A False Messiah in Miami

Faith News Network/February 27, 2006
By J. Lee Grady

Puerto Rican preacher José Luis De Jesús Miranda says a wondrous thing happened to him in 1976 when he was living in Massachusetts. He claims that two heavenly beings took him to a marble hall where an apparition merged with his body and began to speak inside of him. De Jesus believes that he and Jesus Christ became one and the same in that instant.

"Ever since that day, I can't learn from anybody and I mean no one," De Jesús recently told Miami New Times, a weekly South Florida newspaper.

The voice inside De Jesús' head later told him to move to Miami, where he founded his controversial Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace) church along with a TV studio. He attracts a relatively small following in Miami, only 500 members, but the group has spawned 300 additional congregations with 100,000 members, mostly in Latin countries. Meanwhile his TV program reportedly reaches 2 million.

De Jesús sounds like another David Koresh in the making.

All his followers call him Daddy. Many of them wear T-shirts with De Jesús' face and a bold slogan, "GOD HAS COME." Their cars are adorned with license plates that say: "Creciendo en Gracia: The Government of the Kingdom of God." De Jesus began calling himself El Otro (The Other) in 1999, and then in 2004 he announced that he is Jesus Christ.

His doctrines are bizarre. He tells his followers they can live any way they want to because sin doesn't exist and the devil is dead. He also teaches that Christian churches are led by "ministers of Satan," and he encourages members of his organization to stage protests at church services and Christian events. Creciendo en Gracia members are encouraged to scream at people and carry placard with messages such as "THE DEVIL WAS DESTROYED."

According to New Times reporter Mariah Blake, such protests have grabbed headlines in Miami and throughout Latin America. In Colombia, for example, De Jesús' followers recently staged simultaneous protests in 22 cities.

De Jesús does not hide his intentions. "My purpose is to close down every church so the true church can begin," he told the Miami paper. "You could say I'm leading the greatest reformation that has ever happened."

I guess you could say that. Or you could say that another deceiver is on the loose and this one is targeting the Spanish-speaking world.

De Jesús fits the classic profile of an egotistical religious con man. He lives in a mansion, drives a BMW, wears lots of diamonds and spends $300,000 a year on bodyguards. Meanwhile many of his staff volunteer their time and give up to 80 percent of their income to the church.

One member of Creciendo en Gracia, Miami businessman Alvaro Albarracin, told New Times that his Internet company was divinely blessed because he gave $12,000 a month to the church. After making millions he sold the business to work for De Jesús. Now he buys and sells businesses and gives all the proceeds to the group.

Albarracin said: "I wanted to devote my life to Dad. I truly believe he's my God, my Creator."

The newspaper also reported that Albarracin's involvement in the cult triggered a breakup with his first wife. Interestingly, De Jesús left his own wife in 1999, and he later married a Colombian woman he was living with.

What is most alarming about Creciendo en Gracia is the level of blind loyalty his followers display. The group's Web site proclaims: "We are going to shut the mouths of those dogs [speaking of Christian churches.] We are ready to give our lives for this!"

Sounds vaguely like what the Branch Davidians said of Koresh.

Even though there are unconfirmed reports that a protest in Colombia last December resulted in a stabbing, De Jesús insists that his church is nonviolent. Yet the leader of this bizarre sect also claims that his church will one day rule the world.

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