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Mexico’s Chosen People: La Luz del Mundo Shines Brighter Than Ever

November 3, 2010

La Luz del Mundo Temple in Merida.

La Luz del Mundo’s steeple, a pincer-like pair of hands clasped in prayer, looms over Avenida Itzaes, not far from the Merida airport. When I first wandered off the avenue to examine this eye-catching structure, someone had defaced the surrounding streets with anti-Semitic graffiti.

A few people living nearby told me they thought the building was a synagogue.  A local artist swore to me that he’d heard that Jewish services were held there weekly.  Given the Hebrew lettering and Jewish symbols decorating the facade, this confusion is understandable, save for the startling admixture of Maya glyphs and Christian elements assembled into an aesthetic that looks simultaneously Mesopotamian and ultra-modern.

But La Luz del Mundo, a vaguely Protestant sect with a zeal for discipline and conformity, has less to do with Mayan seers and Semitic visionaries than with the vastly disruptive violence Mexicans visited upon each other during the Cristero War, one of several upheavals in Mexico’s history which determined the country’s fate almost as much as the Revolution, but which has never really enjoyed much popularity as a topic for national conversation, likely because the Revolution has tended to be regarded as an unqualified success, and because there’s tended to be little official encouragement of national conversations that dwell on divisive events whose success is generally regarded as rather less than unqualified. 

In his 2007 book Revolution of Hope, Vicente Fox, former Mexican president and famed kisser of Pope John Paul II’s ring, had this to say about the Cristero War, which began when militant groups banded together to combat the increasingly violent secularization of Mexican society:

After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juárez of the 1880s. But the military dictators of the 1920s were a lot more savage than Juárez.

This surprising departure from longstanding Mexican political discourse marked a rather serious gauntlet being thrown down, and a clear sign that Mexico was embarking on a new holy war of sorts, or was at least ready to take a renewed inventory of religion’s proper role in the Mexican public sphere.

The sects tasteful mothership enlivens Guadalajara's skyline.

Eusebio Joaquin Gonzalez’ role in the Cristero War, however, focused more on bringing people together than blowing them apart.  As the conflict came to a head in 1926,  a time when the only religious outlet for Mexicans was of an ecstatic and militaristic kind, and fundamentalist Mormons who fled to Mexico when Utah outlawed polygamy found themselves fleeing back over the border, Gonzalez found himself in the unlikely position of being converted by Pentecostal missionaries and settling down with his wife in Monterrey.  It wasn’t long before he received revelation from God that his real name was Aaron the Apostle, that he should restore the primitive Christian church, and that his divine calling was to lead a new Chosen People to its salvation. La Luz del Mundo was born.

Shortly after Aaron the Apostle’s alleged contretemps with God, he bought a huge piece of land on the outskirts of Guadalajara, built his church, and sold the remaining land in segments for his followers to live on.

Over the years the city of Guadalajara grew up around Aaron the Apostle’s “planned community,” which is now the colonia of La Hermosa Provincia, a walled neighborhood that houses La Luz del Mundo’s headquarters and a temple large enough to accommodate 12,000 worshipers, far surpassing the “megachurches” that have grown in popularity in the United States over the past few decades.

La Hermosa Provincia surrounds the sect's architectural confection.

Former church members who lived in La Hermosa Provincia say that the church runs a tight ship—loudspeakers posted throughout its streets denounce by name those who betray the church or act in ways contrary to its teachings, and church members hoping to take jobs or vacations outside the colonia must first obtain written permission from church authorities.

The Guadalajara compound is a bit more strident in appearance and tone than the communities La Luz del Mundo has established among Mexican immigrants in the United States.  Temples in Los Angeles, New York, Denver and other cities north of the border don’t blare the names of wayward members and are visually modest and unassuming, even quaint, compared to their attention-seeking Mexican counterparts.

This impressive expansion is thanks to all the very hard work of Eusebio’s son, Samuel “The Servant of God” Flores, who, according to church teachings, was stillborn and subsequently resurrected by his father.

Samuel, however, did not return the favor.

When Eusebio died in 1964, he apparently remained unresurrected. And La Luz del Mundo’s torch was, perhaps unsurprisingly, passed to Samuel, a real go-getter who made it his calling to expand the church through a vigorous missionary campaign that stretched to the four corners of the world.

The Servant of God's portrait adds a splash of dramatic color to the Guadalajara temple's entrance.

His efforts have been undeniably successful.  La Luz del Mundo congregations now thrive in countries as distant from Mexico, both geographically and culturally, as France, Australia, Israel, Russia and Ghana.

That’s not to say Flores hasn’t been met with the carping and petty second-guessing that tends to mark the trajectory of all ambitious men.  Over the past two decades the church has scrambled to muffle accusation after accusation of pervasive child sexual abuse committed by church authorities, including Flores himself.

These unfortunate rumors haven’t stopped La Luz del Mundo from growing.  Merida’s temple was completed in 2009, and its 17,000 square feet of worship space suggest the church has robust expectations for conversions in Yucatan.

FOR A TRAGIC UPDATE  — AS OF JANUARY 15, 2011 — ON THIS ARTICLE ABOUT LA LUZ DEL MUNDO, OR LLDM, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Dances With Chihuahuas permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:15 am

    Very unique architecture, unique church, one I have not heard of. It would be interesting to see inside. Are you going to go inside or visit?

  2. November 4, 2010 1:31 am

    @ Dances With Chihuahuas

    I haven’t decided yet. A friend of mine in town wants us to take a field trip and go to a service there. It would certainly be an interesting experience.

  3. November 5, 2010 1:56 pm

    Being incredibly nosy, I drove right into their driveway last month and entered a big hall in back of the church where several young people were giggling nervously. They acted as if I had caught them red-handed at something. A nice young woman began to tell me about the church and then commissioned a younger woman of lower stature to give me a tour.
    The inside was as astounding as the outside. Lots of diverse carvings and statuary – must have taken a lot of manpower. She said services are delivered in Mayan and SPanish and fervently invited me to come.
    The women had their heads covered and wore sister-wives type attire.

  4. chief permalink
    December 17, 2010 3:22 pm

    it is very true that the lord has blessed this church, it is evident as a matte a fact. What i dont understand is how can peole down talk this organization with rumors obtained from non reliable sources. how bout you clear up the whole child sexual abuse aligations for instance, ive looked into it, and it seems that they were found inocent in the very few acusations. If you wanna know what this religion preaches, well find the hours its open, visit more than once, think of questions to ask the preacher incharge and have a civil intencive conversation about the things of god; that is why this church is being on the spot light right. It is the only one with a prophet that makes sense, with reasoning and common sense the word of god will make each one of us understand what it is this church is trying to deliver across the world. After all isnt that the mission Jesus left us all, to follow the bible and show for it in actions. Id say just know the big picture of show more respect to an institution of such magnitude before commenting on it, some people might take offence to your beliefs and how you get em out to the masses.
    Thank you and God bless.

  5. Hugo de Naranja permalink
    December 17, 2010 5:18 pm

    Dear Chief,

    There isn’t a single religion, or religious denomination, in the world that hasn’t been, or is not now struggling, to defend itself against accusations, fair or baseless, of one kind or another. La Luz del Mundo isn’t unique, and its size and presence in Mexico of course make it an object of positive and negative attention.

    You seem to be disturbed by one or two sentences in a rather long, and, frankly, well-balanced, piece whose aim wasn’t to explore La Luz del Mundo’s practices and theology, but rather to place La Luz del Mundo within the context of the Cristero War, an exceedingly important chapter of Mexican history about which most gringos are entirely ignorant.

    As Prof. Kinbote stated clearly, La Luz del Mundo’s founder, rather than participating in or encouraging the horrible violence then claiming many thousands of lives, instead laid the groundwork for a faith tradition outside the war raging between religious and secularist Mexicans.

    If you would care to write something that explains and explores La Luz del Mundo’s practices and theology, we would be delighted to publish it on Expats Anonymous.

    Until your message, we’ve received no complaints about the article and have, in fact, been given compliments from gringos who thanked us for introducing them to the Cristero War, and for making them want to learn more about Mexican history.

    Once again, I would like to strongly encourage you to write something about Luz del Mundo, explaining or exploring whatever aspect of it you please, and we will be more than happy to publish it.

    Sincerely,

    HDN

  6. Dreamin' of Mexico permalink
    December 19, 2010 12:02 pm

    I agree with Chief and Hugo de Naranja. I think it’s a great idea to have more about La Luz del Mundo and Mexican history.

    I think most Americans imagine that Mexico is almost a totally Roman Catholic country, although I know that a lot of American churches send missionaries down to small villages to help them build homes and do medical missionary work with volunteer doctors, dentists, plastic surgeons, nurses, etc.

    I grew up going to a Baptist church in Phoenix Arizona that sent missionary volunteer groups to Mexico and my brothers and my step-father went down a couple of times. I still never heard about La Luz del Mundo. This was the first time and so now I’m going to start looking to see if I can find La Luz del Mundo churches in the cities where I go all the time for my work like Sacramento and Los Angeles because I have to visit a lot of Hispanic neighborhoods.

    It’s really strange for me to think that I’ve probably driven right past a lot of La Luz del Mundo churches and really didn’t pay any attention to them because I had no idea what they were and I know just a little about Mexican history.

    I don’t think it’s possible for Americans to get too much information about Mexican history because it’s never boring and you always learn something new that you never heard before.

    Because of this Expats article I’ve been reading the Wikipedia article about the Cristero War and it’s completely new interesting information for me. You really should check it out. It’s amazing. I had never heard of the Cristero War before and I grew up in Arizona!

    It’s true that American schools teach almost nothing about Mexico and Mexican history. I’m completely ashamed to say that, but it’s true. So the only thing Americans can do is try to educate themselves a little at a time. Like I said, it’s never boring and usually it’s very exciting, so there are a lot of reasons for learning as much as you can.

    Mexico is our neighbor and there are so many Mexican immigrants in the U.S. and now there are more and more Americans retiring or living in Mexico, like I hope to do in about ten years in Merida, so it’s time that Americans stopped ignoring Mexican culture and history and started learning about it just like they learn about American history.

    Thank you for your interesting article and I hope that Chief or others will contribute more interesting articles about La Luz del Mundo and Mexican history and culture. I’m interested in learning more about La Luz del Mundo and the Cristero War but what you write doesn’t have to only be about that. I’ll be interested in reading everything.

    Also, check out other good websites, too, like Yucatan Living and Yucatan Today because they give good information about planning trips and vacations, and also Lawsons Yucatan and Gorbman.com because they have great information, too, and give you a good idea of what life is like for Americans who live full-time in Mexico.

  7. rich z permalink
    December 24, 2010 5:33 am

    If you have not been to this church, then I recommend that you go. I was semi-forced to go with my wife. I sat down in the service and, since I don’t speak Spanish well, they translated for me. I complained about one thing after another — “Why do they do this?” and “Why do they do that?” And with every question, for months and months of services, they took my bible in English and pointed in it to the answers to my questions. They teach only what Jesus and his Apostles taught. After a long time, I began to realize that no other church, whether Catholic, Baptist, or Pentecostal, teaches the proper way. I went from suspecting the worst to completely changing my so-called know-it-all American mind. I have now been baptized there and have felt something that I used to not believe: God is in this church. They are spreading everywhere and soon will have services entirely in English. Go to this church and criticize everything and they will take your own Holy Bible and point to the answers in it. They do not make up their own rules, or anything. The Bible even says that the Lord’s church will be formed in the desert, in a place hidden from the world, with poor, humble, people and, by the time other regions see it, it will be full of splendor and truth.

  8. Randy Nicholas permalink
    February 4, 2011 1:20 am

    I think the author of the article in order to look unbiased, used only official data and sources of information.
    The well polished social image of La Luz del Mundo has nothing to do with the real practices of the hierarchy.
    I believe the people praising the church are members of the international congregation.
    I think this article lacks deepness and objectivity.

  9. April 18, 2011 1:20 am

    I apologize if anyone clicked the update at the bottom of this article and was sent to another site. My WordPress account was hacked and that link was changed to direct traffic away from Expats Anonymous and give it to an evangelical blog that is in no way affiliated with this site.

    Also, an alarming amount of friends of La Luz del Mundo have chosen to spam this article with comments in favor of LLDM. I have published a few, but after I’ve received so many of the same thing, there’s no reason to continue publishing the comments. I have a feeling this is some sort of organized effort on behalf of the church or its members to act as media watchdogs for their church, which is fine, but I’ve published enough of these comments and I will publish no more.

  10. Monica permalink
    August 10, 2011 4:09 pm

    Well, I can see they will act on behalf of their church as watchdogs, but why? A spirit filled church has no need to be so defensive, unless, it is defending its own man made rules. It is so sad, that I have family members so deceived by this organization, I pray that they will open their eyes, and see the real Truth, we are all to be called apostles to witness the Truth, but not asked to worship a man, that has not been told any different as far as preaching the Gospel, salvation is through Jesus Christ, He is our Savior

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