Sunday, February 25, 2024

The darkness in the ‘Light of the World’

My first knowledge of the church La Luz del Mundo (in English, “Light of the World”) came from a friend who’d studied in Mexico a year before me.

She was engaged (briefly, it turned out) to a man who was a member of the church, not because he was a true believer, he said, but because his mother’s dying wish had been for him to remain a member.

She accompanied him to a couple of services, and had some interesting results to report regarding her expected dress and behavior there: women had to keep their heads covered during services, and they also had to sit in a different section – a balcony – of the church, away from the men.

Besides the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, the Luz del Mundo worship centers are the most conspicuous-looking in my city. The buildings are mostly white, and golden flames shoot up in a kind of swirly steeple. Every time I pass by one, I think of my friend, and wonder if her ex-fiancée has stuck with the church like he promised to do, despite its leader’s arrest for sex crimes against children.

Apparently, many people have stuck with the church, which I suppose should not surprise me. After all, what’s easier: abandoning one’s entire worldview, or admitting that people, even “apostles of Christ,” as the church leader Naasón Joaquín García calls himself, have the potential to be less than perfect?

Sex scandals are of course nothing new, neither within religious organizations nor the world at large. If there are powerful, charismatic men who many people look up to, a handful of them are bound to behave in sexually predatory ways.

What’s ironic of course about it happening within a religious organization is that leaders behave as if they were beyond reproach…until they get definitely caught, that is. Evil, after all, is presumed to be “out there,” with the church itself as the very definition of a safe haven.

One would think that finding monsters within those “safe havens” would make more of its members wary, particularly women members. 

In the case of La Luz del Mundo, however, many of its members seemed to believe, at least at first, that it was simply not true, which is another route one can go if they don’t want to admit that anything could be ungodly about their religious institution. 

But if they believed in his innocence before, I don’t think there can be any room for doubt at this point. Said Joaquín in his address to the faithful from prison: “There is no sadder and pitiful state…than that of the sinner plunged into the field of guilt, the abyss of malice, all due to a whim of his flesh, due to an unhealthy whim and a soft deception that brought him the worst evils, a momentary pleasure that damaged him all his life.”

“Whim?” “Soft deception?” “Momentary pleasure?” (Emphases mine.) It seems to me that what he’s mostly sorry about is the fact that he got caught. Ick.

As a reminder, Joaquín pleaded guilty to forcible oral sex and performing lewd acts on minors, and was initially accused of conspiracy to engage in child trafficking, and child pornography. For those who assert his innocence, it’s hard to fathom they can question his guilt now.

So, why on earth are people still following him? Church leadership gave him a platform in front of half a million people, so it appears they have no intention of distancing themselves, which I think is almost more worrying than the criminal himself; it’s tacit acceptance. He’s still considered their “spiritual leader” and conduit to God. Double-ick.

Here’s a question I’ve long had about admitted sex abusers: how do we separate someone’s good works and/or creations from their unspeakable sins against others, especially when those others are children? Is it possible to not throw the baby out with the bathwater if that’s the bathwater? 

Christianity is all about forgiveness. But is definitively ruining a child’s life, all the while claiming to be a messenger of God, a moral leader, a representative of safe haven and salvation, forgivable? I do not personally believe it is. 

Of course, I’m not claiming to be Jesus. Or his apostle.

We humans are complicated. We’re animals, after all, the line between us and chimpanzees is incredibly thin. We’re good at traumatizing, and good at being traumatized, which often perpetuates more traumatizing behavior. It’s sad and it feels never-ending, practically impossible to put a definitive stop to.

Many religions try to safeguard our spirits, seen as separate, against our darker animal drives, which helps in the effort to excuse bad behavior: “You know I’m not like that!” 

So, women are seated where we can’t see them and covered to avoid temptation (somehow, women seem to do okay with seeing men). Situations in which the sexes are allowed to spend time together are restricted. 

Knowing this is what keeps us all perpetually suspicious of each other (or at least of men, who overwhelmingly are the perpetrators of sex crimes, which I’d posit are more crimes of power than of desire). And on top of that, sex criminals often horrifyingly find plenty of people to protect them, either through helping to keep their deeds hidden or announcing that they are, somehow, either not their fault or not as big of a deal as they seem.

Once an institution has been disgraced by this kind of behavior among its leaders, the key thing to watch is how it responds.

The Catholic Church, for example took a very long time to start taking accusations of sexual abuse seriously…it routinely ignored complaints, which were higher in Mexico than in any other Latin American country, until the Vatican decided to send investigators in 2020.

Better late than never, I suppose, and at least they finally admitted that it was a big deal. I’d say that it’s time for La Luz del Mundo to follow suit.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sarahedevries.substack.com.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mexico News Daily, its owner or its employees.

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