Emilio Godoy, writing for IPS news, looks into the background and career of the self-proclaimed “Man Jesus Christ,” a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, whose religious organizations has been growing through leaps and bounds. Here are some excerpts from the IPS report.
“Abba, father,” call out the people gathered in the meeting hall. They raise up their hands and stare enraptured at a television screen, where they are addressed by their spiritual leader, José Luis de Jesús Miranda, or as he calls himself, “the Man Jesus Christ.” Miranda, a Puerto Rican national based in the United States, founded his religious organisation, Ministerio Internacional Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace International Ministry) in 1988. Also known as “The Government of God on Earth”, the group is popularly referred to as the Antichrist or 666 Sect.
Over the last decade, Growing in Grace has amassed a growing following in the United States and throughout Latin America, preaching the imminence of the “transformation”, a sort of Apocalypse. “This is not a group that promotes devil worship. It is a group that rejects the validity of all Christian churches. They are convinced that the new ‘Man Jesus Christ’ will silence Christians after so many centuries of lies,” Luis Santamaría, a Catholic priest and secretary of the Ibero-American Network for the Study of Sects (RIES), said in an interview with IPS.
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Miranda’s background would seem to make him an unlikely candidate for the Messiah. Born Apr. 22, 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he was already a heroin addict at the age of 14, and spent time behind bars for robbery. He founded his organisation in Miami, Florida after having a vision in which he was purportedly merged with Jesus Christ. A year later he renamed himself “the Other”, and then proclaimed himself “the Man Jesus Christ” in 2004, although he also claims to be the “Antichrist”. Myrna Cestero, a Puerto Rican bishop in the Growing in Grace ministry and the group’s highest-ranked representative in Mexico, told IPS that “other churches do not speak the truth because they preach a different gospel. They talk about sin, but when the Lamb of God appeared, he took away the sin of the world [according to the Bible]. They talk about the devil, but ‘through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.'”
Growing in Grace claims to have around 100,000 followers in 300 congregations and 200 pastors in 30 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the United States and Spain.
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Growing in Grace believes that sin and the ten commandments do not exist, and that the devil was destroyed; his continued existence is merely a fabrication by the Vatican. According to the “Nuevo diccionario de sectas y ocultismo” (New Dictionary of Sects and the Occult) published by Spanish religious expert César Vidal in 1998, Growing in Grace was “originally an evangelical church” which “has gradually evolved into a sect.”
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Many of Miranda’s followers have tattoos with the number 666 or the initials SSS, which stand for “Salvo siempre salvo” (Safe always safe). In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, attributed to the apostle John, 666 is the number of the “beast” or Antichrist, who will rise up as an adversary to Jesus Christ according to biblical prophecy.
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Miranda’s image has been tarnished by accusations of siphoning funds donated to the sect by its followers to purchase real estate and luxury goods for his own use and to support his first wife and children. Details of these financial misdoings came to light during the stormy divorce proceedings with his second wife, Josefina Torres, in March 2009. Growing in Grace followers donate a percentage of their income to the organisation based on the “theology of prosperity,” which holds that the more money they give to God, the more blessings they will receive. “The children of God have already been chosen and are predestined to have faith and to believe – not in individuals or religions, but in the gospel,” stated Cestero.
As well as spreading his message through traditional media like print publications and radio, Miranda has established his own television station, Telegracia, which broadcasts out of Colombia to more than 200 cities by cable television service and over the internet. (END)
For the complete report go to http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50943