its beginnings has been that of gaining recognition within Mexican society.
Since 1992, a festive event was established outside the Hermosa Provincia in the Plaza Tapatía in downtown Guadalajara. This ritual, held on October 12, 1992, reflected the fact that the Church had attained full legal status in the country. With the new legal framework, it could use public spaces (such as streets, parks, stadiums, etc.), which had previously been prohibited. The fact that the celebration was held outside LLMC’s own territory permitted the church to present itself to the wider society, to demonstrate that it constituted an organization where order rules, and to show that its members were educated and no longer poor and ignorant as had always been described. Such events also show the pride that believers have in their faith and that they practice it with the consent of State authorities.
The birthdays of both leaders are occasions for religious festivals that separate ordinary, profane time from extraordinary, sacred time. Each festival lasts for a week of continuous celebrations during which feelings of joy, open sociability among the members and identification with the leader prevail. These festivals take place in a period that is considered separate from daily life in order to highlight and guarantee their sanctity. In the following paragraph the festival observed on February 14, 1990 will be described:
Guadalajara’s Hermosa Provincia district was full of people standing, sitting or kneeling in the streets that surround the Church. A seemingly endless line of women with gifts and flowers formed to greet Brother Samuel. Congregations from every state of Mexico and from other countries bore insignias in order to greet him. In the meantime, loudspeakers narrated the histories of the congregations from different parts of the world. The women who emerged from the House of the Apostle after receiving Samuel’s blessing did so weeping and then made their way to the Church where they continued in trance. Many of them repeated the phrase “Make me holy” to Samuel and experienced glossolalia. The church building itself was almost empty as most believers were crowded outside and in the streets waiting for Samuel’s exit. He constituted the central figure of the festival and attracted multitudes wherever he was seen.
Samuel Joaquin Flores, longtime head of the church, had a double role as spiritual leader and as international director of the church. Thus he knew how to perpetuate his importance as a charismatic personality without pretensions of surpassing the figure of his father, Aaron. In a Sunday service held in Guadalajara’s Hermosa Provincia, [Image at right] the series of rituals carried out around him revealed the use of old and new means of enhancing his charismatic figure:
Before Samuel’s entrance, the congregation maintained a deep silence and one felt an aura of solemnity and expectation in the air. In the back of the church there were some rapid movements among some young people. Finally the long-awaited moment arrived: six immaculately clean and well-groomed youths dressed in black suits preceded Samuel. They entered three on each side and after them there walked a middle-aged woman spraying perfume and saying, “Praised be the Lord.” Following her, Samuel entered at a quick pace, displaying an enormous smile and wearing a sky-blue colored suit. Some twenty men of varying ages accompanied him, all dressed in dark suits. The whole assembly stood and about two minutes passed during which time the church overflowed with excitement and solemnity because of the leader’s presence.
Samuel’s seat, located at the center of the altar, [Image at right] had a shield at the top which contained two lionscarved into golden metal. The lions symbolize the Jewish tribe of Judah and the two charismatic personalities, Aaron and Samuel. As the believers say, it is related to the divine duality which represents the Church.
The current head of LDM, Naason Joaquín García continues to be understood as the “The Apostle and Servant of God” and the representation of Jesus Christ. Below him in the organizational hierarchy are the Pastors. They latter are expected to develop one or more of the qualities as doctor, prophet, and evangelist. Although all Pastors should be evangelists, if playing the role of a doctor, they explain the Word of God, and if playing the role of a prophet they interpret it (Fortuny 1995, 2002).
LDM has faced several sources of controversy through its history: opposition from the majority Roman Catholic population (potential for violence, worship of group leaders, financial exploitation), worship of group leaders, church-state tensions, accusations of member abuse.
It has been very common for members of LDM to be targeted by the larger Roman Catholic society for extremism; there have even been assertions of potential mass suicide by members of the church. The Luz del Mundo has been accused, and still is within some sectors of society, of worshiping their Apostles (Aaron and Samuel, possibly the present Nasson as well) as if they were gods or held higher status than Jesus Christ.
Since the majority of followers belong to lower social classes, there is a significant economic resource gap between the mainstream membership and some of the higher authorities of the church, as well as the Apostles families. For example, Schulson (2014) reported that Samuel Joaquin’s family owned a large ranch outside Houston. Some leaders have accumulated extravagant possessions, such as expensive cars, ostentatious houses. This has particularly been the case in Guadalajara, but it also has occurred in locations beyond the Mexican border where the number of congregations and membership size is considerable. Revelations of this wealth inequality has provoked intense criticism by the larger society.
Concerning Mexican politics, since its inception the LDM has enjoyed a more or less stable relationship with government, specifically with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). However, PRI support has not been unanimous within LDM. For example, during the presidential elections in 2000, there were many members in the Hermosa Provincia area who were openly sympathetic to the left wing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD). Bernardo Barranco (2016), considered in Mexico one of the most respected religious analysts has taken this position, claiming that LDM can no longer be regarded as being allied to only one political party.
Barranco (2016), also has pointed out another significant political issue. He argues that the Luz del Mundo played the most important and central role, amongst all of the non-Catholic organizations, in debating the revision of constitutional article twenty-four. The religious community was able to assemble not only Federal representative bodies but also local legislatures and important sectors of the population. LDM showed great skill in mobilizing other groups as well, such as masonic lodges, liberals, students, feminists and other ecclesial institutions. The reform will enable religion instruction within the national system of education in Mexico.
By far the most damaging issue for the church and its members has been the accusations of sexual abuse by both Aaron and Samuel in the past decades. Sexual abuse has attracted broad attention from the larger society, particularly in Mexico, and there is extensive written material provided by journalists, scholars, and former members, both online and in published sources, concerning these allegations. However, the church has consistently denied any involvement in the assaults. (Tucker 2015; and Schulson 2014; Sheridan 1998). Even though Schulson agrees with Tucker about the allegations, he qualifies the argument as follows: “At the time, much of the negative publicity about the church was driven by an obscure, cult-busting preacher whose motives, to put it gently, may not have been strictly humanitarian.”
Image #1: Map showing the distribution of La Luz Del Mundo adherents in Mexican states.
Image #2: Photograph of Aaron Joaquin Gonzalez, founder of La Luz Del Mundo.
Image #3: Photograph of Samuel Joaquin Flores, successor to Aaron Joaquin Gonzalez.
Image #4: Photograph of La Luz Del Mundo temple in Houston, Texas.
Image #5: Photograph of Naasón Joaquín García, successor to Aaron Joaquin Gonzalez.
Image #6: Photograph of the flagship La Luz Del Mundo temple in Guadalajara.
Image #7: Photograph of the alter at the center of the Luz Del Mundo temple.
Barranco, Bernardo. 2016. “La Iglesia la Luz del Mundo.” Milenio, February 14. Accessed from http://www.milenio.com/firmas/bernardo_barranco/Iglesia-Luz-Mundo_18_6835116 on 25 May 2016.
Fortuny, Patricia. 2012. “Migrantes y Peregrinos de La Luz del Mundo : Religión Popular y Comunidad Moral Transnacional.” Nueva Antropología Revista de Ciencias Sociales XXV: 179-200.
Fortuny, Patricia. 2002. “The Santa Cena of The Luz del Mundo Church: A Case of Contemporary Transnationalism.” Pp. 15-50 in Religion Across Borders: Transnational Religious Networks, edited by Helen Rose Ebaugh and Janet Chafetz. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.
Fortuny, Patricia. 2001. “Religión y Figura Femenina: Entre la Norma y la Pr áctica. ” La Ventana II:126-58.
Fortuny, Patricia. 2000. “Estado Laico, Gobierno Panista y La Luz del Mundo; Análisis de una Coyuntura en Guadalajara.” Espiral. Estudios sobre Estado y Sociedad. 19:129-49.
Fortuny, Patricia. 1995. “Origins, Development and Perspectives of La Luz del Mundo Church.” Religion 25:147-62.
Geertz, Clifford. 2000. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Goffman, Erving. 1988. Internados. Ensayos sobre la situación social de los enfermos mentales. Buenos Aires. Amorrortu Editores.
Schulson, Michael. 2014. “Like Azusa Street Baptized into Bureaucracy: Mexico´s Flourishing LLDM Church Loses its Apostle.” Religion Dispatches, December11. Accessed from http://religiondispatches.org/like-azusa-street-baptized-into-bureaucracy-mexicos-flourishing-lldm-church-loses-its-apostle/ on 10 April 2016.
Sheridan, Mary Beth. 1998. “ A Growing Faith–and Outrage.” Los Angeles Times, March 10. Accessed from http://articles.latimes.com/1998/mar/10/news/mn-27361 on 1 June 2016.
Tucker, Duncan. 2015. “Mexican Mecca: Luz del Mundo Church Draws 500,000 Pilgrims to Guadalajara.” Latin Correspondent. August 18. Accessed from http://latincorrespondent.com/2015/08/mexican-mecca-luz-del-mundo-church-draws-500000-pilgrims-guadalajara/ on 26 May 2016.
Wyatt, Timothy. 2011. “Iglesia de La Luz del Mundo.” Houston History 8:2-9. Accessed from https://houstonhistorymagazine.org/2012/01/volume-8-number-3/ on 26 May 2016.
5 June 2016