Fox 11 News reported on June 4, 2019, that “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Tuesday that mega-church leader Joaquin Garcia and others associated with him face charges of human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor, among other felonies.

In the criminal complaint, it is alleged that García and his ‘co-defendants’ allegedly coerced victims into performing sexual acts by telling them that if they went against any of his desires or wishes as ‘the Apostle,’ that they were going against God.”

Joaquin Garcia is the pastor of the mega-church La Luz Del Mundo.

People congregate in front of the La Luz Del Mundo (The Light of the World) Church in Los Angeles, California, on June 5, 2019. – The leader of the church Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, was arrested in California, June 4, on charges of human trafficking, child rape and other felonies. The organization, headquartered in Mexico, says it has baptized more than five million people around the world and claims to have some 1.8 million followers in Mexico. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Frederic J. BROWN has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [La Luz Del Mundo] instead of [La Luza Del Mundo]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

He is also an example of what happens when unquestioned authority goes bad. I’ve stated before that predators are drawn to positions of power, authority, and influence. In the church, authority can easily be abused. Bible verses are quoted to support the authority of pastors over the congregation. Threats of God’s punishment, hell, or being labeled a “sower of discourse” are used to quash dissenters.

La Luz Del Mundo church has a mix of Pentecostal theology and Catholic culture. The church’s adherents are taught that Jesus is humanities savior, but that salvation can only be achieved by following the leaders of La Luz Del Mundo. Garcia has allegedly used his authority as an “Apostle” to manipulate minors into sex acts. As “God’s anointed,” disobedience to him is equal to disobedience to God and leads to a loss of salvation.

There were several warning signs that La Luz Del Mundo church had the potential to be an abusive church. However, recognizing the signs from the outside is much easier than seeing them from the inside. Growing up in the culture of an abusive church makes inappropriate behavior seem normal.

How do you know if the church you are attending is an abusive church? The following are warning signs.

  1. A cult of personality. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Joaquin Garcia, and a host of many others have all claimed to have a special calling or anointing. They proclaim themselves apostles, prophets, or Christ. Beware anyone who claims special authority by virtue of a self-bestowed title.
  2. Authoritarian style of leadership. Can you question the leader? Can you question doctrine being taught? If the leaders teaching and words are unquestionable and on the same level as divine revelation, run.
  3. Intimidation techniques. Does the church use fear, intimidation, or guilt to force obedience? If you question a leader, will God get angry and punish you? If you disagree, does that mean you are a heretic, a blasphemer, a backslider, or a sinner? Ron Enroth, in his book Churches That Abuse, says it this way, “Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority,” (pg. 103)
  4. A belief in being special. Are you taught that your church is the only church that is right? Are you taught that all other churches are wrong or apostate? Is your church the only one practicing Biblical Christianity or the only church that restored first-century Christianity? If your church is the only one that has it right, then you are definitely in the wrong church.
  5. Painful exit processes. Members who chose to leave are often mocked, ridiculed, threatened with divine punishment and shunned by other church members. Leaving the church can feel like a painful divorce or even the death of a loved one.  
  6. A persecution complex. Often because abusive churches see themselves as the only real Christians, they will naturally be persecuted for telling the “truth.” Any criticism, any revelation of impropriety is framed as persecution from the world or Satan.
  7. Rigidity and control. Abusive churches demand much of their members. They may be given a long list of things to avoid. Injunctions against movies, alcohol, and tobacco are common. Dress codes may be enforced. Financial giving is mandated, and the church may require people to give excessively to the church. Members are often pressured into attending Bible studies and Prayer groups every day of the week. This kind of forced participation isolates members from outside influence.

If the Church wishes to prevent the flock from being abused, then we must educate people what a wolf in sheep’s clothing looks like. Joaquin Garcia of La Luz Del Mundo showed many of the signs of being an abusive leader. He was the sole authority. Disobeying him was equated with disobeying God, and the threat of losing one’s salvation was attached. His church was the only true church. Prohibitions and dress codes were enforced. Now that Garcia has been arrested, church members are declaring his innocence and denouncing the arrest as persecution against their Apostle.

Pastors are in positions of trust, authority, and influence. because of this, pastors must be held to high standards of accountability, scrutiny, and oversight. beware of any pastor who demands to be unquestioned.

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